There Just Aren’t Enough Hours In The Day, or Why I Don’t Want To Be A Zombie…

Once upon a time, I was able to do it all. Once upon a time, I didn’t need as much sleep. Now I find myself pulled in so many directions – too many directions. I can’t do it all. Last night for instance; I got into a good flow of writing, and I would dearly have loved to have just carried on. But no. I had to be up very early again this morning (Very Early), so I had to give in to my body’s unreasonable need for sleep. Once upon a time, I could race through my reading list, gallop and cavort through several volumes at a time. Now, I have to juggle my reading time with writing, and sleeping (never mind everything else, the non-negotiables that come with being a mother and a wife). Maybe it’s an age thing; that has a ring of inevitability about it. I can no longer burn the candle at both ends; not if I want to be taken seriously as a decent-looking, well behaved human being. Zombiedom does not appeal!

But the main reason my brain has wandered down this particular path is the issue of reading. I’m still ploughing through – and digesting – The Seven Basic Plots (Booker, 2005), and I’m still dipping into and loving The Legacy (Bedford, 2005). But the waiting to be consumed pile never seems to go down, and already I have more to add to it. Under Heaven (Kay, 2010) is the hardback treat I have promised to myself for when  the First Draft is completed – so a sort of non-chocolate easter egg. Then there are two new paperbacks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Mitchell, 2011), and So Much For That (Shriver, 2011). I won’t go on, because if I do, I won’t know where to stop; working in a bookshop is a tremendous source of pleasure, but also frustration! And if I had a penny for every customer who has looked round at the laden shelves and told me that they suppose I spend all my time reading… I gave up trying to read at work when Cold Mountain was published, back in 1997. There are only so many times I can cope with rereading the same page and then being interrupted. I’m not there to read, but to assist, to sort out, to make presentable. The shop can be quieter than a really quiet thing, and I promise you, the moment I think about picking up a book, someone will ask me something. I never did finish Cold Mountain, either… so many books, and not enough hours in the day.

But the sun shines more and more, with increasing strength. I’ve seen celandines, little golden glossy stars that twinkle in the verge. And the washing line once more billows with laundry, while the apple tree promises to unfurl its blossom in a few more weeks. Spring is bouncing around like a bouncy thing in spring, and the WIP is gathering pace. So I’m not complaining, not really.

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The art of permissive writing

There is an art to writing permissively – and I don’t mean sex scenes, although there is an art to that too – the act of letting go of every instinct towards perfection, on the quest for a finished first draft. I have been writing this week, and I have been struggling. I need to get this draft finished, this baggy, bulging behemoth of a first draft. And I’m almost there; just a few more chapters to write, the culmination of the story’s arc, its purpose. Except… except… as this damn thing’s evolved, it has changed, to the point where I no longer know how it will end. I know that certain threads will be tied up, and I know how they will be tied up, but that is not the same thing as an ending, or even The End-ing. So all I can do is keep moving forward, one word after another, and see where I end up.

But there’s worse. There are whole swathes of scenes where things are not shown, but told. Quelle horreur! There are adverbs galore, gallivanting merrily across the page. But there are also redeeming scenes, scenes where  I remember being completely caught in the moment, visualising every detail, every gesture, every nuance, and capturing it all, word by word by word. There are scenes that quite frankly are utter rubbish. But I keep telling myself that it’s ok, it’ll come right just as long as I can get to the end of the First Draft. Permission, that’s the key for now, permission to do whatever it takes to arrive at the end, and The End.

Of course, I’ll be so much stricter with myself for the Second Draft. I’m looking forward already to Being Ruthless. All those lovely rewrites…

But then, there’ll be the Third Draft; cutting and trimming and surgically excising great swathes of dead wood that litter the text. Then I’ll have to master the art of Being Brutal: is there such a thing as literary masochism?

One draft at a time, one word at a time. That’s all I can do, for now. Even for the bits with dragons…