The Process

As a writer who may one day have something on the shelves worth reading, I love taking a look at the views of other writers about their craft, writing habits and advice for others. Such a piece was in The Guardian today, and it was an interesting insight into what various authors think is important. Common themes: don’t have the Internet on while trying to write anything (uh-oh!), and actually write stuff rather than just thinking about doing so.

I’ve only really got one piece of advice for myself, and I never follow it: “Your first crack at anything will be shit. Don’t worry.” That’s hard to remember. The main reason is that I’m automatically comparing anything I write with stuff that other people have written. Is it as good? How do my sentences flow compared to theirs? Oh, look at their lovely descriptions of things that I can’t possibly hope to match. Their dialogue’s so much more natural than mine. Bugger. I should just give up. Yeah.

But actually thinking about the fairness of my basis for comparison reveals a different truth. Those novels have been through countless rewrites, agent’s notes, editor’s notes, to tear them apart and put them back together again. Those US TV shows have writer’s rooms full of talented people, who sit there for days and days coming up with beat sheets for prospective episodes, which then again are subject to countless drafting and redrafting.

So it’s unsurprising that when I look at my first attempt at anything, I think it’s bloody terrible. Of course it is. It hasn’t been through any of the above processes. I’m even doing it with blogs now, wondering whether my aimless meanderings are worth a damn compared with that of my friends or my peers.

Reading interviews with writers, authors and screenwriters demonstrates that this mindset is hardly unique among “us” (air quotes – I’m trying to include myself, but it feels weird, like I’m trying to pretend I’m in a club that I have no pass to get into), and that makes me feel a lot better. Indeed, it seems de rigeur for writers to go through this thought process regarding inadequacy. It would be much worse to think that I was bloody brilliant. Writing isn’t supposed to be easy, or smooth, or without obstacles.

And yet there are sometimes pleasing moments when I read something and think, “You know what, you’re not that bad.” Something like reading the book extracts here, which are currently the basis of yet another laughable plagiarism case against Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, and are horribly, horribly bollocks.

I’ve felt since the start of 2010 that this will be a year of transition, and that both scares and excites me. It’s perhaps telling that the one thing I’ve written recently that I categorically don’t think is bollocks, is the synopsis for my novel Certainty, which I reckon does everything it needs to, and is perhaps the most important thing that I’ve ever written. One final push in redrafting the book’s opening, and I’ll be ready to approach literary agents.

The trouble with writing a novel is that you’re inevitably better at the end of the process than at the beginning – you know everything about the characters, the tone, the plot, etc. – and so there are various levels of retconning that you need to do to try to make the quality consistent. This opening has been bugging me for a while, and I’ve had so many different ideas to fix it, most of them rubbish. Maybe the latest one is, too. Or maybe it’s finally “it”. I should find out tomorrow, as long as I don’t break that advice about actually writing, rather than merely thinking about writing.

Onwards and upwards. What I worked out today from reading a particular interview is that I should stop pussyfooting around with wondering about what to write next. The answer’s been obvious from the start. I’m already immersed in that world, so carry on. I’ve wondered at length whether it’s pointless starting to write the sequel to Certainty before selling the first one. It probably is. But that’s no reason not to do it. After all, who’s going to want to represent the novel, if I don’t even have the confidence myself to think that it’s definitely going to sell? I genuinely do think it’s going to sell. So it’s decided – I’m writing the sequel. I already know most of what happens in it. I know the structure. I know the pacing. And, now knowing what literary agents read and are looking for in the initial submission, I know how to do an opening that won’t need retconning.

The sequel’s name? Well, this blog was named after it. So maybe it’s been staring me in the face all this time: I’m going to write Mirrorball.

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