Saturday, September 18, 2004

Perfect weather for writing

Word count: 21,298

It’s proper September grey out there this afternoon, with what weathermen call ‘squally showers’ – the kind that appear and disappear with a kind of general irritation.

But I am rather pleased with the weather, because it means there’s no excuse for going outside, sitting in the garden, mowing the lawn, cleaning the car (yes, that is honestly on my to do list because a) my road has lots of trees on it so it takes about two days for the car to get coated in bird-shit and icky-sticky tree sap and b) since the little bugger in my road broke off my mirror I can’t go in the car wash).

Autumn/Winter are the best times for writing, I think. It’s the author’s equivalent of hibernation…

As a result of the untempting outside world, I have managed a good three hours of writing. I’ve switched off all the lights so only my laptop and a candle are drawing my eye. It would be quite garret-like, if it wasn’t for 6 Music playing through my telly. Though Mark Riley is talking a bit too much for my liking so I might have to play my Keane album again soon (according to their website, Tom has a poorly sore throat, so get well soon, Tom, whoever you are. I never bother to learn the names of band members, well, not since The Police anyway).

It’s quite a good job I have been writing a lot today as this week has been pretty useless, novel-wise. I blame work. We’re coming up to a fairly major deadline next week when we pitch all our programme ideas to the BBC channel controllers. So we have to finish all our proposals and ‘pitches’ and little edited tapes showing what the programmes will be like if they commission them. It’s all quite high tension… and the natural response to a day of creative thinking is to go home, drink red wine and veg out.

Mind you, it hasn’t all been like that this week. I did go to meet Chris Manby, who is one of those people who is incredibly glamorous, screamingly funny and extremely generous as well. So that was nice. I also got to go to the Groucho Club which makes me feel cool.

Also went with my author buddy Stephanie to her writers’ group… they are such a talented bunch of people and are going to let me join in their critique sessions which is brilliant news. I got so much out of it. Read out some of Book 3 and they gave very constructive criticism.

It’s weird at the moment, writing. For me, there’s a real difference between writing BEFORE you are published/find an agent, and afterwards. Of course, it’s a strange, lonely, obsessive occupation either way, and before you’re published, you are wracked with self-doubt about whether there’s any point, whether you’re writing gibberish, whether you should be doing something far more useful like watching Big Brother etc…

Then (after the rejection nightmares, which I’ve written about on my website) comes the breakthrough. You are agented and/or published. Someone believes in your work. It’s fantastic. You may or may not get reviewed/into the charts/pursued down the frozen food aisle of Tesco to sign a book.

But then you have to write the next book. And the next one. Approximately one a year. And then you have new stuff to fret about. Is my current work-in-progress better or worse than the last novel? Will it be what ‘my’ readers (not that I had all THAT many) expect or want?

And of course, other important people have an opinion. Agents/editors plus mates etc. Now, this is good in general, but it does add another dimension of anxiety. I have never been someone who is short of ideas so currently Book 3 could be one of about three possibilities for a novel. I have chosen one idea for now – the one I’ve managed 21,000 words of – but have no idea if it’s the right one. On a ‘chick lit’ scale of one to a hundred (where one is dark, meaningful, incisive, bitter, contemporary chick lit, and a hundred is happy-ever-after, light-as-a-feather, fiction so fluffy it would cause an asthma attack), I’d describe my first novel as maybe somewhere around 52 and the second, closer to 65. My current w-i-p for book 3 is perhaps 67.4 but my other favourite, under-developed idea is nearer 60.

Um, am not sure I am making any more sense. But at least you will hopefully realise that far from the image of a ‘chick lit’ author sitting around in jim-jams painting her nails and plucking her eyebrows before dashing off 30 chapters in the commercial breaks of Nip/Tuck, some of us are just as tortured as literary writers.

Right, back to work. Though my eyebrows are looking a little bushy.
Next time: edit or be damned.

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