I’m making great progress, on the face of it. I’ve written 31,000 words — almost half the word-count of the average novel, according to some. I feel that I have made headway into the meat of the process — the ‘middle’ of the story, as it were.
On the other hand, I have spent the last few days churning out careful reconstructions of times and events that hold strong memories for me, without really comprehending how they might fit into the overall picture.
I’m aware as I write that many of these words will be chopped away in the editing process. But there’s no alternative; I must put all of this down, because only by doing that will I be able to look back and see what needs to be removed for the sake of relevance, while keeping the message intact and as fully-formed as possible.
So it’s a lot of words written, but potentially a lot of wasted effort. But is it really wasted? I don’t think so. Aside from being an essential part of the discovery that I’m going through while writing the book — which is an entirely different prospect to writing a blog or essay, the only formats I previously knew — it’s also allowing me to travel back to previous times and places, both as a participant and as an omniscient observer, watching myself as I was three or four years ago; young, idealistic and often mortifyingly ignorant and arrogant.
And that in itself presents a challenge for the writer: do I attempt to tell long-passed tales through the lens of retrospective wisdom? Should I censor the cringeworthiest of my presumptions and episodes of self-important grandstanding? Or should I try to retell those happenings through the eyes of the person I was at the time? Or is it somewhere in between?
More questions arise from these considerations: Will anyone really care what I learnt, if or how I changed as a result of the experiences? Does anyone but me give a crap where I succeeded and failed and how I justified decisions that looked like failure? Or do people just want to read tales of action-adventure; boundary-breaking, cross-cultural, death-defying expeditioning? Do I want to write a book like that? Could I even present my source material in that light and remain honest? (No!)
Next, what of the yawnsome stuff that would struggle to excite even my gran? Some of the most taxing times came during the mental adjustment at the beginning of the journey in Western Europe. How can I describe this without mentioning the riding and the land itself, being as it was so familiar and mundane to us through its proximity, yet looking so different from the acutely twisted perspective of a vagabond on a bicycle?
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. Yet. I guess that in some ways the writing process is forcing an ever-so-thorough re-analysis of all that has happened, and if doing so will help to uncover the heart of this tale, the words I will later cut away will not have been written in vain.