His history is bullet-pointed on laminated paper and pinned to his bedroom door. I never knew, after the war, he was a goalkeeper for Somebody United, winning trophies and medals. There’s nothing to suggest this amongst his sparse belongings on his small desk; a fading photograph, some medication and wet-wipes, and a half-empty jar of Everton Mints. We sit on his bed and stare into space, and I notice he has goalkeepers’ hands, huge and agitated, as he runs them along the fraying fabric of his trousers. I wonder what game he is dreaming of. How would I know? I wasn’t around often enough to be part of his fading memories.
Over the past week, I have been going through the final preparations for the publishing of my first poetry collection, All Mine. The book has been over six years in the making.
Reading through several of the earliest written poems, there has been a temptation to change some of the content. All the relevant editing and formatting has been completed, but there is still this notion inside that none of the poems are finished.
Is this normal for a writer?
I had a conversation with an editor who suggested, pieces of writing are like photographs. They provide a snapshot of what a writer was thinking at a particular moment in time. As time progresses so do our skills. A constant reexamining of old work could lead to over editing, to the point where the writing loses some of the energy which created the initial spark.
Natalie Goldberg in her book, Writing Down the Bones, details how some of the chapters came out first time, whilst other parts of the book needed weeks even months of editing.
Sir John Betjeman was more precise in his approach. Each poem he wrote received a maximum of six edits and that was that, no further tampering. Philip Larkin could spend a year drafting and editing a poem, then leave the poem for up to six years before coming back to it.
Maybe the answer is personal to each writer and dependant on experience and personality. There has to be a point where we resist the urge to tinker?
Have you any tips or thoughts around finishing a piece of writing? I would love to hear them.