During these last couple of weeks a lot of my time has been thinking about a new venture.
It’s nothing big but instead I feel it could be something that would compliment the blog pretty well. It’s still miles off completion. As a matter of fact I’ve not even lifted a spade yet, but that’s kinda the point of this weeks post.
In the past this new idea would have been batted back and forth so long in my mind it would have eventually disintegrated completely without a trace. It would have remained as one of those ‘what if?’ ideas. Not now. No sir-ee. This new idea is going to be struck upon whilst it is still fresh in thee ol’ noggin.
I’m going to start before I’m ready.
I have no idea how to even begin this new venture but I’m going to give it a go anyway. I’ll figure it out along the way. I’ll learn as I go.
And yes, resistance is still there loitering around in the background. But where resistance used to be a pretty decent sized monster in my mind, I have now managed to downsize it to the point that it resembles an awkward, fumbling teenager. Who has just started smoking and looks uncomfortable holding a cigarette. And it has really bad acne.
Resistance now has a much quieter, much more squeaky voice.
For instance, a year ago I would never have dreamed about doing what I’m about to do… Scratch that. I would have. But it would have remained a dream. I certainly would never have blogged about it. And I definitely wouldn’t have given it a go without some serious, half-hearted investigating.
Once again I’m going to use this blog to hold me accountable. Just like my book, if it fails then no big deal. What I’ve learned over the duration of this blog is that, whilst I am genuinely grateful that you (many regularly) take the time out of your day to bother reading this, in actual fact nobody really cares that much. Everyone is busy leading their own lives and whilst its possible to build ideas up in your own mind to the point that they are all consuming… Nobody really cares that much. And that is kind of liberating.
I’m lucky enough to have many creative friends and acquaintances and my plan is to hold long form interviews with them about creativity.
The writing of the book has taken a bit of a back seat over the last few weeks. The reason for this was that I hadn’t a clue what to write.
Not writers block. It was something more fundamental than that.
I had found that as I got further into my book I was finding gaps within the plot. You would think that someone writing a book would have a lovely plot all thought out and crafted before a single word had been written. Not me. As I’ve said before I had a rough idea and I charged on. These ideas changed as I went and before I knew it my story was no longer anything like my initial idea. The main characters were the same but they were getting up to all sorts of different things. My chapters were scenes and the scenes were clunky.
The book didn’t flow.
So what did I do?
I did what I always do. I flaked out. I got incredibly anxious and started acting irrationally. All the usual symptoms were there; the incoherent ramblings, a little swearing, running my hands through my hair, a beer was launched down my throat. All shockingly stereotypical of the image of a writer I have in my mind.
Trust me, being lost inside your own book is a crap feeling. It’s like suffocating in the very pages you have written. (Wasn’t this meant to be fun?)
Eventually sanity arrived.
There has been one constant in all the time I’ve spent writing this book. My wife, Naomi. She encouraged me from the get go, the one who told me I could do it, and I know she is the one who will get me to the finish line (no pressure, Love). She has helped me so much in the process of writing this book that it wouldn’t be the same without her. That is no understatement.
She advised me to write out each chapter on a post-it card and lay the chapters out on the kitchen table from start to finish. Within minutes gaps became glaringly obvious and in other places it turned out there were no gaps at all.
How do I fix the problem of the gaps?
Each problem chapter/ gap gets subdivided into mini scenes. Those scenes then get written out on a corresponding post-it card. In other words, I get granular with the plot. This way I can create a flow to the story which is (hopefully) dynamic and keeps a readers interest.
It also means I can work through my book in a systematic fashion. I pick up one post it card and write it up until its finished and then move onto the next. Eventually, some day I’ll complete my book.
After last weeks meltdown it was time for a re-think.
Or what some writers might describe as “work”.
I’ve already stated that after a year of writing I had been left with a big pile of folders which were stored on some cloud somewhere. There was some cohesion to my book but not nearly enough.
Now I have to consolidate not only the folders but my approach.
I don’t know how other writers work but the idea of researching before typing your first word seems like a big fat killjoy to me. It would be like putting a cake in front of a kid then telling him that he has to go and learn the recipe first before he can eat it. Balls to that.
I figured out my characters and a great deal of my plot as I went along. A large chunk of the plot fell into my lap only in the last few months. How could I have researched that before I even had it?
Now it’s time to do the gritty menial work that nobody enjoys. It time to write character bio’s, and with a list of characters that would put Forrest Gump to shame that’s gonna take some time. I need to research, fact check and draw parallels through the book. (It’s easy to forget something you wrote last year. I can’t even remember what I had for dinner last night……….Wait… Got it. Thai green curry.)
Research, bio’s, fact checking and other tedious stuff was something that I was never looking forward to but I was only following orders. Honest. All advice I read stated that I should write my first draft without editing myself. Just let rip. So I did. It was great fun and I’m glad I did it. However, I’m now left realising the Earnest Hemmingway quote, “The first draft of anything is shit” is 100% true.
So this last week I have started writing my character bio’s. And who would have thunk it? I’m enjoying it. I’m discovering new aspects of my characters as I go and surprise surprise, I’m creating plot threads which will tie my book together and also flesh it out. I’ve realised large chunks will be binned, parts re-written and some of it might even make the grade. All in all I feel like I’m back on track.
