Just read Sue Gee’s article on giving your writing the concentration it deserves in the latest issue of Mslexia.
Among her bits of advice was that old chestnut: don’t talk about a project until it’s finished.
I’ve heard it before, and scoffed at it as another example of writers being a bit too precious. I, on the other hand, talked about my novel constantly. I wrote about it here on a weekly basis; I talked about it with friends; I told near strangers what it was about (then spent atrocious nights unable to sleep for fear of them stealing my idea).
Actually the risk isn’t that your idea will be stolen. Ideas, as the tech world relishes in reminding you, are two-a-penny (also not true - but that’s a different blog post). The risk is:
- that you will tire of your subject;
- that you will give yourself unreasonable expectations;
- and, most malignant of all, that you will become satisfied by the look on people’s faces when you tell them about your book, rather than finishing the book itself.
We live in a society that’s increasingly satisfied by the report of things, rather than the things themselves. We go out in order to tweet that we are out. We visit strange and unusual things in order to be seen visiting strange and unusual things. We fret about other people's achievements, and post highly selective updates to Facebook in order to feel happy about our own.
Our mantra? Photos or it didn’t happen.
So it’s hard when your principle activity is sitting on your own looking at a screen. Or your entire achievement today is deleting 2,500 words you wrote yesterday.
My novel is coming along well, but I have no way of actually representing the progress I am making. There’s nothing to show yet, except for a growing satisfaction in my brain that it is slowly coming together. Sometimes I get a rush of excitement at how well it seems to be working, and jabber about it to all and sundry, and that excitement and their excitement (feigned) makes it feel, in that moment, real. And I hope it is. It's just not yet. The whole process is like riding an enormous racing snail - exhilarating, weird, gathering pace as I approach the midway line, but still really, really slow.
Sharing my WIP doesn't really work either - it is mix of developed scenes and notes to self to fix other ones later. The whole thing shifts over time; my perspective of the book as a whole changes as I approach the midway point, and again as I get closer to the end, and numerous times during each subsequent edit. Each time it's getting better, but it's still not readable - yet. Soon those notes to self will be worked out, and, as I know from everything else I write, will be suddenly, almost unexpectedly, done.
Meanwhile my progress indicators are intensely internal - little additions that make the various plots snap that bit more neatly together. Snatches of dialogue. Ways of linking two thoughts.
They go in my notebook. They’re not the kind of thing I can blog about. They’d make no sense if I said them out loud.
But. Unlike previous drafts I am two thirds of the way through this one. The story I worked out in February is holding; I am not going to give up and start again. Sometimes I rewrite bits at the beginning, because that’s how it works - getting to the middle gives you ideas for the start, and getting to the final stage gives you ideas for the middle. I feel I am on the final furlong of this race - it’s just I'm still on a massive slow-moving snail.
As Gee points out, the effort of writing is not just commitment. I’ve written reams and reams of words for five years. I'm committed. It’s convincing yourself that it’s still worth putting in the hours, without any external encouragement. It's not worrying you can't summarise the whole bloody thing (100,000 words! Plus all those thoughts in your head!) in one pithy sentence. It’s weaning yourself off the need to talk about it, to announce milestones (chapter 4 done! 2000 words today! - these victories are almost always hollow a day or two later), and even the need to get feedback too early in the game.
Instead you need to become your own feedback loop: managing the negative voices in your head, recognising when you’re getting better.
So I try not to talk about it now. (I usually fail, as anyone who knows me IRL knows - I’m too excited by it all.) But I believe if you want to learn how to write long-form fiction well, it’s important to conserve your energies and become comfortable with looking at a screen, and those days when no progress has been made at all.
That’s my excuse for not blogging recently, anyway ;o)