Sisyphus – I Feel your Pain, Man

It’s the twelfth of December. Say what?



Santa is, indeed, coming. So is the end of the year, which is a lot less pleasant to think about.

You may remember – mainly because I went on and on and on about it – that I completed NaNoWriMo this year. That means I wrote 50,000 words in less than 30 days. However, I’m beginning to wonder if I dreamed the whole thing, because it’s now been nearly two weeks since NaNoWriMo finished, and since then I’ve written about 9,000 words, tops. I sit down at my computer, and open up my document, and I scroll to the spot where I left off last time.

And I feel like this.



Getting through the work, day by day by day, is akin to strapping on a pair of cement boots and taking a brisk walk up the Matterhorn. It’s just so hard, and I don’t understand why.

Consider these points:

1. I have plenty of story left. I am nowhere near the conclusion of this book, and I know (in a broad sense) what I want to happen. It’s just a matter of getting there.

2. This feeling of mental block only happens when I’m actually at my desk. I was out for a walk yesterday, f’rinstance, and found my head filling up with ideas and enthusiasm and sheer delight at the thought of returning to my story, and so I galloped home. All that enthusiasm took a nosedive out the window as soon as the computer was switched back on, though. Does this make sense?

3. I really want to get this draft finished by the end of the year. I just can’t countenance the idea of bringing it over into 2014. Normally, when I am determined like this, I just knuckle down and get it done. Normally. But something – alors! – is not normal, these days.

It seems as though the story has become turgid, and floppy, and bland. It seems like my words are banal and meaningless and ‘seen it all before.’ Perhaps this is a side-effect of having had such a forced intimacy with the work for the past six weeks or so; maybe I simply need a break from it, and a change of focus.

But, at the same time, I don’t want a break from it. I want to finish it. I want to get through it, because I’m afraid that if I leave it alone too long I won’t ever see it through, and that would be breaking the first rule – the most important rule – of writing, which is: Finish Your Work. You can’t do a second draft of an incomplete first draft, so grinding to a halt now would be, in terms of Emmeline and Thing and their story, a disaster.

I believe there’s potential in this story. I really love the characters, and I like how the plot has, to a large extent, woven itself around them. It has taken a few unexpected turns, and ideas have suggested themselves to me as I wrote, which is an exhilarating feeling. But now I’m coming close to the End – I’m within 10,000 words of the conclusion to this story, by any rational calculation – and Endings have always been hard for me.

I read a book recently (a review will be posted in a couple of weeks’ time) which was a flight of extraordinary fancy. It did a few things which irritated me, namely introducing characters at the last minute who happen to have just the right power to get the protagonist out of a sticky situation, relying a little on coincidence and ‘extraordinary strokes of luck’ (my teeth go on edge when I read a phrase like this), but it did one other thing, which taught me – or perhaps, reminded me of – an important lesson. It demonstrated the power of a free and full imagination. This particular book went places which no other children’s book I’ve ever read has gone, and I found that refreshing and exciting.

It made me wonder why I constantly clamp down on my own imagination, telling myself that a scene in whatever I’m working on couldn’t possibly happen – it’s too far-fetched, and not realistic enough, and nobody would ever believe it.



But isn’t that sort of the point?

I’m not saying that child readers will believe any old rubbish, because – of course – I am passionately aware that isn’t true. But what they need are books which explore the limits of what a writer can imagine. They want to read things they’ve never read before, and they want to be surprised, and they want to be gripped, and they want to care about the characters. They want to be amused, probably more than anything else. They want descriptions which are good enough, and clear enough, that they seem effortlessly done; at the same time, these descriptions cannot be allowed to get in the way of their reading enjoyment, or stop them imagining themselves in the place of the hero. They want a world which is internally logical and consistent, which holds together and doesn’t break any of its own rules – but, after that, if you want to bring in talking elephants or pink trees or whatever it is, and they make sense in the world you’ve written, then there’s no reason why you should hesitate. Yet – when it comes to some of my own more ‘out-there’ ideas, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Why is applying the lessons I’ve learned from years of reading, enjoying and dissecting children’s books such a challenging thing?

Every day I sit down at this book, I spend the first hour or two unpicking most of what I wrote the previous day. Progress is painfully slow. I am getting there – and I hope I’ll make it before my ‘deadline’ hits – but I hope I’ll remember to give myself the space I need to let the story live. I’ll have to remind myself not to be afraid of where the story wants to go, and to give it the freedom to do what it wants to do. I have to trust myself to handle it.

Otherwise, I think the boulder’s going to start rolling back so fast that I won’t be able to stop it, and it’ll crush me to a pulp.

And nobody wants to see that, right?

10 thoughts on “Sisyphus – I Feel your Pain, Man

  1. Annemarie

    Hi Sinead. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I recently read somewhere by two diffferent successful Dutch authors that they wrote about 400 to 500 words a day. Which means you are doing well.

  2. Kate Curtis

    No. I don’t want to see that. Or hear you (read you) speaking like that! I’m contantly in awe of your imagination, don’t doubt it. Look at what you’ve achieved already! Writing any amount of words is worthy of praise but let me remind you only about 11% of NaNo participants actually reach the golden figure of 50K. And, I for one am looking forward to the next installment of Emmeline and the Ice-God. [Hmmm, does that read like my voice became increasingly higher and more defensive? I feel like I should add ‘so there!’]

    Cut yourself some slack. πŸ™‚ xx

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      11%? Really? Wow. How did I not know that? πŸ˜€

      Okay, so that makes me feel a bit better. I wasn’t sure if I was going to post more of the book up on the blog, but if there’s public demand… πŸ™‚

      Writing words is good, of course. But the words have to be worth something, too. *sigh* I just feel like I’m churning out rubbish for the past fortnight. However, I shall persevere.

      Thanks, as always, for the sterling support. x

  3. Maurice A. Barry

    Cold turkey on that project for 2 or 3 days is clearly in order. Think about it as much as you want to but dont edit the manuscript itself. Let the remaining ideas gel for a bit. Maybe even write the end as a separate project then bridge the two.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Oo, interesting. Breaking the project up and writing the end separately is an intriguing idea.

      I feel like I’m hacking my way through concrete right now, which is always a sign that something’s not right. I really like your suggestion, Maurice – thank you.

      1. Maurice A. Barry

        Oh, one more thing. Yesterday morning I left home and drove to work, only to discover that I’d left the backpack containing my laptop at home. There was no choice but to return home for it. That extra to-and-fro drive gave me lots of extra time to reflect, and one thought I had along the way was this: The comment I posed above was not the one I intended to make. It was…something. Maybe or maybe not useful but, in reality a guy’s gut reaction to a problem–specifically the need to fix it.
        Sometimes I can be a bit of a dumbass. 😦
        Here is what I really intended to say: No matter what happens I truly feel your pain at this point. It’s a great big project that, due to the intensity and vigour with which you have approached it, has consumed an inordinate amount of strength and energy. You must be exhausted. At any rate I also know this: one way or another you will not only finish it but will do so with the huge degree of love and dedication that you so obviously put into everything you do.
        All the best!

  4. susanlanigan

    Finish the draft and don’t worry about the ending. You can always fix it later. You can (as I did) rewrite nearly the whole thing later πŸ™‚

    FIX IT LATER got me through a lot of worrying moments during the first novel πŸ™‚

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Yes – I have to keep reminding myself that I can finish it later, and that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect.

      I’ll have to add ‘FIX IT LATER – Susan Lanigan’ to my list of helpful and inspirational quotes from famous, successful authors. πŸ™‚


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