I’ve just finished editing my new novel. It went FAR too well! Isn’t it supposed to be harder? Shouldn’t I have been slaving away over the terribleness of it for months on end, if not years? I only added about 500 extra words and didn’t have to change anything much. This is immensely worrisome. Either I’m being too easy on myself or I can’t see the screamingly obvious weaknesses. Whichever it is doesn’t bode well. There is a SLIM chance that it might actually be okay: after all, I did spend months on planning and pre-writing. I worked out everything beforehand: character development, plot, order of events. I worked hard and fast which meant that by the time I came to write the novel, it didn’t die on the page, which has happened to me before. In fact, the heroine came to life having started off as a stereotype. So perhaps I shouldn’t beat myself up over it. Though I might try to find myself a beta-reader (scary thought.....)
It's been exactly a month since I started my new novel. Needless to say, the rest of my life has almost entirely disappeared. I emerge only to eat, sleep, do my chores and hang out with my daughter on occasion. And go to my Real Job, obviously. Otherwise, I'm locked away in dreamland, even while the workmen hammer and drill and smash away at the roof, showering my flat with dust and sawdust and shit that makes me cough my lungs out.........I just keep going, despite the world's determination to get me to stop. And after a month of persistence, I am now halfway. Unbelievable! Details to follow when I finally return to my various social media platforms. Until then, I'm on a rocket ride.
It’s the most beautiful morning imaginable in London. The sky is a shade of blue you only see in fairy stories and the air is so clean and fresh you would think it had been scrubbed by Christmas elves at the north pole. The leaves are that startling shade of green you only see for a brief time in spring before they turn dark and dusty and dehydrated when the seven months of drought and humidity hit London in May. Trudging around Russell Square, I heard several robins, blue tits, the occasional wood pigeon, a crow and one startled blackbird. This is about as close to magic as the centre of London ever gets. It all faded away a bit when I got back to my housing estate which has been annihilated by workmen but I expect my spirits will soon be rescued by some (fake) coffee and a (real) hot cross bun (or two).
It’s the sort of day that reminds me to let go of my problems. One can’t just keep dwelling all the time. It’s exhausting. My jaw is clenched so hard that I’ve virtually dislocated it. Really time to let go, I think! So I’m keeping myself busy with immense amounts of DIY, a lot of it rescuing my flat from the destructive forces of evil workmen, but also the destructive forces of virulent mould and damp. I’m also doing a lot of sewing, something I used to do a lot of decades ago. I’m currently creating a vastly complex blind for a vastly complex window. It should be finished this year some time.
All this is about as far away from writing as anyone can get. You’d almost think I’d stopped entirely.
In the midst of all the drama of life, an idea that had been edging around the borders of a far off land suddenly popped up and went HELLO! Not another bloody idea, I thought. I get lots of ideas. Most of them are crap. The last time I had a “brilliant” idea it turned into That Difficult Novel which has been abandoned for over a year now. But I ran this new idea past my daughter – who has a zeitgeisty finger on every pulse – and she seems to think it has legs. I’ve begun making notes, currently on hold over the mad DIY days of the Easter break and am looking forward to getting back to it. I need to make a lot of preparations: while the story is straightforward, the universe it’s set in needs a lot of development. And I really want to get it right. So I’m using my trusty “Teach Yourself Screenwriting” text book (yes, really!) and once I’ve made every note I can think of, I will be doing a writing course and applying what I learn to this novel. A lot of work to be done!
Quite a large part of me would like to never write anything again. But then in the darkest despair, it becomes the one and only thing I can look forward to: not so much the writing but the creation of something new. More than that, if this proposed series of novels works, I will finally have found my true voice as a writer. It’s that good.
