We are so product oriented in writing that we generally only acknowledge the works that make it into print. Or, we have become so process oriented that a new term "process-porn" is used to describe the endless gabbing writers do about their peculiar writing habits. Yet we rarely want to examine the failures -- the works that never made it into print. These "spavined, half-cocked monstrosities" play an interesting role in an author's life -- returning now and again as challenges, re-invented as something entirely new, or cannibalized for their "good parts" (I can't count the number of authors who have counseled me over the years to "never throw anything away.")
The Independent has a fascinating article on the novels that for one reason or another never make it to publication; those pieces of work that haunt the author from the bottom of the drawer. The article quotes George Steiner: "'A book unwritten is more than a void. It accompanies the work one has done like an active shadow, both ironic and sorrowful. It is one of the lives we could have lived, one of the journeys we did not take.'" The article highlights ten authors who graciously reveal the various reasons certain novels they worked on (some gratefully) were never published. Amanda Craig writes humorously about her attempt as a young author to write a space opera based on Shakespeare's The Tempest: "'A mixture of magniloquent philosophy and stilted pornography, its climax involved a lot of intergalactic explosions and a hermaphroditic elopement. Really, I just needed to live longer, calm down and get out more.'"
These "confessions" are really interesting, and in some ways reassuring -- the creative imagination it seems finds powerful instruction from the failures as well as the successes.
*Authors pictured: top, Amanda Craig, Will Self; bottom, Jonathan Coe, Lynne Truss