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If I asked you to guess what jobs were being advertised here …

    1. WANTED
    Do you spend all your time thinking about how to hurt people? How to torment them? How to torture them? Are there no depths you’ve haven’t ploughed? Ruin their relationships, destroy their families, dredge up the secrets from their past, and set them onto a course to oblivion? Do you not only contemplate all these courses – and more – but also take delight in them? Do you relish the damage that you can do? Do you take joy in your own cleverness? Do you take your plans and go over and over and over them, trying to perfect them?

     
    2. WANTED
    Interested in concocting plans of violence and destruction? Rob a bank. Kidnap and ask for a ransom. Commit an amazing murder. Commit many murders. Hurt and maim and kill. Devastate. And elude and befuddle the authorities. Taunt them, wherever possible. Show them up as incompetent. Celebrate your most heinous glories for all the world to see and fear, while mocking everybody else’s safety and security.

     
    3. WANTED
    Are you capable of threatening democracy? Of rattling its foundations? Perhaps you can bring down a government. Set bombs and rob the everyday people of their security. Destroy strategic targets and let civilisation know that the day of reckoning is near. Threaten to burn the world in pursuit of your own ideals, or a radical refurbishment of life as we know it.

… what would you say?

Your answers might be:

    1. Homewrecker / Narcissist
    2. Murderer / Kidnapper / Serial Killer
    3. Terrorist / Spy / Donald Trump

Your answers would be wrong. Well, in this context. The answer for all three is simpler:

!!! Writer !!!

Writers think about this sort of stuff all the time.

And it’s always miserable. Stories aren’t happy. They may have happy moments. They may end with the contemporary equivalent of, And they lived happily ever after. But the journey to get there is a passage through shit and misery, because that’s what makes stories interesting. Nobody wants to sit around reading 80,000 words about characters having a good time.

Part of what makes reading compelling is that journey, in seeing characters confront and overcome obstacles, grow, and move forward; or seeing that no matter how our way of life is threatened, we can triumph and move on.

As it is, I think writers are, generally, a lot more sensitive and definitely more empathetic than most people. That’s why (and how) they’re able to get into the headspace of so many different characters and represent them genuinely. It’s how they’re able to insert these characters into extraordinary circumstances and produce authentic outcomes. It’s how, when they’re successful, they deliver verisimilitude.

But thinking about all this can’t be healthy.

It’s been shown that our thoughts influence our outlook. You don’t have to be experiencing a terrible time to feel terrible – you can feel terrible just by recounting a terrible memory. That’s enough. Everybody would’ve experienced this at some point – watching a recording, for example, that either made them feel happy (e.g. a wedding) or sad (e.g. a funeral) even though it might be years (or decades) since those events.

Making matters worse is that writing is an isolated pursuit. Writers don’t sit in offices chatting away with workmates. They sit alone trying to get all this to work.

And then there’s that whole judgemental hierarchy, e.g.

  • Is this any good?
  • Will the publisher accept it?
  • Will people like it?
  • Will reviewers like it?
  • Will people buy it?

Most writers wouldn’t think, Yes. That confidence isn’t in their DNA. Most writers would think catastrophically. E.g.

  • Is this any good? It’s terrible.
  • Will the publisher accept it? No – it’s not good enough.
  • Will people like it? They’ll think it’s horrible.
  • Will reviewers like it? They’ll pillory it.
  • Will people buy it? Nobody will buy it.

This isn’t even pessimism. Publishers reject books – even good ones. Art is subjective, and plenty of great books haven’t been recognised as great until long, long, long after the author is gone. Tons of books – even amazing books – don’t sell.

It’s a mess. All of it. So it’s little wonder that writers can feel down.

And it’s something to be aware of. I don’t have any solutions. I doubt there’d be a blanket solution, just like there isn’t a blanket methodology to writing.

But it’s something to be aware of, and it’s equally important to find a constructive way through it.

 

49,012

Something I get asked often is how I’m so prolific. People query me like I must have some magical solution. But the answer is simple: I sit down and write.

Everybody will have a different methodology as to how they get to that point – do they plan the book out, or do they just write and let the story develop organically? Everybody has to find their own way. What works for me won’t necessarily work for somebody else, and what works for them won’t necessarily work for me.

But what we all share in common is that, at some point, we have to sit down at a computer or laptop, or at a typewriter or a notebook, and we have to write.

That simple.

There’s no magical answers.

And I can guarantee that at some point any or all of the following will happen:

  • you’ll hit an obstacle and won’t know where to go next. For a novel, you’re dealing with around 80,000 words. In no world will those 80,000 words come unhindered. There’ll be plenty of times you’ll stop and think, What comes next?
  • you’ll get bored by your story. Again, it’s 80,000 words. It’ll bore you at times. You’ll be eager to get to some other point, but bored by the journey. (Although a lot of the time, I think the journey is much more compelling.) But being bored doesn’t mean your story is boring. It’s simply hard to keep the engagement through all that writing. It’s like watching a 24-hour-long making-of-a-movie documentary – because that’s what you’re doing: you’re making something. Readers see the finished product. You’re behind the scenes. It’s not always going to be interesting, and you’re not going to be enthusiastic about it all the time.
  • you’ll grow frustrated. For whatever reason. The story’s not working, the characters aren’t working, you think the story’s shit, you think your writing’s shit, you don’t see the point of it all, and so on. Again, you’re dealing with something so big – any or all of these are going to happen.
  • you’ll go the wrong way. You’ll follow a thread that, at some point, you’ll realise isn’t true to the story. One accomplished author told me she got 90,000 words into a new novel, and realised 80,000 of them were wrong. That’s drastic. But wrong turns are going to happen. I don’t mind going the wrong way, because at least then I can dismiss it as an avenue.
  • another project will seem more exciting. New projects are always much more exciting. When they occur to you, you’re hovering right around the inspiration, rather than 30,000 words into a first draft that has started to bore you or frustrate you, so how wouldn’t that be more exciting? It’s untarnished and pure and hasn’t been subjected to any of the states you’re now experiencing – but you will. The exact same thing will happen.

Early as a writer, I experienced all of the above – repeatedly. In the early 2000s, I had lots of unfinished screenplays. Then I made a conscious decision to sit down and finish whatever I started, and if another, more-appealing idea came along, to file it and stick with what I was doing, no matter how much it bored or frustrated me, or how much I doubted myself.

Eventually, what I taught myself through this routine was to accept those states of mind weren’t an indictment on writing, but just natural and occasional thought processes. If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’re not always in love with the person – sometimes, your partner frustrates you, angers you, bores you, etc. But it doesn’t mean you ditch them because of it. (Well, for most.)

I’ve built up endurance that sees me through just about anything. I know that when I sit down to write something, I will finish it – it’s just a matter of time. As far as this one goes, there’s been lots of wrong turns, lots of questioning what happens next (although I always seem to know what happens in the scene after), but I accept those states as they help me find the trueness and thrust of the story.

None of this is meant to bignote myself. Everything I’m writing might be terrible.

But at least they’re finished terrible things.

 
Last Week’s Lie: I’ve never spoken to Charlaine Harris so, unfortunately, there’ll never be a vampire opera with zombie gerbils.