Monday, 21 April 2014

On writing

Ever since I was little I have wanted to be a writer.  I have wanted to be other stuff too (actress, ice skating champion, midwife, criminal psychologist, zoo's a long list) but the writing thing has been a constant.

The trouble is, that telling your high school careers adviser that you want to be a writer is like saying you want to be Cinderella.  Yeah, nice one, now what do you really want to know, in the real world?  I remember her looking at my grades and suggesting journalism, or maybe something with foreign languages, like being a translator in business.  (Both suggestions I ignored). I continued writing my stories (most rip-offs of stuff I was reading at the time, or tales of pre-teen angst and woe, culminating in copious amounts of snogging, or very melodramatic maudlin pieces, one of which "strawberries and cream" actually made my English teacher cry.  Although this is the same English teacher who confessed to loving Mr Darcy more than her actual husband so...)  I even sent one (handwritten and illustrated!) unsolicited manuscript to a publisher when I was about ten years old, and received possibly the nicest rejection letter ever sent in the history of rejection letters.

Then in spring last year, having not written anything for years, I came up with an idea for a story at work one night, and when I came home I talked it through with Chris, to see if he thought it was half-way decent, or if my poor sleep-deprived brain was churning out drivel.  Pretty soon I had an actual plan, and some characters, and in August I finally put pen to paper (or, you know, finger tips to keyboard) and started to write.

Of course we all know what happened next.  I actually thought I had Carpal Tunnel at first, as typing was so painful and the pins and needles in my hands and fingers so bad, but of course it was all just part of the big "Rebecca's body attacking itself" nonsense (see here if you live under a rock and somehow missed the drama).

So the story got forgotten about for a few months whilst I concentrated on getting better.  Then in the new year I went back to it with a fresh perspective and at first it was going really well...pretty soon I had 16,000 words, and then, one night I came to the horrifying conclusion that I had written the whole thing from the wrong perspective and in the wrong tense.  I immediately switched tense (present to past) and perspective (1st to 3rd) and soldiered on, but at 20,000 words I got stuck, big time.  I couldn't make my characters do what I wanted them to, my main character was so annoying she was even starting to piss me off, and I just got the sense that the whole book was full of people walking into rooms and not saying or doing anything and then walking back out again.  Oh, and sighing...a lot.

It was a bit like that Eddie Izzard sketch comparing British and American films.  If you haven't seen it, go forth and do so immediately, it's hilarious.  It wasn't quite so funny realising he was accurately describing my literary masterpiece though.

Anyway, no matter how much I stared at the screen, or tapped a pen against a notepad, nothing was working.  But a funny thing started to happen:  The more I tried to think about it, and contemplate my characters and where it had all gone wrong, the more I started to think about this other story idea that I'd actually started writing eleven years ago (eleven years!  I'm sorry but, WTF?! How did that happen?  How can 2003 be 11 years ago?!)

So yeah, the characters from that book started popping up in my head instead.  And at first I was like "Get out of here! I'm trying to write this book here, that I have already got 20,000 words into, I'll come back and maybe deal with you later" but my brain wouldn't pipe down.

So I asked Chris, what did he think I should do.  He said (wisely, I think) that the 20,000 words weren't going anywhere, so why not go back to the other one, and see how that went instead?  Initially I was adamant: NO!  This is the book I am writing!  I am going to finish it before my birthday!

Eventually though, even I had to admit it just wasn't happening.  So I found myself hunting down ancient word documents and trying to figure out the password to open them (please don't ask me why I password protected them when I lived alone back in 2003 so no one else used the computer besides me?!)

A friendly word of advice for anyone reading this:  never read anything you wrote over ten years ago.  It's hilarious, but also mortifying.  I still thought the basic idea was good though, despite the terrible (and I mean really awful, writing).  So I went back to the drawing board and spent some time just working out timelines and characters and settings and stuff, putting off the actual writing for as long as I could (despite the fact the voices in my head were getting louder and louder.)

See, I think the reason I hit a wall with my other idea was because I knew my characters and the story well enough, but  I hadn't properly figured out what was actually going to happen.  And 20,000 words of nothing happening, is about 19,500 words too many.  Also, although the story was fictional, and the main character was not in fact based on myself, she and I did have some things in common, and I knew that in order to write her believably I'd need to tap into those parts of me...and it's just not something that I can do right now if I want to remain sane.

Eventually, last Saturday night, I just started writing.  Blah blah blah.  Within a few minutes I had a couple of sides in my A5 notebook.  I have discovered that I find it much easier to write with an actual pen and paper, because it seems less final.  I write all sorts of crap, because I tell myself "It's only a rough draft" in a way that I can't seem to when I see the words popping up in front of me on a screen (and where spellcheck is questioning my use of punctuation and pointing out all my typos!)

Well, my notebook is now full.  And I've started a new one, and having transcribed the majority of it into an actual document, I am able to tell you that I am already at the same point (in terms of word count) as I was with the first book.  (Although, in a way this is the first book, since a. I thought of the idea and started writing it over a decade ago, and b. the other one never got past 20,000 words so isn't a book at all- not even a novella!)

In case you were wondering 20,000 is a lot of words to write in one week (and possibly inadvisable if anyone is considering it) but I have found it almost impossible to stop.  My characters are waking me up in the night with things to say (in a non hallucinatory way, in case anyone was concerned) and I find myself thinking about them, and the story not just when I have a pen in my hand, but even when I'm in the middle of other unrelated stuff, like stirring pasta, or swimming lengths or doing the plough position at yoga.

I am undecided if this is a good thing yet but it is certainly moving things along nicely.  In fact, I am beginning to wonder if I may need more than one book to actually tell the full story the way I want to (eek!)

An unfortunate side effect of such intense writing is that I am having to remind myself daily that I am not in fact a seventeen year old boy.  I am spending so much time thinking like my main character, that it is almost a shock when I wake up in the morning and discover I am instead a 29 year old mother of two.

I have worked out that as a rough estimation, that even if I only write 242 words a day from now on, I will have a something loosely resembling a novel to my name by my 30th birthday.

Is most of what I am writing crap that no one else would pay to read?  Umm...yeah, probably.  Does that mean I am going to stop writing it?  Hell no!

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