Sunday, 14 September 2014

What Keeps Writers Writing?

It's a question I've been pondering a lot this week, and for many reasons.

It was my son's first week back at school for starters, which meant that my Monday-to-Friday two-hour writing slot would no longer be dominated by yells, shouts and fragments of  random pop songs (their lyrics mangled into unintentionally hilarious surreality in the way only an eight-year-old can. I still haven't quite recovered from Lordes 'Royals' new-and-'improved' line "we don't care, we're drying anoraks in our dreams...")

So, back to nice, calm, focused writing sessions again - yee-hah! Where the only sound is my Redemption-themed writing soundtrack and the tippy-tapping of my industrious fingers rattling at a hundred miles an hour across the keyboard... erm - well, okay then, the first one of those two is a reality. The second one? Not so much. Word. Count. Has. Plummeted. Nope, I'm not even going to write it here, it's that bad.

Maybe it's just because the first week back at school for the new term involves more planning and sorting and adjusting than I've anticipated, and it'll all slot back into place again next week. That's what I'm telling myself anyway - and with only the smallest hint of panic in my voice as I do so... Or maybe it's because I haven't quite come out of that sludgy, quagmire-y part of the novel-writing process yet; that part where you become convinced that everything you're writing is crap, the whole premise of your novel is probably crap and it's probably been done by somebody else somewhere before and even if it hasn't no-one's ever gonna wanna read your crappy novel anyway...

And because I'm still wading through that quagmire of self -doubt, I'm second-guessing everything I'm writing before I even write it and slowing myself down to a crawl in the process.

Thing is, a huge part of this draft two process has involved some major reorganization of the plot; moving events around, adding structure in that previously wasn't there but should have been, taking parts out that didn't need to be there even though they seemed like they did in draft one - not to mention big changes to allocated 'screen time' for various characters. It's rewriting in the most literal sense - as if draft one was actually draft zero and this current draft two is the 'real' draft one. (Which is what happens when you pants it rather than outline beforehand, I suppose - yes, all you Outlining Fans, consider my wrists well and truly slapped, I hear you now.)

And maybe that's what's causing the slowdown in my word count. I have outlined the novel now, because - having actually finished a first draft - I've figured out what I was really trying to say all along. So for each and every scene I know what has to occur and how the characters should react and respond - it's all there, in my notes. But because it's re-writing - changing a story I've already written - my brain thinks of it as editing. And perhaps editing is not what this is - or at least, not the mental mindset I should be adopting to do it. Perhaps I should be treating this as if it's my second Draft One instead. Get down the bones and worry about putting the meat on it in the next pass - and the next, and the one after that... it'll be done when it's done, as they say.

Except that's a bit of a depressing thought. It's already taken me two years to get to this stage - and now I'm taking myself a stage backwards again? Back to Draft One Mark II? At this rate I'll be a senior citizen before I get this novel finished!

But here's the thing... I have to finish this novel now. It was easy to abandon all my previous novel attempts, because I felt that I couldn't take them any further anyway at that particular time (which is why I left them languishing in Hard Drive Hades on my computer rather than deleting them completely.) But Redemption is the novel I have to finish writing, and with the aim of making it the very best I can make it. To use a computer gaming analogy, it's like the quest I have to complete before I can Level Up as a writer. And since there's no way I could ever allow myself to do anything but my very best work on it, if it takes me flippin' ages to get it finished.... well, I'm just going to have to suck it up and deal with it.

This is a commitment that feels a lot like a marriage - for better or worse, richer or poorer, 'til death do us part... Is this the way it is for veteran writers too? Is it something of a rite of passage for just your first novel, until you fall into a way of working that just makes writing novels feel like a natural process that ends with 'job done, now on to the next one?'

Is there one particular novel you've written that you feel defined you as a writer?

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