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When I work on a book, I’ll also work on something else simultaneously.

It won’t be another new book – it’s hard enough keeping track of all the characters, threads, and ideas for one prospective novel, let alone two. I’m always surprised when people say they’re working on two (or more) novels simultaneously. (I don’t count swapping back and forth between projects but never finishing anything.)

The closest I’ll get to working on more than one novel is if I also revise another, but only as long as it’s more so a copyedit revision, rather than a structural edit revision that might require some rewriting. As far as the copyedit goes, I might read a chapter or two (depending on their length) as warm-up for my brain. Then I feel I can flow into my work-in-progress.

Or I could revise a short story, or even write a new short story – the only qualifier here is that I have to be able to finish a draft (either writing something new, or revising an existing draft) in a single sitting, so it’s doesn’t become too much of a distraction. I want to be able to get in, get out, with it having no ongoing impact on my work-in-progress.

Poetry is something else that’s a good sideline – although, sometimes, my ruminations take me deep into the night, because I struggle to find the exact way I want to depict what I’m feeling. But it’s always cathartic, and I’ve written enough poetry now that I’m thinking of either subbing around a collection, or self-publishing it.

Lately, I’ve also been working on screenplays. I wrote screenplays prolifically through the early 2000s and had a couple optioned. I thought they were great. I had this infallible self-belief. Of course, I was an idiot. (There’s a good chance I still am.) Neither option went anywhere. In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t.

When I look back at all those old screenplays, they’re grossly overwritten, and the narrative in a few of them is (to put it kindly) contrived. However, some are structurally sound – at least as far as the framework goes. I’ve picked the best of them out and tried to revise. At times this has meant almost rewriting from scratch, and/or fleshing out the story.

Over the last year, I’ve also written a handful of new screenplays. Compared to the 2000s vintage, they work better on every level – the way they’re written, the causality of the narrative, and the solidity of the suspension of disbelief. I’ve discovered I have more confidence writing a screenplay than I do any form of prose.

Screenwriting also provides an interesting contrast to prose. With prose, you get inside a character’s head. You relate what you see and how they feel. You can have an internal monologue driving the narrative. Screenwriting is different. An internal monologue is not going to work – you can translate it as voiceover, but you’re always having to think about what the audience is seeing. It has to be engaging. A character sitting on a couch coming to some slow realisation is not engaging. That has to be represented other ways that is going to hook the audience.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve refocused some of my energy on screenplays and subbed to a variety of international comps (because there’s so many of them), and met with some minor success in placing in a few of them. Some of those places have only been getting through to the next round, where perhaps another two hundred other writers have also gotten through. But I look at that in the context that possibly six or seven hundred people have been culled, so just to survive that is gratifying. As a writer, you hang onto little victories.

One screenplay, a 30-minute satire/pilot entitled ‘Producers’ – about a former shady tax lawyer, now heading a four-person production team trying to raise money for a feature – was a semi-finalist in the Showtime’s Tony Cox Episodic Screenplay (30 Min) Competition, which was flattering. ‘Producers’ was written originally over ten years ago, but has undergone repeated heavy revision and restructuring. To get any recognition is encouragement that I might be doing something – no matter how small – right. Or maybe I’m doing something right in a small way.

It’s been a lot of writing of various forms to juggle throughout the last year, while also working on a new book. Just when I get one of those peripheral commitments out of the way, something else pops up – another competition I want to enter, or a short story submission opportunity where I want to revise. My mind feels spread in different directions, which is not my preferred way of operating – but, at the moment, it feels like I can stay on top of it because at least when I am working on a couple of things, they’re different forms.

Well, that’s what I keep telling myself.

And this is what you do as a writer.

You write.

Submit.

And do it over and over.

 
Last Week’s Lie: My editor, Lucy Bell, and I did not go on a tyre-mauling rampage.

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Last week, four writer-friends (Ryan O’Neill, Kim Lock, Laurie Steed, and A.S. Patric) talked about insecurities in writing. Given the Twitter response and the retweeting that followed, their answers resonated with many other writers out there. A big thank you again to my four friends
for sharing.

