The pattern

I have tried, many times, to write a book. I begin with the idea that I don’t ever have plots for novels, and then an idea or a character trots along and I am filled with a compulsive moment of perfect understanding that this could be A Thing. Life is cancelled, friends ignored, everyone is told I have a headache. I write and write and write for three months.  Then I run out of puff. Having circumnavigated the main plot holes in ever decreasing circles, I succumb to gravity, fall into them, and give up with a sense of something that is mainly relief.

There are exceptions. I lie. There is an exception. There is one that was brought to term.  A whole Thing, the size of a book, a year’s editing done until its every sentence was no longer a personal embarrassment.  I sent it out into the world and the world laughed. Actually it didn’t. That would have been great, since the damn thing was a comedy. Rather, the world (or a series of agents who came to embody my understanding of the world) sent polite form letters of rejection. I put it away and resolved to give up.

I have only ever managed to give up writing for about six months, whatever that says. Something always comes along, with a little side dish of hope attached. A round of short stories. A round of half-hearted applications to contests and papers and agents. A round of indifferent form letters of apology.

And you look your little manuscript squarely in the eye and say: That’s because you’re shit, you know.

And since you know this to be true, you can then get on with the other part of your life that involves a career and making some money.

An idea wanders into view, the spark of a start of a notion, and you tell yourself very firmly: Bollocks to that. Been there, done that, bought the stamps and filed the rejection letters. There’s a reason for that, you know.  So don’t even think about it.

And then – and then. You read some modern fiction and find yourself becoming annoyed with the person who recommended it to you. It’s mediocre at best. The characters are people you’d only deal with if forced to share an office with them. You’d avoid them at lunchtime and eat your sandwich in the toilet instead. The dialogue appears to be a guest slot by George Lucas, but there are no compensating Ewoks. And the plot, where you can find it, is very, very boring.

You find yourself brightening up.

It got published, you think.

And if this unreadable bollocks got published, then my unreadable bollocks can get published.

And that’s how it starts all over again.

Just too good to resist


David Shrigley – genius.

The subtle art of procrastination

Two weeks ago it occurred to me that what I have been blithely dismissing as ‘a bit of an idea’ is now half a novel’s worth of word count.  It wasn’t, until then, a book I was writing. It was an idea I had. It was some characters. It was a means of exploring a concept, a way of playing with it to see how such a thing might work.

What is was not was an exercise in which I battle a word count on a weekly basis, with the drama and the tears and the reluctance to delete bits because that feels like regression. No, it was just an idea. Which got big all on its own while I wasn’t looking.

The psychology of the beast of course means that this change in nomenclature coincides with a frenzied change in my attitude to it. It’s a novel! I must finish it! I must avoid it like a contagious bout of clap! I must peer at it suspiciously, attempting to understand how it grew like this in the first place, and then close my eyes and hope the growing-magic continues by the good will of the writing-pixies.

Damn you, fifty-eight thousand words. You look suspiciously like two thirds of a novel and three quarters of a first draft. And probably like something I should finish. So instead I will start a blog. In order to justify this (justifiable procrastination is the most virtuous of all the procrastinations) I may use it to store what I could only call research if I was a liar of the political standards. Reading. Browsing. Time-wasting loosely connected to subjects considered in the novel.

Or I may go back to browsing David Shrigley cartoons instead. We shall see.