Sunday, 24 January 2010

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion

So my wife has truly put me to shame this weekend. With only 35 weeks to go until she undertakes a complex six hour medical exam which she will only pass with a score of 90% or higher she has thrown herself into revision and study in the way she does everything - total commitment. Our dining table is strewn with medical texts and muscle charts and eye-watering genital descriptions while she has written page after page of detailed notes. She’s been working for hours - good, solid grafting, and I am in no doubt that come the 29th September she will hit the pass mark and become a fully qualified Accredited Clinical Coder, a job that most of you couldn’t even fathom and even less could do. As Thomas Dolby once said, she blinded me with science.

I, on the other hand, have written nothing this weekend except for these words.

And really, it’s not for wanting. I’m just struggling with the whole process. The Lost Weekend is really, genuinely about three-quarters complete. I’ve just thrown myself over the 95,000 word mark and that is a decent novel length, maybe 350 pages in general book-sized terms. I’m not the sort who limit’s a word count - I believe that the story takes itself from beginning to end and however long that takes it how long it is, but I have written a book amount of material and really don’t need to write much more. I know where it’s going, and I’m satisfied we’ll get there…

But, Jesus Christ, the getting there is, just recently, taking some doing.

Writers talk about writing out of love for the work, and I guess that is the main reason for doing it. But most of the time I don’t love writing. I tolerate it at best, and hate it at worst, but the fact of the matter is I can’t not do it. It took me a long time to actually figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but that realisation has bought me a huge amount of frustration and virtually no reward. And no, I’m not talking about reward in a financial sense, because we all know that there is very little money in fiction, especially not for unknowns such as myself. About ten to fifteen years ago there were some huge advances being handed out for first-timers with their dog-eared manuscripts, but too many publishing houses got burnt by handing out three book deals and only receiving one novel, so editors got wise and shut their wallets. And then, of course, J.K.Rowling turned up with her teenage wizard and sucked up most of the money on the planet.

So, no money. Surely then there must be some form of accolade, some form of praise? Don’t bank on it. Most people can’t even be bothered to read what you write, let alone comment on it in a positive/negative fashion. I have two critics in my life who will always tell me the truth when it comes to what I do. The first is my Wife, who I trust absolutely to tell me exactly what she thinks. She’ll do this with every aspect of my life, and I know my fiction is no different. If she thinks it sucks, she’ll tell me, and I thank her for that because every author needs someone who bring them back down to the ground with a bump and let them know they’re just a hack. Hannah is also my ideal reader, and what I mean by that is she is the person I imagine enjoying the story while I’m writing it. If I’m describing a scene, or writing dialogue, it’s her that I hope will enjoy it. The other top critic is my Father, who is always enthusiastic for my work and will always grumble if I’m not doing it right. But pretty much everyone else who reads my stuff? I’m lucky to get a nod of recognition - most of them can’t even be bothered with it (I don’t need to name names but you damn well know who you are). Truth of the matter is that most people haven’t got the time or the inclination to read successful authors with proven track records, so what chance the amateur with dreams of success?

So what does that leave? Not a lot really, because it’s not even a profession or hobby you can share with other people. Writing is a solitary business that alienates you from friends and family for hours at a time, frequently causes headaches and stress, is often frustrating and gives you a permanent crease in your brow. I find myself ignoring the kids, not spending enough quality time with my wife, lying awake in the middle of the night with my imagined conversations running around my head. Not being able to write, just like now, and banging my head in frustration because I want to, I want to, I want to. There is absolutely nothing to recommend it.

But here I am, tapping keys on the laptop again out of some kind of wanting, I guess you would call it an obsession. And I am obsessed, because I have experienced the moments. I don’t know what you call it - muse, mojo, creative juices - but when it happens it’s like the first time you see the ocean on a car journey to the coast, or that first beer after a long day of work under the hot sun, or the first time you kiss someone you care about. If you write for long enough a moment will come. It might be at 2.45am when your back is aching and your eyes are streaming after hours hunched over your screen, but suddenly the words start to flow smoothly, your characters start to breathe independently, and as the writer you’re just along for the ride, surprised at what just happened because the work has taken on a life of it’s own…That for me is what makes it all worthwhile, and I guess that what the love of writing is all about. So now I think I’m going to rub myself up against Hannah (no need to cover your eyes, the pants are staying on), get myself some of her energy, and get back to it. Love or hate, it’s what it is, and it’s what I do.