Now it’s my turn. These are my insecurities when it comes to writing:

 

  • That the writing is no good. I can revise exhaustively, and still not be assured, because here’s another truth: You know what you know.
  •  
    When I was younger, stupider, and naïve(r), I had an unfailing confidence in my writing. But as I grew older and more experienced, I started to learn what could be wrong. When I worked as an editor specialising in structural editing, I really learned what could be wrong. There’s so much stuff out there I don’t know about, how do I know that’s not thriving – beyond my abilities to detect – in my writing?
     
    The pattern I’ve found is that inexperienced writers are confident, because they simply don’t know what could be wrong. Experienced writers are insecure because they do know what could be wrong.

     

  • That the words will stop coming. Back in 2007, I intended to adapt three screenplays I’d written into novels. I did the first, only adapted the second as a novella last year, and the third sits unwritten because I had ideas for eight other books, one novella, and two screenplays whose ideas demanded they were written first. I have ideas. I have lots of them scribbled down. So I’m (fairly) confident I’ll always have ideas.
     
    Back in 2006, I went off an antidepressant – Aropax – and suffered hideous side-effects as part of the withdrawal. One of the side-effects was to draw a blank on what word came next. It didn’t even have to be a difficult word. I don’t know how much this side-effect has grown; or if, as I’ve learned more, I’ve put more pressure on myself to produce, thus unwittingly asphyxiating myself; or I now suffer from a combination of both.
     
    But what if words don’t come? What if I’m in mid sentence—
     
    Just like that, nothing more.

     

  • That nobody will like what I write. A writer-friend was lamenting their struggle to get published. I informed them that once they were published, a train of new insecurities began.
     
    Obviously, the interpretation of any artform is subjective, but there’s still a tipping point either way that indicates if something is generally good or generally bad.
     
    If the rating is out of 5, then anything below 2.5 is below average. Anything above is above average. I doubt many writers with an average rating of 2 for their book, for example, would feel assured their story is good and memorable because a handful of people like it when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests there’s something not quite working there. (Bizarrely, I do think some bad books get lauded and flattered in ratings.)
     
    A book is sent out into the world and largely has to fend for itself. There’s always the concern it just won’t be good enough to even be remembered as above average. And then, what if it’s worse? What if it’s mediocre? Or terrible?
     
    Or just shit?

     

  • That I’ll realise I should’ve done things differently. As an editor, I’m worried about picking up any book I’ve edited just in case I find something I could’ve done differently. At the worst, I can assure myself that the author is happy with it, even if I become discontented.
  •  
    I don’t have that failsafe with my own work. I’m scared I’ll find an error, terrified I’ll discover something I could’ve phrased differently, and petrified I’ll unearth an idea I could’ve explored better. Or, maybe, just maybe, something entirely new will occur to me that should’ve been included and would’ve elevated the work.
     
    I’m astonished that we have a stream of movies that are rereleased as director’s cuts when they hit DVD and BluRay, but we don’t get more author’s cuts of books where the author feels they can now do it better, or they can address issues they had during the original writing and/or editing of the book. Only two come to mind: Stephen King rereleased The Stand in 1990 with about four-hundred pages (roughly 150,000 words) restored. And Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which was republished as Beginners. (Carver complained about being heavily edited and, at times, rewritten, by his editor Gordon Lish.)

     

  • That what I write won’t make sense, or the sentence I begin now will have no (or little) realisation. Last week, I said I’d get into my own insecurities after the answers from my writer-friends. I never did (not that I think anybody noticed). Sometimes, I see stuff like that when I revise. I would’ve begun something, and am either building to or foreshadowing a point, and it never comes. Or a sentence begins about something, and becomes about something entirely unconnected.
     
    How often do I miss those things? As an author, subconsciously I’m filling in the gaps without ever realising them on the damn page. Or I think I understand why something has evolved the way it has.
     
    An editor should pick it up, but the piece has to get that far first – and that’s provided they’re not put off by the unexplored threads or the disjointed passages.

 

Some may be surprised that there’s no fear of rejection, but that’s part of the writing life. If you’re going to write, you’re going to be rejected. That’s just reality.

I can live with rejection.