Before I go, just as a side note. I have noticed one thing. I don’t have the same stamina writing those bio’s as I do openly writing my book. An hour or so in and I’m losing focus. The week before I wrote for six hours solid (personal best) without flinching.
Anyways, I better get back to doing more menial work.
A couple of weeks ago I finished the first draft of my book.
In my mind the event would be marked by enjoying a slow beer and sinking back into my chair with a certain sense of accomplishment. I would have hurdled the first and biggest task.
Instead I had a melt down.
A two day melt down.
I have no idea how other writers work, but my first draft was a fractured affair. I had a strong idea of what I wanted to say and topics I wanted to cover but much of the draft was just me following my nose. One idea would lead to another which would, in turn conflict with something I had previously written. I didn’t write chronologically. Instead I opted to write what felt good and fresh at the time. I was writing impulsively.
It didn’t matter what or when or who it happened to. Just write freely I was told. That’s what all the advice pointed to and it felt correct and it felt good, most of the time.
After one year of writing and multiple folders in my computer box, I had enough words to fill a book. A totally shite book. Hence the meltdown.
My book resembles an unfinished jigsaw. I’ve got the frame intact but the centre has big punch holes through it. You can’t see the whole picture.
Even writing about it now is giving me some weird anxiety.
Its the first time I’ve thought that the task is too big for me and that I might not be able to finish the book.
It felt oppressive. Like a big weight had been thrown onto my shoulders. It should have been the other way around.
I actually sat and thought, “What have I done? What have I started?”
Two things came to my aid.
Firstly Naomi. She always helps in more ways than I can convey in this post. (In fact, one day I should dedicate an entire post to her. She’s that important. Seriously.)
I’m not one for promoting products on here but Scrivener has helped a great deal and credit is due. It dug me out of a hole.
I had previously heard of Scrivener but decided not to use it for my first draft as I just wanted to write. Pure and simple. To learn a whole new piece of software with all the bells and whistles a writer could ever want sounded a lot like procrastination to me at the time. And at that time it would have been. But now it is not. Now I need it to move forward.
Scrivener is a programme aptly described as a writers work shed. Designed by a writer, for writers. It’s downloadable and has a thirty day trial period. (Not thirty calendar days, but the first thirty days you physically use it.)
Imagine a student scrambling to get to class on time. He clutches his work books and folders close to his chest but he can’t stop them from spilling them to the ground.
Scrivener puts all of those folders into binders, labels them, formats them, sticks them in a big bag and even brings along all of his research too.
I’ve started writing my second draft with Scrivener and so far so good. I’m not having meltdowns anymore, which is a cheeky bonus. For the first time my book is linear and the amount of work I still have to do doesn’t feel insurmountable.
But even if it does, even if I’m climbing the walls by the end of my second draft I know someone who will always help.
Today I got back into a groove that I had missed for some time.
The groove was a 5am start.
Setting the alarm for 5am is the only way I can get some uninterrupted writing done. Its my process. And yes, it’s a killer, but it works. When I miss that time slot it tends to throw things out of whack.
Some authors binge write, others go in cycles. I’ve heard that the musician Nick Cave has an office which he commutes to every day. They are all routes to the same destination: output.
So it’s 5am for me. I don’t have a choice.
This is how my ideal day goes.
At 5am, I get up and rinse my face with cold water. Awake now, I grab my iPhone, get back into bed and write on my iPhone.
The vast majority of my first draft has been written by my waggling right thumb and predictive text. The romantic image of a writer disappearing off into a study for days on end then reappearing bedraggled and waving a manuscript ain’t happening here. I don’t think it even exists.
I write until 6am. Even if the words are churning out of me, I stop. I have to get ready for my day at work.
I start trucking at 7am but I try to use it as a positive. Trucking is a solitary sport, so I use that time to allow ideas to form. I find inspiration from everything: podcasts, silence, observing daily life… the list goes on.
I note those ideas down so I can then use the following morning at 5am. That way I don’t wake up with an empty head and an empty screen. Its a cyclical process that has worked to great effect. It also reduces the crippling effects of resistance. I’m prepped and ready to go.
Most of my book has been written in my head whilst trucking. What I’ve noticed is that the physical process of writing is no more than trying to articulate those thoughts and ideas into a coherent story.
My head starts to quieten down in the afternoon so I’ll blast some music and take it easy. If I’ve got time I’ll check out social media.
Once my trucking day is finished, it’s family time, possibly a little writing or maybe an episode from the new series of House Of Cards.
And thats my ideal day. But ideal days are few and far between.
I tend to work anywhere between ten and fifteen hours a day. When I come home at 10pm I am in no mood to rise at 5am. I feel like I’ve been beat up. It throws the process out. I miss my rise, inspiration trickles down the drain and it can end up in a few days without writing.
So I adapt.
I write whenever and wherever I can. Downtime at work, when I have to wait for the truck to get unloaded at yards, (part of this post was written whilst sitting on a warehouse floor), on lunch breaks. Whenever inspiration tells me to write, I do it.
You have no idea how many times I’ve sat on that warehouse floor writing my book knowing everyone else thinks I’m scrolling through Facebook.
Really, I’m just trying to carpe the fuck out of the diem.