“How goes the writing?”

“So how’s the writing going?”
“Good. Steady. I mean, I’ve not achieved anything. But okay, thanks. I’m still doing it.”
And here endeth the conversation.

In the real world I’m not a big one for discussing my writing. This is partly because I’m British and it feels far too much like boasting. It’s partly because, as soon as someone knows you’re a writer they’ll ask what you write and, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, saying you’re a speculative-fiction-cum-adventure-with-a-side-order-of-crime writer is likely to induce a picture of polite blankness where a face used to be.

I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly difficult to really enthuse about my own work. Maybe after a beer or two, or if I’m feeling especially comfortable in the situation, I can raise a little passion about my own work. But most of the time it’s the conversational equivalent of shuffling my feet and glancing awkwardly at the floor.

But there are a few people who know I write. Acquaintances who have somehow wheedled the information out of me or The Missus and are nice enough to want to know how I’m getting on. And the conversation is always based around a theme of “…erm.”

There are moments when you’re fired with enthusiasm. If you’re first-drafting, or just about to commit the contents of brain to paper for the first time, you can rhapsodise; you can convey your excitement, you can discuss the great sweep of the plot and try and encapsulate the theme in one rather drunken and gesticulatory paragraph of wonder.

But these are rare. These moments, as we all know, are a tiny fraction of the time spent ‘writing’. Mostly we are editing. We’re going over the same chapter, the same paragraph, for the umpteenth time. What is progress? Progress is making the novel better. But saying you re-read through a dozen pages and marked out three potential rewrites (that you’re probably unsure about anyway) does not a good anecdote make.

Similarly, how do you sell your audience with stories of cutting a scene? Any sensible person would be wondering why you wasted your time writing it in the first place, even though we all know that it’s an essential part of the process.

All of this goes some way to explain why I tend to do a lot more listening than talking when in such company. It explains why, when asked, my usual response to ‘what do you do?’ is to talk about my Paid Employment rather than my writing. It’s too hard, too uncomfortable. Unfortunately my Paid Employment status is so low that usually my beautiful wife will usually rescue the situation by explaining that I’m ‘really’ a writer. Which leads us straight back to the beginning.

I suppose it’s all good practice for when I’m rich and famous and am doing interviews about writing. And, in the meantime, there’s a lot to be said for keeping your mouth shut and your ears open.

Art hard

A long, long time ago I wrote a piece about how authors were no longer simply required to write: how we had to be artists & designers, marketing gurus, social media specialists and wotnot. What I didn’t really mention was how much fun this could be. For the last week I’ve set my editing aside and – inspired by the collapse of my somewhat elderly hard-drive – colonised my wife’s laptop and turned my attention to cover-art.

I’ve never missed as many buses as I did on my week’s sojourn, never lost time so completely. Learning new skills is always great. I just never expected to enjoy playing with Photoshop as much as I do.

Greyscale

The prep-work for the cover. It took bloody hours to get this far, mostly because of incompetence and uncertainty. A better impression of how the final image will look can be found here

I’ve never been as artist. I’ve always wanted to be; I’ve played with photography (GCSE grade A, I’ll have you know) and I did go through a phase of creating pastel abstractions in my early twenties. But I can’t draw. I’ve bitterly envied those that can; those amongst you who can simply pick up a pen and show me the inside of your mind. Just like I envy the guitarists. Damn communicators, making it look so easy. Everything I do – have ever done – is the result of bitter struggle, wringing myself out and trying, trying, retrying just to express myself.

I’m trying to get the cover-art right. My methods are the same as those I use to write. The ideas are nebulous. Trial and error; constant deletions and reworkings, shaping my mind as much as I do the image. Using three simple tools because I don’t know how to use the slightly more complicated (but infinitely quicker) fourth. Stumbling, misunderstanding, limping and cursing. But always moving forwards. Making my work a tiny bit better everyday.

It helps that I’ve found tools to design the basic outlines and that the overall image is towards the abstract. That means I’m trusting my intuition, heart and experience as much as my conscious mind – and, given that my conscious mind is an idiot, that means I can sense the image coming together. It’s a wonderful feeling, like learning a new means of – yes – communicating. A book-cover is a capsule encompassing everything the story is. The aim is to set mood, to tell the prospective reader just what the reading experience will be like at a glance.

Of course, this not only covers the image but the text: font, scale, hardness or softness: the mind draws inferences from a fraction of a second’s glance, and can judge from a tiny thumbnail whether the work will be right for them. The human mind is amazing, and anyone who sets out to influence it has their work cut out.

But right now I’m lost in the sheer joy of creation. I hope, deeply hope, that I find the other aspects of self-publishing as much fun as this. Or at least I hope I can learn as much from it. It’s certainly possible to view the business-side of writing as a distraction from real creation, but – right now – I’m choosing to view it as a tremendous opportunity. Not to sell books – that’d be a very nice bonus – but to learn. To grow. To build on my skills and possibly even to find new things to write about.