On being stuck

When I am stuck, I scribble.

Having slogged through weeks of getting nowhere I finally found myself sliding to a complete halt. I couldn’t see where I was going. All momentum had long since faded. It felt like I was scratching for the sake of scratching rather than for real purposes of creation.

I went back to my notes but, this far through the story, I found I’d deviated too much from my outline for it to be really useful – at this point in proceedings, at least. To be honest, calling it an outline is perhaps optimistic anyway. The barest whispers of ideas given undue confidence and swagger is a better description.

So I wrote some new ideas.

Let’s be honest, it didn’t happen just like that. It took me about four sessions of staring at my manuscript, then staring at my wannabe-outline, before I realised I needed a different approach. But however long it took me, it seems to have helped. I have new direction and less ‘oh my god this is torturousness’ (torturosity?) feeling about the whole project.

When I’m stuck the first thing I like to do is to write about the problem: to find a way to express it. This doesn’t always come easy, but getting it down on paper – or occasionally Twitter – is an important first step for me. Hence:

Callan and the book: Could be going to either of two locations

  • To the DM, who has his Glen Rd house
    • Fitz wants to deal with this man
    • Rewrite introductory scene to feature DM, not the Peppers (though they may also be present)
    • DM has the power to make Fitz’s ambitions happen
  • To the Troll Farm
    • Peppers want the book there

Callan needs to be left alone with the book

Once the problem is set out, the answers always seem easier; a spot of selective brainstorming (oxymoronic, I know, but you get what I mean) shows me possible futures, and though I never seem to stick with what I come up with – this is already out of date – it resets me, gets me out of the morass I created. Thus:

So: Fitz’s POV: (or Callan’s?)

  • In the limo, with lord & lady Pepper and the DM
    • They have been to the DMs house; called the Peppers from there; kept Callan locked up until they arrived
    • Praise for Fitz: DM lets him know that he’s going to get his reward
      • Temporal power
      • Revenge on Mark/Paul

(I feel safe letting you into this part of my manuscript as I’ve no doubt this will make any sense to anyone. It barely makes sense to me. In fact, looking back at it now, I can’t believe how sketchy it is; there’s so much skipped, assumed, even for me.)

The point isn’t to say that you should be doing this. Just that this works for me. Everyone has their own way of making progress, be it following a set plan down to the last syllable or by dispensing with notes altogether. I just thought you might be interested to see that a) I do get (very) stuck sometimes, and b) I have a way to get myself out of the mire.

It’s something I think I’ve done for about every novel I’ve written. It’s just that this time I actually noticed what I was doing.

Interesting? I’m not sure. But it filled in another week’s blog, so there’s that, at least.

Merry writing!

99%

So, one of my editing jobs is complete, the other not so very long or intensive. I can finally see my way to the world of creative writing beyond.

Indeed, I actually managed to fire up my WIP for the first time since Christmas. I carved out an hour to do something original, something new, and… I failed.

It seems as if just having the time isn’t enough. One must also have brains in order to write, and, right now, I’m just not getting anywhere.

Frustration. But also optimism. Because writing is work, and I can do work. It’s just a case of sitting behind the keyboard and staring at the screen until those black marks on the screen – the words, I mean, and not just the dirt – make sense, and then they start talking to you.

I never really understood what it means to say you’re blocked. I’m finding it hard right now – does that mean I’m blocked? Does it signify something horribly awry with the work I’ve produced thus far? I don’t think so. I believe in what I’ve done, imperfect though it is at this stage. My problem is that I’m out of practice; since August I’ve not had a few straight weeks to just focus on the manuscript, and that’s costing me now.

But I will continue. I will keep scratching away, one word at a time, doing as little as I’m able each session until either a) the metaphorical pen begins to fly again and I realise that I’ve slipped back into the swing of things, or b) I look back and realise that all this scratching has added up to a solid page or two of writing.

It won’t be very good, of course. But that’s what second drafts are for.

So at the moment I’m taking odd moments to reacquaint myself with the situation I’ve left myself and my characters in. Just adding a few words here and there as the inspiration finds me. Treading water, not really getting anywhere.