It’s a cold, wet, wintry day in March – just how I like it. I can work in this weather and it means when I go out for a walk, the air will be fresh. And I like hiding in a woolly hat and stomping about in big boots. I'm on page 76 of my handwritten novel (there are over 200 pages) though I have stopped typing for the day as my fingers no longer seem attached to my brain.....coordination seems to conk after a while. But the novel no longer seems utterly awful. I mean, it is utterly awful, but I can already see the second draft – I am mentally rewriting as I go along. At least half the novel will be trashed and virtually everything will be overhauled: style, content, emotion, judgements. Hiding within these 200 pages of bitter drivel is quite a sharp novel. It has all the potential of being funny, weird and entertaining. So there is hope.
As a writer, you just have to keep going. And scrub mould off the ceiling when it all becomes impossible. And then hide in writing again when the real world hurls such agonising pain at you that you can’t breathe.
This is how it goes. I think it’s called life.
I've begun typing in my handwritten novel and for the first few days found myself feeling really gloomy. The typing itself is more boring than you can possibly imagine and I presumed that this was because, well, typing long documents IS just boring. But then I began to wonder if it wasn't the novel itself.
It's awful. I had finished it thinking how full of passion it was, how spectacular that this entire work had just poured from me onto the page, how excited I had been when writing it, experiencing floods of emotion, living through its highs and lows. Heh. I might have felt passion and high emotion but it sure doesn't come out on the page. It's dull, uneventful, and worse: full of every single beginner-writer's mistakes you spend your life trying to avoid.
It tells, it doesn't show. There are so few descriptions that you can't get a sense of the city, which is the whole idea. You don't get a sense of the people. And you don't care. It's emotionally manipulative rather than evocative. I had been so sure I was doing "stream of consciousness" writing but in fact, it's nothing like that at all. It's just drivel.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is a first draft. It was written fast. It was written without editing (as it's handwritten) with the intent of editing it later. But still. I had vaguely hoped that there was something special here. Now it seems I'm going to spend a year hacking away at a shit novel, trying to make it shine.
I can't find a title for it either, though it hardly seems to matter now. It will have "Jacaranda" in it somewhere. Jumping Jacarandas. Hahaha (sigh)(gloom).
With the first draft of my new novel done, I thought I had better start typing it into my computer so that I can edit it. Hah – I did two paragraphs and almost died with boredom......not because of the novel, you understand, but the laboriousness of READING MY AWFUL HANDWRITING! I mean, my writing LOOKS very nice, all curly and loopy and strong and slanted, but my letter-forming is a masterpiece of obfuscation. So I’ve put it aside for now and am happily continuing the even more soul-destroying task of bringing out the new editions of all five my novels, each one on three different platforms. Once that’s done, I can finally publish Commences which in itself will require much blogging to “talk about things” because this novel has hung over my head like the proverbial sword of Damocles.
There used to be some or other programme that I listened to on the radio as a kid in which a Big-Voiced bloke would talk about the sword of Damocles.....I’ve never worked out who Damocles actually was but the drama of it has never left me. It has something to do with doom (the sword, I mean) so I’m actually misusing it here: I don’t mean that Commences portends doom; rather, it’s been a black cloud hanging over me that I haven’t been able to make go away, no matter how much I huff and puff. By publishing it, perhaps the cloud will whizz off. Or rain money. Or rain a wonderful new life. Or something. At the very least, I’d like to move on as a writer.
I’m currently doing a final edit of Commences as well and have come to conclusion that it doesn’t matter what I do to this book: it’s never going to be anything other than bloody weird.
The scaffolders are racketing outside and I feel sick as a result of a scan, but my new novel - the one I wasn't going to write - is finished. Or the first draft is, at any rate. And it really is a first draft this time. I haven't gone back once. I've read none of it. I've not agonised over a single sentence. I've not researched a single thing. I haven't looked at the "shape" of the novel or thought about structure or pacing or any of those things you're meant to think about as a writer. I just wrote and wrote and wrote.....
.....and felt so unbelievable FREE! I've never written like this before. I've never felt this freedom. You could say this is "real" writing but truly, I don't think I would have been able to do it if I hadn't already written twenty novels. More probably. Most of them lost and forgotten. Let alone all the short stories......in other words, I have a LOT of experience in how to put one word on front of the other. I'm sure this has helped. Perhaps it was one of those occasions where, having learnt the rules, I could break them successfully.
