I am pregnant with a story.
It’s overdue, but I can’t get myself into labour. It won’t crown. It’s kicking my belly but it doesn’t want to play. It’s a distraction; I feel it most of the time. It’ll be the third time. The first time it was diarrhea. The second was a textbook delivery — it was fun and flowing and fairly batshit in places, but I wrote it and it nearly made it to adulthood. Only it didn’t, and we already know that story.
I’m pregnant with a story I want to birth but can’t bring myself to.
I’m thinking too much about what people will think of it; whether it’ll stand up; whether it’ll be so good that I go and kill everything else I wrote just to concentrate on rearing it properly. I knew this kid who spoke about a ‘blinking cursor of doom’ over a white document. That’s fine, but it’s also another way to say you’re lazy — and another to say you’ve given up.
That metaphor was disgusting. Sorry.
Writing and reading about so much copy has taught me that if you write ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ — if you talk to your audience on their terms, not yours — you’ll get a warmer, better, response. But that doesn’t work the same in fiction, and I’m not doing that here. Writing copy has also taught me how to use short sentences, too, and that’s half the problem.
I want everything short, clipped. I want big ideas condensed into few words. People to talk like they’ve had an argument with each other the night before. Nobody listening, everybody interrupting. I was in a lift before and a man got out. He said ‘cheers’, like I’d done something worth thanking. I thought, for what? For standing still next to you and not farting? But that’s how people talk. They do these weird, brilliant things. Instead, I’ve started writing psychopaths who mumble and moan in fewer than ten words. That’s not a paragraph — it’s an aborted idea.
I even wrote 10,000 words of my flashy new story, come to that. But then I deleted it, and its back-ups, and played Xbox some more. Emerging patterns over emerging patterns.
Then again, when I don’t write, I feel really anxious — anxious to try, anxious to fail at least. You get it all day, an itch worth scratching, but oftentimes the commute kills it. And, when I do start, I’m only thinking of my first novel — the one I enjoyed, the one I’m still attached to, the one I’m trying to sell — and how free and simple and fun it felt. Ideas came, I wrote them out. (Sort of. I forget it took two years, with breaks for misery.)
Now, I’m always thinking about what a reader would think. It’s a kind of horrible altruism. I’m thinking about how much you’ll hate that sentence. But does a reader want that? Probably they don’t. They want something to read on their trip to work; to fall asleep to.
First time round, with Colin, that is, I didn’t care what anybody thought till my editor bashed the edges till it was something gilded — something bright and better.
I was published in a newspaper at the arse-end of last year. (It’s a secret). It made me feel ill for two weeks. So I’m a pain, too. Want what I don’t get, fret when I do.
I’ve decided to stop using Twitter because it’s always full of the best advice I’ve ever read about writing — and I can’t apply any of it.
Does that mean I’ve stopped enjoying writing? Maybe. Weird, since I’m salaried to write 9-5 as well — a really lucky sod — and because I should be relentlessly bouncy about that. But maybe that’s the sheen rubbing off. Maybe that’s because business writing is limited to a small pool of catchphrases and reassuring lies about strategy and solutions. Maybe, when words make you money, you shape them differently.
Sometimes, you get to thinking that writing about writing is easier, only the best blogs about writing are by people who write all the time.
Anyway: I emailed my Grandad and bleated like this. I said, ‘motivational speeches welcome’. He emailed back today:
Hugh Walpole, of whom you may or may not have heard, was a prolific novel writer in the first half of last century. Every New Year (might have been Christmas) after celebrating the day with family or whoever he retired to somewhere private, took out pen and paper, and solemnly wrote the title of his next novel and “Chapter One.” He then put it away but always finished the whole work before the next New Year came round.
Or, so it is said.
It was the best way of saying shut up and get on with it. So that’s the plan. What’s yours?