In my ‘novels’ section you’ll see I’ve written a book called Coil, which is a bio-punk SF thriller and currently sits in my agent’s (heh, feels SO weird typing that) capable hands accumulating a secondary round of edits. In the mean time, I’ve been attempting to outline the follow up and, frankly, not having much luck. I have a workable, loose idea, a slowly gathering whirlwind of scraps that will, eventually, coalesce into a whole, but they weren’t doing it with me scratching away at a notebook. If I’m honest, I knew this a while back. The FEAR stopped me just sitting down and getting on with working the damned thing out on the page because, you know… BLANK SCREEN. *psycho music*
There’s more to it though. I’ve been having one of those ‘I hate my writing, it sucks so fucking hard’ streaks of late. Seriously. I wrote some stories, I thought they were quite good. Turns out they’re OK, but they’re not as good as I hoped, nor as they needed to be (well, one was, and I heartily thank Steve Buscemi from the bottom of my heart, just for his being him) and I sunk into an ‘I’m not clever enough to do this’ slump. I’m kind of still in it. I get them a lot, because it’s easy for me to feel pretty darned thick. Let me give you a brief context for that:
I left school at 15, gave my shitty head teacher lip when he caught me bunking. The idiot didn’t have a clue why I no longer wanted to attend his poxy school full of bullies and teachers who only had time for kids whose parents could afford to fill the school fund coffers (clue – not mine). Headmaster and I had an epic clash, result of which was me telling him to shove it in pretty language (not) and stomping 2 miles home to find him on a 3-way call with my mum and sister, to which I responded again with pretty language. Quite. Cue weeks of truant officers coming round threatening me with prison-schools (no kid), telling me my parents would face jail and massive fines, blah blah etc… upshot is, my parents knew I’d hit tilt (it’d been ongoing for years, had been so bad I’d had two breakdowns at 12) and put their foot down, so I ended up leaving school and spending every Wednesday at a centre for troubled kids (I was, but not like the kids I met there, nor like many I already knew). I was a stuck out thumb, and I felt very conspicuous. It only compounded problems I already had, made me more determined to hide.
Anyway, my erstwhile school magnanimously awarded me some crappy GCSEs based on coursework (I hadn’t done much, having bunked most of that year. Note: I was a good kid, bunking was not something I wanted to do… an injured dove gave me the push I needed (long story)). Anyway, those GCSEs therefore did not remotely reflect my academic capabilities (big shock) (I was on course for As and Bs, but my ‘awarded’ GCSEs range from C to F (yes, F, in science, where I was top of my group!! – I’m still bitter)), and I’ve kind of laboured under a cloud since, a cloud named ‘STUPID’. A run of shitty, crap pay jobs, complete dearth of self esteem, the works. Gaining a first in my 30s really did help, but hey, it was in ‘Creative Writing’ (which is looked at as a breeze, even though three quarters of my modules were Eng Lit (and other subjects – philosophy etc) and not any kind of breeze) and taken at Staffordshire University which, though excellent, is not exactly a top flight uni for the arts (though it is for Science/Computing) and looks a bit paltry next to an Oxbridge degree if you’re inclined to comparison and um… chip/shoulder… yeah, that about sums me up (judge me all you like, I’m not proud of it).
Context over. All I learnt about words and writing I taught myself by reading, voraciously. Autodidact FTW, right? Wrong. I’m stuck with a memory like swiss cheese thanks to an interestingly long term association with the big clinical D and BP 2 (from age 9 onwards), so I tend to forget a lot (like ALL my words at the moment, especially when I most need them), which adds to that whole ‘stupid’ thing. Google is my best buddy as it helps me remember things even with the most specious of search terms. Without it I feel sort of naked, and I tend to come up tumbleweeds on any given subject. This sounds like a moan, doesn’t it? It half is and half isn’t… that is to say it’s more of a cry of absolute frustration, because my memoryFAIL/’stupid head’ crap is currently linking in with something else to make my mental terrain a freaking mine field. What’s the something else? You know that moment where something REALLY good happens, and you expect it to make you feel fabulous, but instead you’re hit with ‘OMG CRIPPLING TERROR’ alert? That. I got THE call. I caught myself an agent, not just any agent, an agent who saw worth in a mess of a novel (and gave revision notes that have helped me make it SO much better!) and is actually excited by my crazy brain leavings. Cue fanfares! Then cue Temple of Doom style ‘walls closing in’ horror.
