I’m currently reading – and very near to finishing – David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. To say that I’m loving it is an epic understatement. I’m finding it strange, and wonderful, and gripping, and beguiling. Hilarious in places, the literary scene leg pulling; laugh out loud hilarious. And delightful too, from a writerly, rather than readerly, perspective. When David Mitchell plays with language, he really plays; poetic writing that riots across the page, teasing with rhythm, with balance, with alliteration, with semantic strings of meanings and oppositions. In my opinion – humble or otherwise – he is a writer’s writer: fearlessly, genre bendingly, inventive.
It’s not overstating the case to say, that whilst reading The Bone Clocks, I arrived at an epiphany. A moment of clarity, if you will. A reference is made, in the novel, to a piece of music I had not come across before. I’m not particularly au fait with Sibelius, but for some reason I had to stop reading to google The Swan of Tuonela. A rewarding hiatus in reading, for it gave me a thing of beauty, and an inspiration, a way back into the story I began in my aborted NaNoWrimo effort. And it gave me the realisation that all stories are maps. They show us the way – if we are receptive to seeing – the way into other stories, and the stories of others. They show us ways into ourselves, and the way through our own stories. They show us the path behind us, that brought us to here, to now. And they show us all the ways forward. This may already have been blindingly obvious to you. Intellectually, I knew it. But, listening to the music, I felt it. Epiphanic. And, ecstatic.
Annoying, isn’t it, and frustrating, when just as you think you’re beginning to get a handle on things, beginning to get the hang of things again, something happens to derail you, and you’re left feeling like utter rubbish. A Failure.
I haven’t attempted NaNoWriMo since 2011. This year I felt ready, in the zone, itching to fling a constant stream of words at the screen. And I began, and it was enjoyable. The story is utterly ridiculous, but it’s growing out of an idea I’ve had in my head, and various notebooks for a while now. And having spent most of this year editing and redrafting stuff, rather than writing from scratch, it felt so bloody GOOD to be flying free again.
And then I was ill. Felled for the best part of three days by a sore throat and a headache I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I fell behind. Not just on NaNo, but on everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Just as I’d finally found that tenuous balance, all the spinning plates came crashing down. Because, you see, owing to circumstances of Life, I am now operating as a single mother. And that’s fine, and as it needs to be. But, if things aren’t done, they remain not done until I do them. There is no one to pick up the day to day slack. And now I’m back on my feet, but setting all those plates spinning again is… hard. I feel paralysed. All I want to do is sleep. After years of not sleeping at all well, now I’ve gone the other way. And there are all those things to be done, waiting for me. Something’s got to give. Preferably not me. Not again. So NaNoWriMo, adieu, for this year. I know it’s all there, my writing, waiting for me. But oh, the frustration. There’s nothing like kicking yourself when you’re down, to compound the knowledge that you’re useless.
By the time you read this, I will have decided absolutely, categorically, whether or not I will be doing NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve been umming and ahhing for the last three weeks, veering crazily between bring it on, and hell no.
The last time I did it was November 2011, an important transitional month, in which I turned 40, went to Paris in the middle, and fell down the rabbit hole of depression. Turning 40 was actually pretty good, and I fell in love with Paris. But I’m still somewhere down that rabbit hole. And a lot has changed very recently, that means LIFE is just too big and complicated, and important to put to one side right now, in favour of churning out 50000 words. Besides, I still haven’t got to where I want to be with the stories – and the WIP – that I already have in progress. (And the same can be said of Life, right now, too.)
But, on the other hand, there is something rather seductive about the madness that can set in, with that need to find at least 1667 words each day. Some days the words will come, will flow, will flood, a racing spate of inspiration. And some days the words will hide, just out of view, out of reach, and the overload of caffeine does nothing more than jangle the nerves, makes me hideously irritable, and sets tremors in my hands.
12.04 a.m. What will it be? Yes? Or no?
Eeny meeny miney mo…
Last weekend I was in Portugal, to celebrate my youngest brother’s wedding. It was a joyfully beautiful occasion, in a beautiful location, with beautiful people. I wore purple shoes, and red lipstick, and I danced the night away with the new friends I made. The sunset was amazing.
My brother has always worn his heart on sleeve, despite the risks. His closest, dearest friends admire him for this bravery. And now at last he is truly happy. And I am so happy for him. And I admire my little brother, because wearing my heart on my sleeve is a thing I have been unable to do for a very long time. I doubt I ever will again. I fear to give myself away. And I think, perhaps, that this is partly why I write. I might give myself away in fiction, but fiction gives me some distance from the things I cannot otherwise say. I know that I cannot be the only one who does this, among the writers I know. And who, among those who read what I write – and who knows, even like what I write – can say with any degree of certainty which detail is personal, and which is not. To borrow from Margaret Atwood, only I can say how large – or small – is the blood transfusion given to the Ginger Bread Man, in order that he may live, and run.
Last Monday my no-stories-published streak of two years was broken – hurrah! Thank you, those of you who read it, and told me that you liked it. (If you’d like to read it, It’s called The Stars Shone Just For Me, and it’s a little bit magical, and a little bit strange.) After so many months of doubt and fear it’s been a huge boost. And do keep going back and looking at ink sweat and tears because they publish seriously lovely poetry and prose every day.
Last Friday, the wonderful, but oh so sadly shortly closing The View From Here published another of my stories – but I was too unwell to publicise it properly. Until now. So, tadah! It’s called Art, and you can read it here. It’s a romantic and surreal little piece about being hopeful, and looking at Art, and how sometimes, Art looks back at you. And it’s set in Tate Modern. I hope you like it.
And so, the Summer is almost done, for which I am grateful. Autumn is beginning to pick leaves off the trees, odd ones here and there, to get us used to the idea that soon they will be drifting down with a sound like falling rain. So change must come.
In the meantime, I only went and had two stories accepted (At last! At last! And there has been bouncing and squeaking and even a celebratory glass of prosecco or three), the first of which can be read over here at Ink, Sweat And Tears as of today.
Anyway, thoughts have been thought, and ideas come up with, and sometimes retained, but mostly discarded. And the ones that stick I will discuss another time, because it is getting late and I have to run away for the school run. Literally, in fact.
What do you do, when you write and write and redraft, and edit, and do it all again and again and again, then send the resulting stories out into the world, and no one wants them? What do you do?
I think I’ve got used to rejection. It still stings*. Sometimes I even cry – those emails always seem to arrive when I’m depleted. And I’d be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes toy with the idea of just giving up. BUT I HAVEN’T. And I won’t. I keep looking for somewhere else to send those stories, my stories. It’s an act of faith in my work, in my worth as a writer. Even if
I don’t fit my stories don’t fit anywhere.
*Actually, it hurts like hell.
N.B. This is a rhetorical question, by the way.