Where do you draw the line between Cautious Optimism and Premature Tempting Fate?
Longer term readers of this blog will recall that, in addition to the sterling work I do on-line here, I have been known in the past to write fiction, and make halting attempts to get you to buy it. So far, with previous little success.
Back in 2013, I entered National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the second time. I ‘won’, in the sense that I exceeded 50,000 words by November 30, though the novel itself couldn’t in any way be called ‘complete’. I never expected it to be: NaNoWriMo was a tool to kickstart me into getting into the book.
I continued writing thereafter, into 2014, until I reached a point where invention as to where to go, and what ending I was working towards, combined with an ever-increasing feeling that I’d made an egregious mistake in switching to a past-present alternating chapter system for Part 2. Work ground to a halt. For the first time in over fifteen years, I had no active idea going.
A lot of my time and writing energy was taken over by this blog, but I was conscious of the fact that I had lost confidence in my ability to write fiction. That the novel itself, in both content and tone, was a big departure from the work I’d previously done, contributed to a pretty fundamental loss of belief in myself.
Over the past year or so, I’ve tried to return to that kind of writing. I have a couple of books in mind, featuring familiar characters, and I have made various stabs at writing opening chapters, building storylines, setting up a structure for a quite involved plot. but each one has been severely hampered by my inability, at this stage, to clearly see the central point. It shouldn’t be important: my style has always been to start with a couple of characters and an initial situation, and then let the story resolve itself. That From Which It Comes (to borrow a Dave sim phrase) has always provided a solution.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost faith in myself to achieve that.
Back in 2010, I completed and published the third and last of my Richard and Susan books. In it there was an increased role for Richard’s fifteen year old neice, Celeste. I had a whale of a time writing her and wanted to feature her again. I knew there would be no more Richard stories, and Celeste was perfect for a leading character. But Pay for All was set in 2010, and that meant that an adult Celeste book would have to be set no earlier than 2016 and, as I couldn’t possibly imagine conditions in 2016 that far back (I should have known better, bit political there), it had to wait.
So I dutifully dragged myself into starting such a book. I had a pre-written opening sequence which remained unchanged, and I made multiple efforts to build an opening chapter onto it but nothing was working, nothing was natural, it felt and read like an author with a severe case of writers block. It was nowhere alive.
A couple of weeks back, I was selected for an Aspire training course where I work. It was a very thoughtful and useful course, with many elements, one of which being the theory that you can make or break a habit by doing/not doing something every day for thirty days. We were challenged by the trainer to do this ourselves, so as to learn proactively that we can eradicate bad habits or inculcate positive ones simply by practice.
I knew this and had applied it on a number of occasions in the past, by taking a habit I wanted to drop and simply focussing on recognising every time I did it, until I trained myself out of saying/doing that. This time, there was a clear positive ambition I could set myself, that I would write a minimum of 250 words of the book every day.
250 words doesn’t sound much, but in the frame of mind I had allowed myself to fall into, it was a feasible ambition. After all, it was less the quantity of words than the regularity of writing that mattered.
And it’s worked so far. With one exception, I have not only reached 250 words but exceeded them, day after day, more often than not reaching 400 words plus. I’ve progressed through two whole chapters, I’ve introduced the other two principal characters and set up a certain amount of creative tension into the relationship. It’s better than I’ve done in a long time.
But it isn’t going anywhere. I have a critical scene, long-imagined, which will take place in the last quarter of the book. As yet, I have no idea of its context. And in the last two weeks of writing, nothing, absolutely nothing has been coming to me to give the book a plot to progress.
Last night, for various reasons, I tackled my daily stint fairly late, got 468 words out of it. I went to bed still worried that I couldn’t see a way forward, beyond the merest rudiments of what would occupy my stint tonight. I’ve a fortnight of consistent writing behind me, yet nothing resembling inspiration as to an actual story has come forward.
And then, lying in the dark, the wires of two separate thoughts crossed. A door opened. I suddenly had an incident, a set-up, that brings in another character. And through that door, though no details are yet apparent, I can see a way forward, a spring to power the story forward.
And the beauty of it is that the previous chapter functions as a perfect, wholly unsuspected context for Celeste’s reactions that are going to drive this single moment a very long way.
Like I say, where do you place a distinction between cautious optimism and premature fate tempting? But this kind of connection hasn’t happened for years. It’s given the book space in my head, created an idea space around something that can be used to build a narrative pulse. I can write this now, whereas before I was building up fear of failure.
Those 250 word instalments might just start to stretch out a bit now, if I’m lucky.
Just in case (well, you never know):
Remember, the unsigned copies are the rare ones.