I am grateful for coffee, cookies and dolphin singing. Because sometimes it's really hard to get into the writing zone.
A series for Lent.
I am grateful for coffee, cookies and dolphin singing. Because sometimes it's really hard to get into the writing zone.
A series for Lent.
I'm grateful for editing. Nothing I write is carved into stone. It can be deleted, changed, pummelled into submission or reworked into all perpetuity.
Creation starts somewhere inside you - for the sake of argument, let's call it inside your head. There, your novel, your painting, your composition (any form of art: from a knitted sock to a rocket to Mars) is perfect. It's a thing of beauty.
But when you try to recreate it by writing it, painting it or designing it, it's a lump of hideous, formless, colourless clay. Occasionally you'll get lucky (when the gods are smiling on you or you've had a seriously large shot of caffeine) and the recreation works. Mostly, it's garbage.
This is what editing is all about: you now have to take your formless lump of clay and work it. You have to pummel it, chop bits out, add bits, go over it again and again. You have to shape it and reshape it. You have to sweat over it. You have to research bits of it. You have to rethink other bits. You can even get someone else to inspect it and get their opinion, but, ultimately, the recreation is yours.
In the end, you're never going to recreate that perfect thing you created inside your head. But you can get close. And it takes work to get close. With experience, you get better at it. With time, your first lump of clay requires less work, less sweat, less tears.
Editing isn't about fixing up mistakes. Editing equals Art.
What do you do when your head is full of novels? There are so many I want to write. And I want to write them all now.
I want to write the fifth and last novel in the Fleet Quintet so that would be, at last, a quintet and not a quartet (though for many years it languished as a trilogy....) Ideas for this keep popping into my head. The problem has always been how to tie up all the lose ends. There are quite a few! And no part of what is remaining of the story is linear. I have finally hit on the idea of a Storyteller. This in itself probably isn't very original but it leads to several twists and revelations. In fact, the revelations are what draw me to the story. I am, quite frankly, just dying to reveal them!
I also want to write the next Exodus Sequence story. The main character has appeared fully formed in my head and man, does she talk a lot. I can hear her voice, her accent, what she has to say, who she says it to and why. There are two other characters, both instantly recognisable from an Exodus Sequence story called "Crashed." This isn't particularly a sequel (the stories aren't constructed that way) but it does explain an awful lot. In fact, there is quite a lot of explanation in this story but because it is done by this brilliant character (the one whose voice I can hear in my head), it sounds great. I really need to start writing these conversations down.
I also want to write the next fantasy novel. I've been trying to get the first one published for a year now, so far in vain. It's created something of a dampener for me but I decided I just had to get going on the second one otherwise the series will never get going and I'm really keen that it does. So out of all my choices, I picked that one and am into Chapter 2. Commercially, it makes the most sense, despite an agent not yet picking it up.
And then there are the short story spin-offs from this "low fantasy" series. The short stories take place in the fantasy-type realm, while the series of novels are set in the real world, so to speak. I've loved creating both.
And then there are those present-tense literary style short stories, snippets from my own life told in the third person, a very strange experience which is proving to be amazingly cathartic. I've written one so far and it was wonderful to get it all out - truly turning aspects of my life (which bother me) into art. There are quite a few more where that one came from too.
And then there's that strange novel I want to write which was my first ever screenplay. Fortunately I abandoned the screenplay idea (I'm no good at it) but the story is well-developed and would make a great novel.
And then, finally, there is That Difficult Novel, where this diary began way back in February 2015. Has it really only been four years since I started it?! How is that possible? It feels like decades ago. My Great Literary Work, this has turned into an albatross and it weighs heavily around my neck. I know I can fix it up. I know I can turn it into something spectacular.
But, dear God, when? I've got enough work to keep me busy for the next ten lifetimes. It doesn't seem to matter that no one is reading my work. I am more fuelled than ever. It just doesn't die. The fire is burning so high it's lighting up the whole sky.
I am lightheaded with joy and relief. At last my novella is finished. This is the one that got lost several times. The one that I started last January and abandoned. The one that turned out to be so long I thought I'd have to divide it in two. The one I thought I could rewrite into a serial. The one that I thought was terrible.
It wasn't. It's bloody brilliant.
Of course, one always thinks the most recent thing one writes is the best ever, so that feeling may go away, but for now: I'm just going to run with it. It's lovely. It makes me remember why I'm a writer. I created this thing, this story, out of absolutely nothing. It has people. They have lives. They do things that have consequences. And behind it all is a vast backstory that would take a million years to tell.
I love it. I love being able to do this. I think I might just actually take off and fly.
Last night I dreamed I was trapped. I dreamed this three times and have already forgotten two of them, but the middle dream, the worst one, I can't forget. I was in the most appalling awful building. Raw concrete, windows of plastic-glass that could not be broken. The view was desolate: a wintry, industrial landscape of barbed wire and more concrete. Others were with me, young men that looked familiar. We were tasked to dig into the building. I have no idea why other than that there was a huge back story to all of this I'd already forgotten in the dream itself.