I morphed from ‘yay, this is so AWESOME’ into ‘oh my Hades, my work has to be read by PEOPLE, they might HATE it’ and this is before a second round of edits, and that’s barely even the first step of the journey. Lame, right? Right. Categorically lame. Waiting for edits has been hell, too, because every day that passes and turns into weeks my brain tries to convince me that the reason there’s no edits is not because my agent is insanely busy (and I’m the lucky-arse debut author with ZERO platform and puny publishing creds, who hasn’t earned anything like priority status yet and has a looooong way to go before she does), it’s because she realised she loathes my book and hasn’t the heart to tell me! Don’t you just love the screwball logic of the mind at war with itself? Anyhoo, after many weeks of struggling along with this bubbling away I finally got pissed off, yeah, I got ANGRY with myself, my stupid dumb ass head, and I decided to hunt out the baleful root of it all, because there’s always a festering boil at the bottom of such pools of mental pus.
And you know what? It turns out the whole thing stems from my conviction that, despite the idea for Coil’s follow up having me all fired up with excitement, I’m terrified I can’t pull it off. It’s full on ‘SHIT I FORGOT HOW TO WRITE’ fever, combined with ‘One Trick Pony’ conviction, intrinsically bound to ‘They’re Going To Figure Out I’m Faking This’ horror. This discovery (yes this long-winded whinge-a-thon DOES have a point) leads me to the Clarion Write-A-Thon. I did NaNoWriMo a couple of years back with a nebulous idea, no real plot at all, just a bunch of cool characters and a fun notion, and I smashed out 55k in two and a bit weeks before ‘half-term/oh shit we’ve all got the flu’ wiped me out. With that 55k in mind, and the knowledge that this time I’ve a workable outline, a solid premise, and awesome characters who I know and love, I thought ‘I can do Clarion Write-A-Thon, it will inspire me’ and also, you know, sponsorship, helping a top notch organisation, it’s win from top to toe. So I signed up. And I’m glad I did. But… (why is there always a but?)
Honest truth… it’s only day two and I’m struggling (yeah, day 2 is way early, but believe me, it doesn’t feel as trivial as it should). Life is stressful at the moment (kid stuff, life stuff, finance stuff – like everybody out there I’m panic personified), that kid stuff in the parentheses leaves my head full of kid related debris and writing means taking a mental digger and spending an hour or two shovelling down to coherent thought, and then trying to stay there, with constant interruption. Suffice it to say, finding words has been pure pain. And I’m getting it wrong. So very wrong. I’m not in the right tone yet, I’ve got to find my way back to that world, the way it’s written, inch by painful inch. There is progress, though it’s slightly backwards, because I already know I started at the wrong point in the story, that I need to try again. I’ll keep what I have as character stuff, author-only context, and start later in the story, try and find the dynamic, the voice, the flow. Either way, I’m not going to quit. Head crap aside, writing is all I’ve ever loved doing, it’s the only thing that consumes me whole, that never lets me down, though I’ve let my writing down more than I care to mention. Giving up, it’s just so far from being an option… you know?
So anyway, I’m inviting you along with me on this six week foray into enemy blank page territory, and I won’t promise this is the last time I’ll moan, but I will promise that, moans or not, I’ll keep ploughing this furrow till it’s fucking straight, till the words come right, till book 2, previously known as Codename: Monocle, now to be known as Project: Steel Toe, is racing its way out in a charge of words that consumes blank screens like a cloud of starving locusts. I’m on course to hit a ‘Swanwick’ a week (8’000 words). I’ve decided not to set a rigid word count a day, just writerate to accumulate *winces at terrible treatment of language* – in a nutshell, stress is not my friend, and daily targets equal stress, so it’s ‘avoid stress at all costs but keep cracking on’ tactics. Today I’m cheating because this is my proper word count (the other words written today are going into that author-only context file – ugh). So ner. But I needed to write this. I’m not much for baring my guts to the world. Hate it. But sometimes a thing has to be said, and said with absolute honesty, in public, so you can’t shy away from the full ugly of it, and I had such a ‘thing’. Catharsis. It has its uses.
So that’s it. That’s all of it. Thanks for reading my guts, I apologise if you’re left with stains of any kind and will not be held liable for dry cleaning or therapy costs (short or long term). Please hand any and all oracular interpretations (accidental or otherwise) in at the comments section on your way out. Then, if I’ve not sent you to sleep or driven you into a frenzy of disgust at my whinging (first world problems much) then go my profile here and help Clarion by donating to the cause, you know you want to.