Jeez it’s a pain in the arse this writing thing. Let me explain. Chatting to a mate the other day I ended up having a debate about whether or not you have to be a little bit barking to be a writer… or creative generally.
I said, ‘no.’
Now, I’m not so sure.
There’s no doubt, in my mind that it makes a person a bit different. It’s not an accident that I’ve ended up married to somebody who’s had his ideas patented (yes we can all sleep safer in our beds knowing that vending machines spit out a few less coins thanks to McOther, and less of certain brand of chocolate come off the production line stuck together, and robot hands can grip without crushing).
Sorry, going back to writing… I suspect a lot depends on why you do it. If you’re doing it to make money you’re on a hiding to nothing, that’s for sure. To be honest, I don’t know why I write, I only know that I can’t not. It’s a compulsion. My Mum was telling me about someone she knew the other day, who married, and then divorced, a compulsive gambler. Some of the things she described rang worryingly true.
Most of the time, I love writing. A big part of me lives in a fantasy world. It always has. I retreat there whenever I need to escape and recharge. I never spoke about it, I just went off on my own somewhere, sat down and daydreamed. It was years before it occurred to me to write any of it down. I am not really one for secrets, even good ones – long term, most secrets are battery acid to the soul – so writing my books has felt extraordinarily liberating in some ways. Suddenly, actual people know about something that has been as real and as necessary to me as air and food. But secret from everyone else. Completely. Utterly. Secret. For my entire life.
Now I am able to talk about Swamp Things, Grongles, Snurds and the like, to people who enjoy them as much as I do, without having to explain what they are. OK, so it’s a very select band of you who know – literally tens of people. But that’s not the point. The point is that, these days, someone, anyone, does.
That’s how it feels when it’s going well. Great. When it’s not… it sucks.
Everyone has a certain amount of ambient angst in their lives. I deal with mine by writing. Usually it works. I can control what I write – up to a point – and if it turns out well, I get a nice warm feeling of achievement. The thing is the basic business of being human involves the lives of others, live as an island and you might write a lot but you’ll experience little. However, if you want to live and love to the full you have to give up writing time to interact and you have to surrender control. You have to moderate your actions because they can affect those around you, people whom you love and don’t want to hurt, so you can’t write until four in the morning. Likewise, things that happen to your loved ones can affect you, whether you want them to or not, because you care for them.The more you love, the more you give; the more fulfilled you are but… the less control you have.
If things are dicey, there comes a point where the ambient angst gets too noisy and my heart too full to write. The quality and quantity of my output drops. More angst. There are times if things are a bit busy or just not going very well when every writer – unless they’re really lucky – has to stop spanking the monkey. If you’re writing a book with a really convoluted plot and things are going less than well, then, if you want things to ‘go’ at all, you may need to switch to a less complicated project, a short maybe, or possibly even stop until you are ready to resume. If your mind can’t even be bothered to wonder, the time has definitely come to call it a day for a while, and do things. Put stuff in.
If you are self-publishing, that should be easy, right? No publisher deadlines, no book-every-six-months anxiety for me. But it isn’t. People are expecting another book, some of them even want it and that makes for pressure.
The truth is, I’m having a little trouble with the Real World at the moment. It’s encroaching severely on my writing activities. For the most part, it’s a pleasure. But when you’ve got two thirds through a very complicated trilogy it’s not helpful.
It’s a times like these that I don’t really like being a writer. When life gets a bit tricky, it can feel as if you are weathering a great storm in a small boat, rowing like buggery, and singing ‘For Those in Peril on the Sea’ for your life; and still you’re pathologically unable to remember what verse you’re on, or keep your eye on the ball – either ball – because I can’t even bloody write, either.
You see, I really, really do need my writing fix. If I don’t get it I am cranky, defensive and I lose focus on everything except my desire to set my thoughts in order and write them down. I start resenting every day administrative tasks of life. I ignore them and they build up. At the same time, I see them building up and start to worry or feel guilty, which impairs my ability to write. Sometimes I neglect my personal hygiene, choosing, instead, to spend that precious half hour when I should be having a shower, writing. Yes, if I’m smelly this week, it means I’m inspired and knocking out 2,000 words a day.
That sort of behaviour seems worryingly similar to the addicts of other drugs, who can concentrate on nothing but the next fix. Am I a compulsive writer? Is my addiction hurting people? I fear it might be. Should I try and give it up? Maybe.
For what it’s worth, I do know what’s at the bottom of the compulsion. It’s the feeling of wanting to know what happens to the characters in my head. I want to know so badly that I will stop at little to find out. Writing books is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Trying to strike a balance between writing enough to keep me sane, and yet giving up enough writing time to live convincingly among the normals, without harming them, can really do my head in.
Writing a book like watching a good film, you want to find out what happens, even if you’ve plotted it and planned it. You want to savour every moment with your characters and yet you also live for the moment when it’s done and you can read it through and follow the plot from beginning to end.
Spare a thought, when you read an un-put-downable book, for the author who had to put it down at the end of every single sodding day, probably a lot sooner than he wanted to, for about six months (15 years and counting in my case) before that golden moment when he could finally know, for sure, how it all turned out. Yes, speaking as an author, I fear I may have been ill advised to start with a trilogy, or at least, to publish any of it before I had finished
While I’m having a good old moan, there’s another thing about being a writer that really gets on my tits. It’s the dichotomy between why I write and the circumstances in which I can. Obviously, I write because I enjoy it, and I’m reasonably proficient at it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also a release, an escape and a generally wonderful thing. However, the more ambient angst, and therefore, the more I need to write, – the harder it is to do so. My writing Mojo is perverse, I think. No, it’s not perverse. My writing mojo is one of the most finely – or is that badly – tuned, temperamental things on earth. It’s prone to throw tantrums, down tools and get distracted by shiny things. As general bad behaviour goes you’d be hard put to beat my mojo. It’s about as co-operative and open to compromise as a 1970s union leader.
So here I am, a person who takes around two years, maybe a little bit more, to write each book (although it took eight years to write the first one because I had to learn how) and I decide to write a story that it takes three books to complete, which I can only produce any effective work on ‘when I’m in the mood’. Or to put it another way, not very often.
There’s me thinking I could control my desperate need for answers… I thought it would be OK… It’s not. I have never done anything this hard. I would love to go cold turkey, just give up on the bloody thing and walk away, kick the habit. But I am too stubborn, and people are waiting, and I want to know what bloody well happens and all. But if I write another trilogy, I’ll make sure it’s stand-alone books and I won’t publish it until it’s all done.
And don’t get me started on trying to produce any meaningful output with PMT (that’s PMS, my American friends). Gah! Next week I will mostly be writing… a short story. Although it’ll probably be lines and lines of ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ The Shining-style, because frankly, I’m not sure if this is a gift I have here, or whether I’m merely a little bit tapped.
Honey! I’m home.