But the floors were had to dig into had veins of radioactivity. Terrified, I tried to escape by breaking the glass windows but my arm just bounced off them. I ran through all the floors of the building until I found a broken elevator shaft and managed to climb down precarious debris to the outside. The last bit was high but I jumped anyway, realising I could slide down on a curtain of fabric that was part of someone's stall at a Christmas market.
It was all very jolly but I had to keep running. The girl who ran the stall came with me, terrified too. We ran and just when it seemed safe - we were out in the open - she turned to me and smiled, a friendly, kind sort of smile - and a cage snapped around both of us.
An ally had suddenly betrayed me. The snap of the cage's appearance was like a silent explosion of invisible light, a change so sudden that I almost died with fright.
It was a huge cage, plenty of room for others. And the others came: rich, privileged people, all dressed in their best finery, all looking up with wonder. I had seen these people before - at the market? In another building? Had they been watching us digging in the radioactive building? At first they had just come to gawp at us in the cage but then they were trapped too, hundreds of them.
It seem were all there because someone.....
Well, who knows. The next dream probably explained it all but I have no memory of it.
Listening to someone relating dreams is unutterably boring. It makes fabulous sense to the person trying to describe it, I mean, you can still SEE the images so clearly. You can FEEL the emotions (in my case, it's almost always terror or ineffectual rage). You can see the colours, the people, the weirdness, all the laws of physics broken, the Alice in Wonderland effect in full force. But in describing it, all is lost.
I've turned many dreams into stories. None of them, upon completion, resemble the dream in any way. It's almost impossible to recreate the surreal events of a dream in a way that is interesting to others. And you only have to witness what passes for dreams in movies or books to realise that you never dream like that. So don't even try.
However, for inspiration, there can be no better source!
Thirteen years ago today, all the streets around where I live were full of ambulances, fire trucks, hi-vis jackets and a lot of cordoning-off tape. The bus bomb went off just half a block from where I live; one of the tube bombs inside my local tube station.
It was a horrible time. Every time I went out my front door, there were reminders of death and destruction. I didn't go a day without crying. The horror of it and the appalling waste, the appalling insanity of the bombers, the innocent lives lost - it comes back every year on this date as a haunting memory.
There are other dates. Other bombs. Other atrocities. But it's the one closest to you that you remember most of all. An oak tree was planted on Russell Square to commemorate the dead and I'm please to say that it's growing tall and strong, despite the pollution it suffers and the ghastly heatwaves that get worse and worse as years go by.
On Thursday morning I woke at 4.30 as usual, too hot to sleep. Tossing and turning, I wracked my brains for a suitable topic to write about for an anthology I wanted to contribute to, a genre that I had never tackled. Four hours later, when I was brushing my teeth, an idea finally gelled. Knowing how busy I would be on Friday, I planned to start the story today, Saturday 7/7. Saturdays are always good days to write.
But it has to be more than a coincidence that on the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, I should start writing a short story about just that: the 7/7 bombings. It wasn't planned. The story is so freshly dreamed up that I couldn't have planned it at all. But there it is: on the anniversary of the bombings, I find myself researching the events I lived through, remembering the dead more than I ever have before, and confronting that day that - until now - I've tried to forget.
It still makes me cry.
I thought I should report back on my dictating efforts.
The best thing I can say about it is that DOES make copy-typing faster. Copy-typing of any kind is gruelling, though: cue days of aches and pains in back and neck, as I stare fixedly at the screen, typing rather badly. (Contrary to what one might believe, typing doesn't get any better the more you do it.) It was painful stuff. All the joy of handwriting a short story were nullified by the sheer utter tedium of having to convert it onto the screen.
Several small factors made it harder: my headphones weren't long quite long enough to place my tablet where I wanted it (yes, hello, iPod people, why are your headphones so damn short); there was also quite an irritating break in typing every time I had to physically stop the playback (by touching the screen's pause button) and often I'd miss.
You try hitting a half-centimetre circle with a pinkie and see how accurate you are.
So it was slow-going and laborious. It would have been lovely to have one of those dictaphone things with a foot pedal but when I priced them on Amazon, they cost nothing less than a fortune.
However, at long last the short story was transferred to the screen where I could edit it. There's nothing quite likely slowly reading your work out loud and then even more slowly retyping it to realise just how bad it is. I had an awful lot of work to do to get it up to scratch.
It's odd that a piece of work seems so brilliant when you're writing it and that afterwards, when you begin editing it, you realise what crap it is. The creative process is divine. The editing process is hell. How feeble we are at reproducing our imaginations on the page.
Or, at least, I am.
I've just finished writing a second short story by hand (another fantasy tale, part of the same universe). This one was much harder. Two thirds of the way through, I had to ditch everything and start again. This time I'm far more aware of its shortcomings and am actually looking forward to editing it to fix it up. It also has a plot hole which I don't seem able to fix.
Perhaps all I need to do is distract the reader. Heh heh heh.
