Halt

Due to the way life gets in the way, I haven’t really had much chance to write. It makes me realise that how much I had depended on things being quiet last year for me to get any kind of movement. As it is, it feels I have so much to juggle that writing has just fallen off the map, and is the least of my priorities right now. It makes me realise that I was in a fairly privileged position to have been able to write as much as I did.

I know it won’t stay busy forever, and I know it will get tranquil again eventually, but I do feel quite sad that I can’t just sit down and get on with this. Then again, extra time and space is usually a good thing when it comes to anything creative, and I probably shouldn’t worry to much about it.

Procrastination

Word count 988
Draft V1
Writing time: 5 hours.

Noticing I am really starting to second guess myself a lot at the moment, which is slowing things right down and is risking wearing out my delete key.

On the plus side, I was introduced to the writing of David Sedaris, after someone who had read Irrelevant Experience said the bit in the Santa’s Grotto reminded them of something he wrote (The Santaland Diaries). I was initially scared that it was accidentally plagiaristic (I had taken that incident as a mix between something that happened in a Viz story and something that had happened to an RA I used to work with), but to my relief it was quite different, but found myself reading his essays compulsively as they were amazingly written. I would highly recommend them to anyone.

So much so I have done that incredibly annoying thing where I am now inadvertently adopting his kind of style and language if I am not too careful. This is extremely unhelpful as a) it’s not my voice, b) I am not going to be doing it as well as him, and c) it really doesn’t suit the tone of what I am writing that well. That said I am really enjoying reading them, and I think there is something universal there to reflect on about being a young person in often difficult or ludicrous situations and somehow having to get through it in one piece. It’s also a style that would lend itself very well to the world of what happens in mental health clinical work, and it would be cool if someone would take that approach, (although that person is not going to be me as I have enough on my plate with this stuff).

Thinking out loud

Word count 752
Draft V1
Writing time: 3+ hours.

Okay, after my initial farcical attempts at breaking ground, I went back to it and started in earnest, and figure I should reflect on the journey by keeping some kind of distance marker to chart my progress. So far I have come up with a serviceable opening line, and made several important decisions.
I am going to write this one in third person, as opposed to first person like I did in Irrelevant Experience. I wasn’t really sure about what would be best, and procrastinated making a decision over this. However, after writing the opening few pages in both, I decided on third person was going to be better. While first person has a sense of intimacy and immediacy, I quickly found I could actually write more and from a broader scope if I was to move the perspective outside the head of the main character. Also I remember the comments from Christy my editor about how I would often use phrases and words that belonged in my mouth rather than the style of my main character. This was frustrating in its own way, because my vocabulary is broader and it was limiting to stay “in character” for the duration of the book. Hopefully by writing third person it will free me up to do more.

I’m in the process of introducing the main characters, which is going to be a bit different this time around. As the story opens on the first day of clinical training, with a new cohort of trainees, there is going to have to be a bit of info dumping, not just of characters, but of some of the details of what this kind of programme involves. It’s going to be a challenge to a) introduce the material without coming across like a brochure and b) overwhelming the reader with too much information before the story gets started. In books and films, one of the best ways to annoy me is to have obvious exposition spat out at the viewer in the manner of “As you already know Mr Bond, the giant laser is aimed over Paris and Professor Deathbringer is trying to blackmail the UN”. If Bond already knows this, why the hell is another character telling him this stuff? Similarly, I don’t want to go down the Tom Clancy way of making “details and specification porn” where obscure terms and concepts are fetishised and often get in the way of telling the story. I think the challenge is going to be weaving in the story with the explanation of what is happening, while keeping the plot running.

Also as the main character from the first book is going to be a secondary character in this one, how much old ground do I need to go over? I would like someone who only reads this to get an understanding, but I don’t want to alienate anyone who has read the last one by telling them what they may already know. I guess there is always the fact that it comes from a different perspective this time, which could keep it fresh, but its going to have to be something I pay attention to.

What is fortunate is that the first scene takes place on the first day of the first term, which has its own structure that I don’t need to worry about. There are going to be naturalistic avenues for introductions and explanations, so it doesn’t have to sound too forced. Still I do need to decide what is covered immediately and what can wait. Lets hope I can keep this up …

Breaking ground

Yesterday, after a really hectic day at work and about 6 hours of back to back therapy appointments and feeling absolutely shattered, I got home and started writing my next novel.

I sat down, turned on my computer, opened up a blank template and the words started to pour out. It felt good. I was moving. Ideas that had been percolating all winter effortlessly streamed out. So it went on for a couple of hours until hunger called me away and I headed off to make dinner. I have no real clue why it happened like this. Perhaps it was the return to routine. Maybe it was just the fact that if you over think something, it rapidly becomes impossible. Something trite and cheesy, like happiness or looking for love, the act of any artistic expression can’t simply be turned on like a tap, but has to come exactly when you aren’t desperately searching for it.

After eating, I came back to review what I had written.

It was terrible. I deleted it.

Start of 2014

Been away for a while, but am back now.

I had hoped to really break ground on starting the novel, but it has been far harder than I envisaged. I had thought that a change of scenery, time away from work and some distance from the events of the last few months would have kick started my writing, but I observed something strange happening.

