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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.

 

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Lots of people think writing is easy, or should be easy.

If you have an imagination, you can tell a story – right?

But that’s like saying if you can imagine a house, you should be able to build one. Surely there’s nothing too involved there? Dig a foundation, lay down some bricks, build four walls, throw a roof on top – what could possibly go wrong?

It annoys me (I’m easily annoyed) that people think that writing is easy, like writers can sit at the computer and hammer out 9,000 words in a single sitting. No problem.

Unfortunately not.

Writing is painstaking. Whatever’s in your imagination has to be articulated onto the page. You need to find the right words to build the right sentences. The right sentences need to construct the right paragraphs. The right paragraphs need to evolve into a narrative that makes a cohesive chapter. Each chapter has to contribute to a compelling story. And within all of these constructs – even the smallest ones, like finding the right word – there’s so much that could pojssibly go wrong, e.g. a lack of clarity, overwriting, repetition, etc.

As a writer, you’re always evolving – at least until your mind packs it in. But as you’re evolving, you’re learning. You discover new ways to do things. You also learn where you’ve been doing things wrongly, e.g. you might have an over-reliance on exposition, or have favourite phrases and words that you use (every writer has them – I used to love ‘ominous’).

As you learn, the filter through which you write changes, so you curtail these habits – not all the time. Early drafts should be a spill. The filter can act as a net to catch some stuff, but you should always just aim to get everything you need onto the page, and that doesn’t mean stopping to check every keystroke.

With TFSoLY, I’ve bullet-pointed a number of things that I’ll have to either go back and revise, or write into the story. They’re not small things, either. If they were, I’d do them right now. These are big, BIG things. But, right now, it’s important I get the rest of the story down, so I’ll know how those earlier parts will need to work when I do go back and attend them.

Something I’ve found extraordinarily helpful is what I call my Shit List. This is a list of words or phrases that I overuse.

Once I’ve finished the early draft, I’ll run a FIND & REPLACE, highlighting every use of these words or phrases.

Some examples from my Shit List:

  • eyes / gaze / glance / stare / look: an easy habit to fall into, connecting the characters to other characters and/or the environment.
  • turn: my characters are always turning – turning to or away from other characters, or to look at things.
  • spun: my characters are always spinning – dramatic flourishes and all. How can you not love a dramatic flourish? It’s a reason we should still wear cloaks in today’s society.
  • seem: I’m often writing that something seems [fill in whatever comes next].
  • just: my Pantera editor, Lucy Bell, picked up I overuse this – I’m unsure why. I think it’s just become ingrained.

There are others, but these are enough as examples.

When I worked as an editor, I found a lot of these common – especially the eye action. Writers love eye action. (And the word ‘suddenly’, which I refuse to use anymore – it’s such a melodramatic way to inject urgency.)

Just Another Week in Suburbia is approximately 80,000 words, and went through about thirty drafts – including some sizeable cutting of things that didn’t work, and writing in new material (including a whole new final act). August Falling is approximately 83,000 words, and went through at least twenty-five drafts – including writing in some new complementary scenes to round-out the story

Now, by drafts, I mean I read them from the first word to the last word (and some scenes and/or chapters repeatedly). That’s a lot of reading and revising. In the case of Just Another Week in Suburbia, that’s reading roughly 2,400,000 words to get those 80,000 words as right as possible (with help from feedbackers, and my wonderful editor Lucy).

People who aren’t writers or editors see only the final product, and don’t realise how much work goes into getting it as good as it can be.

Writing’s not easy.

(This was actually meant to be a post about mental health – well, I guess that can come next week. Sounds ominous, hey?)

 
Last Week’s Lie: I claimed I’d been bignoting myself. I’d never do that.