What a weekend that was.
Over the past three days, I’ve travelled hundreds of miles, met my brand-new baby cousin, attended a fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society (which involved several friends having their heads shaved/chests waxed/hair dyed various colours, and which can still be supported here for a short while), and tried to catch up with as many friends and family as possible all in a very tight space. It was fantastic, and just what I needed, and I enjoyed every second.
But, whoa. Now I have to turn around and function, for five whole days in a row? Sheesh.
The good news is, I made a substantial start into a new WiP last week, mostly on a whim. It came out of my ‘cataloguing’ urge, which I mentioned the other day, and I was so overwhelmed with enthusiasm for one particular idea that I thought I may as well just start writing it. Now, what may well happen is that it stutters to a halt again in another few days – but perhaps it won’t.
And the important thing is, I enjoyed writing it. I’m only about 5,000 words in, but I’ve already begun to create a world with its own systems and class structures and economy, and a family who struggle with money and ill-health and hard work, and a curious hero who wants to step out from under his big brother’s shadow, and a brave heroine with her own family to support who falls foul of a too-tempting opportunity. Part of the exhilaration of this point in a project is discovering what sort of ‘voice’ to use – I had started this WiP in an entirely different sort of voice, using a dramatic and tense omniscient narrative style, only to find after a chapter that it wasn’t working very well. It was making things seem leaden and dull, when what I wanted was for there to be a light, sparky, almost cheeky feel to the tale, as befits my curious hero. So, I started again with that in mind, and from the very first scene – when the older brother boots the younger out of bed long before dawn in order to begin their day’s work – there’s more humour and dynamism and three-dimensionality to their relationship, their dialogue, and the story.
I still might find myself beginning from scratch. This is always a possibility. But gradually I’m trying to understand that beginning again, and again, and again, isn’t a sign of weakness in writing. It’s a sign of strength, and a developing sense of quality control. If I know something isn’t ‘right’, or isn’t working, then the only responsible thing to do is reconsider, and if that means starting again then so be it. Sometimes, a story will be at the back of your mind, gradually taking shape, but the images and ideas that dance in front of your eyeballs and come sizzling down your fingers are slightly less refined and complete than the larger story arc itself. Enthusiasm has a lot to do with this, as does inexperience, but neither of these are bad things. They can lead to some wondrous and unexpected connections and plot developments.
They can also lead to false starts and frustrated re-writes, but that’s all part of the fun. Right?
Not including The Eye of the North, which is at an advanced stage in development, I have ten ideas (some partially written, some existing only in fragmentary form, and at least one of which has been drafted, but which will in all likelihood never see the light of day), and sometimes, when I get panicked that I will never write another good word and that my only novel is behind me (and believe me, these days happen with paralysing frequency), I remember that I have these ideas, queuing, waiting for their time to ripen and be written. Cataloguing them, as I did during last week, really helped me to focus, and to see that the ideas are all quite different, not just in content but in how I imagine them on a page (for it’s important to always have an ‘end product’ in mind, in order to keep yourself motivated if nothing else). Some are long chapter books for 8+ readers, and some are shorter works which I can imagine as highly illustrated stories for slightly younger readers, and some have a historical focus, and some are entirely fantastical, and some have magic in them and some don’t. It’s really easy to convince yourself that you’re not having good, or any, ideas, and that if you are having some that they’re stupid, and it’s really important to vanquish that sort of mindset as early into your writing career as you can. Writing lists helps me; maybe something else will help you. It’s up to each writer to find their own path through the tangled forest which chokes out all the life and strength from their fictional worlds. None of the ideas on my list may ever be completed, but even if they’re never written, I know one thing: They’re not stupid.
And another thing: I’m going to give them all the best fighting chance I can.
So, off I go, into the unknown. It’s a new week, and time to make the most of every second of writing time I can get. If you’re joining me on the path, good luck and happy travels!