Half a thought on new writing

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?


19 thoughts on “Half a thought on new writing

  1. Matt, if the metaphors you use in your fiction are half as good as the ones you use on the blog, you need to sit the fuck down and write.


    Because if you don’t have a story that I can read, then this is going to end up like Misery.

  2. Sometimes it’s better to do something else for a while–some other writing project perhaps. I have lots of mothballed projects and sooner or later they will be used; it’s always worked that way in the past. Maybe now is just not the time for this story–give it a month or two. Or maybe it is, in which case why are you mucking around like this?

    PS. Glad to hear someone else admit to being terrified of newspaper publishing.

    • –Chris

      How-do! Agreed re: mothballing, though I kind of hate sitting on stuff I’ve already made a thousand notes for. I’ve got a couple of short stories to work out, but I tend to start cannibalising good lines for longer stuff if I leave ‘em too long.

      Re: newspapers, I think it’s the imagined audience that gets you. With a book, people have a choice to buy it. With a newspaper, it’s kind of forced on the (willing) audience. You have a lower annoyance threshold with newspapers, too.

      Mucking about summarises the whole thing. I am completely mucking about.

    • Luckily my thing didn’t have a comment facility. If it did, I’d have probably wanted to fall off high things. Course, I’m all for anonymity if applied responsibly, but in practice it simply gives too many the right to be arseholes for the sake of it. Which isn’t to say some writing doesn’t deserve it…

  3. Matt,

    Hate to see you leave Twitter but I understand. Your desire to flee writing advice is understandable I suppose. I pick and choose myself, considering I already never follow a crowd. Still, we have to use whatever magic it takes to get the ink to flow. You just have to tap the correct vein.

    I agree with the chap up there. Get to it. Even if it takes you five damn years. Just do. it.

    • –Carrie

      I haven’t left long-term dude, not least because I’d look very silly for posting that link. I think I’ve just decided to stay away a little bit till I learn to stop letting it distract me, because I really find it intensely distracting. Then, hopefully, I’ll be able to start writing again. Just a few weeks’ willpower I reckon. It’s that or throw my phone in the bin.

      Might even have something for that #fridayflash of yours at some point soon :)

  4. I think you might be thinking too much about it all.
    Not writing makes you anxious so clearly you must write. And this new idea makes you uncomfortable so clearly you must write that one.
    Sometimes when the whole ordeal is making me nervous I write something else . Something short which doesn’t require as much bonding as your child will require. A bog maybe. Writing about writing counts as writing in my book. That gets me into the swing.
    The realization and the acceptance that most of the time I’ll be writing crap helps too.
    I think your grandfather is right.
    Make the promise. Give yourself loads of time. And try and remind yourself that it is something you love to do.
    There are no tricks to it as I’m sure you know. You just have to find you own way to do it. I hope I don’t sound patronizing. This is something I struggle with all the time.
    Good luck.

    • –Jo

      You’re right on all counts, there. If there’s a thing I do more than anything else it’s over-think. But all this, really, has been an exercise in forcing myself on to it. Force doesn’t work, so I have to trick myself into thinking it’s fun, like the first time round.

      Thanks for the kind input!

  5. I once got a bit narky with an anonymous commenter on a newspaper blog and suggested he should break cover to make it fair. Turns out he was a pre-production reviewer of my book manuscript.

    • Good time for a facepalm, then?

      I once sat on a train opposite this very smartly dressed lady, telling her why Arriva Trains Wales was useless. She seemed far too interested — turned out she was their head of marketing.

      Hope you kissed and made up before publication!

  6. Incidentally, having given birth a couple of times (babies not books) I must also remind you that it will come when it damn well wants to come and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Give yourself over to the pain.

  7. You DELETED something you wrote? Permanantly deleted it? You are a bad, bad boy! No writing is EVER to be deleted, it will always come in handy at some point. Now get that document open and start writing. *tut*

    • –Sam

      Thanks. It’s kind of relentlessly grim in my mind. Not flippant or anything. And yes, why didn’t I think that’s what he thought?

  8. I haven’t written anything in 8 months. I kidded myself this was because I was waiting for the final editing on my last one which was supposed to come out November 2009 and then didn’t. (Sorry, familiar theme, eh?) Then I started wondering how the hell I ever managed to write the ones I did write!
    In the end I agree with your Grandad, you just have to do it. Once something exists on paper, you’re a writer. You can edit it, change it, cross bits of it out and all the rest, but it exists.
    If there’s nothing written down, then you’re a theorist. Right now, I could theorise for England…

  9. –Joe

    Naval-gazing gets me everywhere. I’ve battened down the hatches or something, and stuff’s coming out. So that’s something. But work and blog not included, I’ve not written for a year till now, so I kind of get where you’re coming from. If you can get hold of a book called The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, there’s a story in there in which a spaceman goes mad on account of not believing anything he’s done is real. I’ll try and find the passage to append this post with.

    Get cracking anyway. We should do some kind of rewards scheme.

    10,000 words a month and you get a big party.

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