I realised this week that I can at best be described a late bloomer. The fact that I haven't actually bloomed yet makes it later still! After a horrible week, full of cruel disappointments and an appalling writing crisis, telling myself that I am still to bloom is about all I've got to keep me going. It's the positive flip-side to "total failure." It also helps (though not much) to alleviate the sickening green envy I feel when twenty-two-year-olds win major writing awards and publication deals because, obviously, I wanted to be that 22 y.o. when I was 22. I wanted to be a child star. And the rather lonely, neglected, nightmare-filled child inside me STILL wants to be that star.
So I'm having to placate myself with the fact that many extremely successful writers only found that success very late. I'm sure I'm not the first "ageing" writer to tell myself, again and again, like a mantra "late bloomer, late bloomer, late bloomer....." in the vague hope that it will cheer me up.
After all, don't late bloomers bloom the most beautifully?
Looking for "late bloomer" quotes online made me raise several eyebrows, though. Those quotes by people who say they only bloomed in their twenties........how is that late blooming? From my positively ancient viewpoint, anything below 40 to me is still spring-chicken country.
Wikipedia got it right, though; however, did they have to put "child prodigy" at the top of their "see also" list - right under late blooming authors??!
I've just finished writing a short story - by hand, in ten days! This was QUITE unplanned.
I was already working on a new Exodus Sequence novelette, which was turning into a huge piece, so huge I had to split it in two. I had begun the second part but my writing seemed to slow down to a crawl. It was hard to concentrate on something that was, essentially, just too hard. I think I was perhaps being over-ambitious!
Also, life was getting in the way.
So I did something I've never done before: I took a few pieces of paper with me to Kew, sat in a window overlooking the lake and, while waiting for my coffee (they needed to pick the beans, so it was taking a while.....), I began to make notes. I wrote another paragraph for the Flash Fiction piece I was working on. And then made some notes for the series of short stories I wanted to write inspired by the novel I wrote last year (and for which I'm currently trying to find an agent.)
Before I knew it, I had already written a page.
The next day I sat down and wrote a few more. Then more. I sat in front of my computer, though it was turned off, and just wrote and wrote and wrote, often for longer than I would usually write when typing, and producing many more words in a sitting. The story unfolded easily, surprising me on the way. Once you read it, you'd think I'd spent an age planning it. Even the research was fun and I wrote with confidence, never second-guessing myself. It helped also not to go back and edit each day because that really slows me down too. And once I'd worked out vaguely how many words I was writing per page (around 500), it meant I could judge the length of the story and ensure it didn't turn into an over-long saga, which is what I was trying to avoid. At a rough guess, I'd say it's about 10 000 words, which is what I was aiming at. For me, that's short.
But better than all of this is the sheer utter joyful feeling of CREATING. It was just wonderful to be able to produce this work. It removed me from the day-to-day tribulations of Life long enough to improve my mood and give me the strength to go back to it. As a writer, I sometimes think I only get to spend about 2% of my life actually writing; the rest is just coping. At least writing (when it goes well) gives one something to live for.
I now sit with 24 pages of my handwriting, which looks neat enough but is actually quite a trial to copy-type. (I've been through this before.) So I've come up with a brilliant idea: using a dictaphone and audio-typing. I downloaded one (there are zillions available, it seems) onto my tablet and have already recorded the first few pages. Each recording is only a thousand words or so (two written pages) and about 6 minutes long. This makes more confrontable blocks to type. I absolutely can't stand the sound of my voice but just have to get over that.
Will let you know how it goes!
Have come to conclusion that I'm an enormously delicate flower of a person. This is not a good thing to be in this world. Outside the orcs are cutting down the trees and I can hear them (the trees) screaming in pain, all the leaf buds dying, all that life extinguished by an evil fucker's chainsaw. I put on some pretty music and tried to write my not-very-good story but it's quite entertaining (to write, anyway).......only to have my computer tell me there was no more storage space.
Was it utterly nuts???? Brand new computer, with about one millimetre of blue used on the C drive. Something to do with OneDrive, whatever the hell that is. And do you think I could contact Microsoft???!!! I was howling with frustration, blinded by tears, when finally I worked out I had to click on the "disabled" persons thing (I don't understand this - they only talk to disabled people, everyone else gets a crap email?) Anyway, since my feet are in agony, my arthritis hurts, I have had terrible earache for two weeks and am thus partially deaf, I figured I was disabled enough. Also, I'm a hypochondriac, have agoraphobia, claustrophobia, suffer from severe bouts of depression, and frightened of people, germs, dirt and taxes.....so I figure this makes me quite disabled too.
Or, at best, a crushed petal of a person, who cries at the most minor of life's challenges.
Anyway, totally fab Microsoft guy took remote access of my computer, got rid of stupid OneDrive which I don't need and I'm back in action.
A Very Big Writer's Tip: if this happens and you think you're going to lose what you just wrote, copy and paste it as fast as possible into an email. I did that and thank God I did because the last paragraph I had written vanished. Easily retrievable from gmail. Hoorah.
Think I'd better go and have lunch before I die of starvation.
I live in Bloomsbury.