Writing isn’t the hardest job in the world – not by a long chalk. In fact, it comes very near the bottom of the list of hard jobs, well below surgeon, mountain rescue team member, paramedic, astronaut, President of the United States, and soldier serving in Afghanistan.
Being a writer is, however, quite possibly one of the the most annoying and frustrating jobs it’s possible to do. With any other job, you turn up for work, and you start work – then you work! Hard! All day! Till it’s time to stop, then you stop.
With writing, however…some days it doesn’t come. Nothing happens. Or it happens painfully slowly; 9/10ths Freecell to 1/10 actual creative writing. Or it comes fast and easily but it’s CRAP – really bad writing starts appearing on the screen and the terrible fear kicks in that someone could hack this material, and realise HOW BAD I REALLY CAN WRITE. And when that happens, you just have to let it go. Take a walk. Watch a movie. And slowly let the back of the brain do what it does best; solve the real problem.
I’ve had that experience this week…after a frenzied start on my new book Hell Ship, I could feel the energy slipping away. I read the first few chapters over and thought, hell, these don’t read like the first chapters of a novel – there’s not enough action, not enough is happening. And then it hit me:
I was starting in the wrong place.
I had thought I was about a third of the way through the book; now it turns out that I’m three quarters of the way through, and I have a huge huge chunk missing at the beginning.
Whew. This discovery comes as a huge relief. I thought I’d just FORGOTTEN HOW TO WRITE!
And now I can get back to work, with a new beginning, and a former beginning that’s now the middle…no more floundering, no more sad walks. I can actually do some work!
And that in a nutshell is why writing is a frustrating and annoying job; you have no authority over your own time, or your own creativity. You just have to sit there waiting for the back brain to wake up; because that’s the bit of the brain that does all the real work.
Oh by the way – if my editor and publisher are reading this blog – I’m just kidding! I wasn’t floundering at all. Or stuck. Or blocked. Or desperate. Or panicky! Not one bit!
(Phew! Think they fell for that?)
Meanwhile, in the hours when I haven’t been writing, I’ve been working hard on my mission of turning Debatable Spaces into something more than just a place for me to blather randomly, as indeed I am now doing. I was thrilled that screenwriter Danny Stack (a maestro of the scribosphere and co-founder of the Red Planet prize) came on board to write a guest blog, about Misfits. And I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from John Scalzi’s site, after writing a red-hot blog attacking his opinions about Inglourious Basterds and accusing him of ‘sophistry’. (Scalzi, clearly much amused, posted a referral link on his site and kindly reminded me that he is ALWAYS RIGHT.)
This prompted me to spend some time perusing the archives of Scalzi’s blog – he is of course a king of bloggers, and was thus even before he started writing SF. And I found a piece (sorry, didn’t keep the link) which has been hugely valuable to me about the perils of blogging. His gist, really, is that blogging works for HIM, but it can easily become a way for writers to avoid writing.
And that’s something I’m anxious to avoid; the novels are the point and purpose of it all, the blogging is just for fun and a way of making efriends and touching base with readers. And I guess my solution is to generate features on the blog which as well as entertaining readers (I hope!) directly feed into my own writing.
Hence, for instance, Paintings of the Day – I’m currently writing a drama about art fraud so I’d be looking at these paintings anyway. So I figure – why not share that?
Another feature is The Battle Between Good and Evil, in which I briefly stop being such a wise-ass and start talking about what I regard the various clear and present threats to our civilisation. This is stuff that matters to me, of course; and it’s important. Of course it is! But I couldn’t afford to spend so much time on these features if I didn’t know it would directly affect the content of stories I am writing or will write.
Most of all, I want Debatable Spaces to grow into something more than just an occasional casual read for internet browsers…with more guest blogs, maybe even some pieces on science, as well as continuing the features on movies, TV, politics, and the Lies That People Tell Us.
Plus, of course, news about views about SF and fantasy…
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