Now that it's done, the real work begins:
That's the bit I'm looking forward to.
I’ve passed the 150 page mark in my new novel – this being the novel I hadn’t intended to write. At an average of 400 words per page, that’s 60 000 words in six weeks. For me, the writer who has to smash stones to get the faintest trace of blood, that is phenomenal. And my speed of writing shows no sign of slowing. If anything, it’s speeding up. I write for barely an hour and a half a day, often for less than an hour, but it’s so intense that I find the world strange and new when I get back to it. My writing world has been turned upside down. Everything I’m doing I haven’t done before:
Although, to be honest, I don’t actually think this is what I am doing. It’s just that compared to the very strict controls I impose on myself when I write, the writing I’m doing now is very, very free. And yet, even in its freedom, there is an aspect of tight control: I always know exactly where the narrative is going. I allow it to ebb and flow and find myself following harrowing passages with lighter ones, something I’ve had to work on before but here seems to be coming naturally, without thinking. I love it when an unexpected scenes evolve out of ones that are planned, when I find myself writing about something forgotten.
This is very much about memory. In memoirs and biographies, authors TRY to remember what they did and when and with whom. They write about the things they remember. I’m writing about the things I don’t remember. When I do find a clear memory, I write about it as if I am in that memory, living it, not looking at it in retrospect – although there are some retrospective comments. In some cases, without them, the story would lose its context.
But best of all, I’m loving this. My writing is free for the first time in years. Even if it’s never published, at least I can say it was an exercise in unblocking myself. Also, it makes me feel better. Over four months of self-published author admin nearly wiped me out. Writing is what works for me. Even if no one reads me, I’d rather be writing than anything else.
I'm writing again. I'm not sure how this happened. It wasn't planned.
I finished what is essentially the first complete draft of The Difficult Novel in May. Since then I've been doing all those things a self-published author has to do but actually doesn't want to. I've proofed, reformatted, promoted and published all summer long. I've brought out new paperback editions, I've redone old editions and improved them. I've worked and worked and worked and worked for what has basically amounted to no reward at all.
The summer got hotter and hotter and drier and drier. My financial situation got worse and worse, seriously not helped by my council tax bill suddenly doubling and my rent increasing massively for the second time in a year. I've developed a weird twitch in my right cheek and a health concern that has involved ghastly scans and tests and a mention of the C-word. My stress levels have become so high that even the trace of caffeine in tea is too much. I've had to reduce the amount of chocolate I eat (and chocolate is my ONLY vice) and cut out coffee all together (tragic).
And then, just when I thought summer had finally ended and a breath of autumn was imminent, a freaky September heatwave hit and London died its last breath in temperatures hitting 35C. Everything was too difficult. My job. My life. Responsibilities. Failures. Getting up in the morning. Trying to sleep. Trying to find joy when there wasn't any to be found. No relief, no release. No money to even catch a train to get out of London for a day. All the hard work I had done for months on end seemed suddenly quite pointless. Why reproof, reformat, republish novels that no one would ever read. Why was I doing everything wrong and why didn't I know the right way after all this time.
I virtually had a nervous breakdown. Everything made me cry. I thought about suicide but honestly, I couldn't be bothered to go that far and there is that teeny tiny part of me that still, pathetically, goes on hoping. Despite everything to the contrary, I never stop hoping. And anyway, the suffering it would cause my daughter would just be appalling. She might not like me much half the time but she still needs me. And I need my life. I don't want to have to start again. I've got novels to write even if no one reads them.
And then one day, in the middle of that heatwave, I sat down at the kitchen table and I began to write. Without notes, without a plan, barely without a title. I wrote by hand which I haven't done, erm, ever. Not since I was about twelve. I always type my stories, progressing from an ancient typewriter to an electric one to various computers over the years. Handwritten? Never. Without a plan? Never. Without notes? Never. Seriously: HANDWRITTEN???
I can't begin to tell you how well it's going!
I live in Bloomsbury.