But all this is valuable. It is the building blocks of progress. It’s not ideal; ideal would be to sit down and write solidly until the work is done. But it is what I have to work with after real life is added to the equation.

They say that genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration*. I’m no genius but it’s where I am. I’ve had my moment of inspiration – a dream 16 months ago – and now I’ve just got to sweat it out.

Any future biopic of me will surely rewrite this section of my life. Score points for determination, but it ain’t never going to be the most dramatic Oscar-worthy sequence.

Onwards!

*Edison said that. Leacock puts the figures at 10-90. Can’t even agree on that one.

Two guvnors

I have done but a single line of creative writing this side of Christmas. This is clearly sub-optimal. I’m not blocked, though, or taking ill-deserved time off; I am, in fact, as busy as I’ve ever been – just not with the things that matter to me.

Partly the problem is that I am very lucky. I have a day-job at which I spend twenty hours a week, plus a little time commuting and preparing. I then fill up the rest of the working week with writing or editing.

Thing is that my commercial editing arm has got really long recently. I am in demand, with all of two jobs awaiting my attention. This obviously isn’t many, not really, but it’s rare for me to have work stacked up; usually I work from one to the next, never quite knowing when my next job will come through.

It’s been like this since August. I’ve been so busy working on other people’s writing that it’s taken all the time I used to use for myself. And I’m not (honestly) complaining about that – it’s great. Good, interesting work that keeps me entertained and off the streets, or at least saves me from being too dependent on my wife.

It’s just that, what with spending some crumbs of time with my family and the odd moment for myself, my genuine, original writing has taken a back seat. This is beginning to eat at me; I have a half-finished novel just waiting for an ending (though I fear the amount of mental effort I’ll have to pour into it; editing is, for me at least, much the easier task) and I have my own books to problem-solve, thank you very much.

I am not good at turning down work. I am too afraid of being blackballed, or being seen as unreliable, or some red flag being appended to my name, to refuse paying tasks. As I said earlier, I’m used to working as the tasks come in and don’t have a great timetable of works ahead as the true professionals do. Thus I take what I’m given, and I work hard, and I get the job done, he says with a certain amount of pride.

But I want to write. I want to create. And I haven’t truly got the work-life balance right. In this day and age, how do we tell them apart anyway?

I have some great stories to tell. I need to carve out time to tell them.

On 2022

I’ve had a book on submission with a publisher for eleven months now. That’s a long time – by no means a record, but a long time nevertheless. In the meantime I’ve got halfway through the (second) sequel, as well as doing a hell of a lot of commercial editing, so I’ve hardly been sitting on my hands. But I’ve not been submitting. I have been waiting.

This is how 2022 is going to go for me. This book is either going to be accepted for publication or I’ll be rejected. If the latter I’ll be very disappointed but, y’know, life and all that. I’ll then have to consider whether I go on trying to place it commercially – all the hells themselves won’t know where, mind – or if I’m going to take all the lessons learnt from New Gods and self-publish.

If it’s accepted – well, it probably won’t be published before 2023 and there’s all the rounds of editation it’ll need to go through, but I’ll know what I’m doing. I can get on with first-drafting Breathing Fire, and editing Our Kind of Bastard, and I’ll keep the hope of being some kind of ‘success’ alive.

Of course I’ll do all that writing and editing anyway because it is, at the end of the day, what I do.

2022 is to be determined, for me, by a binary choice made by someone else. This is not a good way to be and I don’t advocate it – which is, of course, why I,’m trying to carry on as if that’s not happening. I am still keeping my eyes open for other submission opportunities – I’m not beholden to anyone – but I’ve already been rejected by all agents and, for this trilogy, this seems like my last chance.

So how optimistic am I about the year to come? I have no idea. Not very? Somewhat? I always try to expect rejection because that way it doesn’t hurt as much when it happens. I guess, though, this time I am afraid because I can’t see a road ahead with a no.

And that’s what I really fear. Not the rejection itself, but the feeling of helplessness that is likely to accompany this one. This is a good book. It’s levelling up on my past work – or at least that’s how I feel anyway. I just won’t know what to do next if the thumbs turn down.

2021 can get in the bin. It was not a good year for me. 2022? Well, we shall just have to see.