At first there was the endless distractions that holidays (particularly Christmas holidays) throw up. Movies need to be seen, friends need to be visited, and all the stuff you have been putting off while work was in full swing now needs to be done before the end of the year. Plus you reason that you do need some downtime, a little relaxation and space to unwind. You rationalise it to yourself, the rationale slowly seducing you. Hey it’s Christmas. No one else is working. In fact isn’t in pathological for you to be even thinking of writing at a time like this?

Then it gets a bit more sinister. You resolve to sit down and at least make a start. But it suddenly seems hard. Questions pop up. Wait, are you doing it right? How did you do it again the last time? What happened again in the last book that I need to follow up? A little voice at the back of your mind starts to whisper “Now maybe not the right time”.

Trivial obstacles loom larger. The room is too cold. That urge for a snack overwhelms. The computer is taking too long to start. Five more minutes in bed. What you really need is that visit to Starbucks (and if a friend ends up joining you, and you spend the rest of the afternoon whiling away the good times then so be it).

How hard can it be to sit down and write 500 words? Well harder than you would credit it.

What a piece of work is a man

While Irrelevant Experience was written using a female protagonist,  the follow-up will be written with a male lead character. After writing a book from a woman’s perspective, it surely should be easier to write as my native gender. Yet the prospect of doing so seems harder. I think that when I was writing from the perspective of the opposite gender, it made me step back and question a lot of my assumptions, which made the act of writing a bit easier.This time around, I fear the danger is that I am at risk of taking too much for granted and end up writing lazily.

However, a bigger issue is identifying a “core” to the character of which to write around. I have a completely unfounded opinion that male protagonists are overrepresented in literature  but more of them are unsatisfying as they don’t have such a well-developed inner world compared to their female counterparts. They tend to be defined by their actions rather than who they are as three-dimensional human beings, and I often struggle to get a sense of how they would operate after the adventure is over and they go back to whatever it is they would be doing once the reader turns the final page. 

Many of the memorable ones have always centered around an idea rather than a stereotype or plot device. Happily, there is one piece of writing, which I read a while ago and has stayed with me, and could be that “core”. It was taken from a review of the film “No Country for Old men” from Bright Wall/ Dark Room but it was this particular extract that got me.

I will never grow tired of the subject of what it means to be a good man. I could debate it for hours and still fall quiet at night in gutted empathy because who do You get to ask about this issue? What can you do but collect our demands long as a flight prep list and merge them with your own and decide where you will disappoint?

Be smart and charming and funny and manly and progressive and know the right words that will ache us and then be strong enough to put it all back together. Figure out how to monetize that charm and cleverness. Figure out how to succeed. Be removed and bastardly enough that we do not grow tired of you. Honest and sensitive enough that you will not damage our own good hearts. Be hardened and invincible, but quote from the right books and make us laugh. Impress us all. There is an airstrip one county over and now the whole damn state is yours to conquer and serve and be clear: This is expected of you. It’s all within reach and all invading.

So learn to be the protector and the nurturer and the rogue and the reliable. Or choose yourself and freedom and fail us. Mills asked once if these paradoxes are unique to men and I say yes. Betraying my gender I say yes, just as there are pressures and conflicts and weariness unique to being a woman, I will lead the march to the town square to confess: Being a man is nearly impossible to get right. And we need you so much to get it right.

I think it encapsulates several things that men have to struggle with, especially outside traditional fields where achievement or success are clearly defined. While much has been spoken about the conflicting and often contradictory messages that women have to put up with (which I don’t trivialise for a second), there is a lesser spoken equivalent for men that also exists. It is equally baffling, but I am not really sure of how many of us are even conscious of it.Okay, it may feel hard to make a character out of that, but I think there is something there about the journey to become a “good” man that parallels the conflicts in clinical training and could match nicely. Now it’s just a question of figuring out how to do it.

Hard copy

The paperback is finally out on Amazon, which is another weight off my mind. The site of having several paper copies strewn around is still quite surreal, but I do quite like the feeling of having something physical to hand. As someone who buys way more ebooks than I do paperbacks, I would be the first to speak out about the legitimacy of the electronic medium, but I have to conceded that having a physical copy just seems more “real”.

The irony is that real world bookshops have never been so under threat. I had realised this in an abstract sort of way, but it was shoved in my face recently. Last weekend I was accosted in Foyles by a market researcher asking me about my book buying habits. From the direction and tone of the questioning they may have just asked me outright “Why do you keep buying from those Amazon bastards? Where is your loyalty?” I was aware that I had started to feel quite guilty, the kind I imagine I would experience had I ungratefully neglected to visit my grandparents in the old folks home. I promised I would think more carefully in future about my spending habits, before shamefully buying a whole heap of stuff online less than 12 hours later.

On an unrelated note, things are definitely slowing down in the run up to Christmas, (both at work and in life in general). This is just as well as I am absolutely knackered. However, I am aware that instead of making the best use of this extra time, I have fallen into bad habits about idling my time away and not doing anything productive. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I consider myself still in the recuperation phase to some extent. Despite this, I do think that this time of year almost thrusts something down one’s throat about being a consumer. Eat this, buy that, gift those and above all spend, spend, spend. One of the things that putting the book together did was take me out of my old consumption habits and had me more focussed on being a producer and creator.

Now I believe that you require a balance of both to be effective. You can’t really write unless you have read a lot of other people’s’ writing. Directors get inspiration from the movies of others, and the act of consumption links us to others in some way that reinforces our need for one another. It’s the passivity that gets to me, but I am far too tired to worry much about it.