The title of Peter Handke's book translates as The Fear of the Goalkeeper at the Penalty Kick. The title sprung to mind when I was thinking about editing one of my novels. Why? Is there such a thing as The Novelist's Fear Of Editing?
We sit, separate from our families, for months on end, in dark rooms, lonely rooms, silent rooms, tapping out words which well up from the very core of us. And then we’re finished. We surface again. We spend time with our families. We live normal lives again. Or as normal as we can. And then? And then there’s a new torrent of words, another idea. But the last project is possibly not as perfect as it should be. But it’s still our baby. We fear changing it – or at least I do – because we’re afraid of destroying something we have created, something we love.
Or is it boredom with one project which drives us on to the next, instills in us a resistance to going back and tinkering and manipulating our words into different shapes? Boredom rather than fear? And yet those words lie there, long-hand in notebooks, or digitally on our hard disks and back-ups, goading us with their imperfection.
The new idea or the old one? So easy to create, so difficult to change. So impossible to read objectively, with one eye on our art and one eye on the market. Editing can be a nightmare, not just because we’re not word surgeons but wordsmiths. Because when we write our first drafts, we’re gods creating new worlds. When we edit, we become bureaucrats of form and shape and plot. Such a comedown. If the butterflies of our beginnings change the shape of their wingbeats, something somewhere down the line changes, too. A logistical nightmare. We have to make up rules and laws and regulations. Have to make sure everything fits, everything. We were anarchists of creation, and now we’re dictators.
I have not yet discovered the secret of how to overcome this fear, of how to overcome the boredom. I have a new idea in my head, but it has to stay there for the moment. I have to pull up the manuscript of at least one of my books and rip it apart and start it all over. Because real life demands it. Because I need to be pragmatic, not impulsive. Because I need to fashion my voice into one which will be heard and recognised.