Well, it’s Week Thirty here at Flail Towers, World Headquarters of the Society For Thrashing Ineffectively Through Life And Then Crying About It*, and that seems like a nice round number at which to review how things are going.
The Story So Far: In 2014 I started working part-time temp jobs** in an effort to follow my life-long dream of becoming a writer. Along the way I’ve been severely hampered by a squirrel and the fact that I can’t figure out what “being a writer” actually means.
I honestly didn’t expect success to come quickly or easily. However, I definitely thought that the actual writing part would feel less like having my skin very slowly peeled off by an excitable and somewhat premature taxidermist.
And I guess, really, it’s not the writing that feels like that. When I look back at the actual writing I’ve produced over the last couple of years, at a sentences-and-paragraphs level, I’m reasonably proud of myself. There’s a Neil Gaiman quote – I can’t remember it exactly and a quick Google has turned up too many versions for me to be sure which one is right – where he says that writing is just putting words one after another. Honestly, I think I’m pretty good at that. Or not, you know, distinctly terrible. And I definitely enjoy doing it.
No, what’s skin-peelingly awful is finishing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself over the last few years, and demonstrated extensively, it’s that I have no natural talent whatsoever for actually planning and constructing a piece of writing. Arranging the words nicely, maybe, but – as I have learned to my cost – that’s all wasted effort if it turns out the story isn’t going anywhere.
I have wasted a lot of effort.
Then again, maybe it’s not a waste if I learn from it. After Venetian Masks, which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I want to write another novel in the same style and setting based on Cinderella. I have been telling myself that it won’t be nearly as painful because I will know what I’m doing. I have had absolutely no idea what I’m doing for most of the time I’ve been writing Venetian Masks.
In fact, here is a non-exhaustive list of goalposts I have moved while writing it:
The length. Originally I was shooting for 50,000 words. The draft I finished a couple of months ago was 80,000.
The style. Ah, the summer day where I looked at the tens of thousands of words I’d already written and decided it would help if I re-wrote them all from third-person past tense to first-person present. Aside from being a terrible idea (you need a very good reason to use first-person present, and “whim” doesn’t cut it), this was also very, very boring. And then I threw out that entire draft and started again. It was awesome. And by “awesome” I mean “a spectacular waste of time”.
The quality. This sounds bad but honestly, to start with, I really wasn’t planning to spend a lot of time perfecting this book. Back in 2014 I was very heavily into self-publishing forums and blogs and I was seeing a lot of people putting out like a book a month and doing very well. I wanted to try that for myself and my initial aim for this book was to sprint-write it, give it a perfunctory tidy-up and then release it and move on to the next one, the way those people were doing.
I don’t know whether it’s that I’m a perfectionist, or whether it was a mistake to try and do that with something (Beauty and the Beast) about which I have a LOT of feelings and opinions, or what, but that approach didn’t work for me at all. I didn’t feel good about it, and I decided that if I was going to do work I didn’t feel good about I might as well just go back to working full-time in a proper job and getting reliably paid for it. Unfortunately, because I am a nightmare, in raising my expectations of how good and long the book was going to be, I neglected to also adjust my expectation that I would be able to finish it quickly. As a result, I’ve basically been feeling like a lazy failure since about three months into writing it. Woooooo.
As an aside: I’m not saying that prolific writers aren’t doing good work. There are some ridiculously amazing people out there. All I’m saying is that, if I put out a novel every month or two, they would be unrefined and slapdash at best, and a heaping pile of word vomit at worst.
The entire purpose of writing it. This is really an extension of the last point. Part of the reason I was initially tempted by the “Write, Publish, Repeat” method was that I spent the whole of 2014 convinced that I was about to run out of money and die, so I was counting on publishing quickly and making some £££ (well, £, anyway) that way. 2015 was basically a year-long struggle to come to terms with the fact that it had become extremely unlikely that I will ever get any sort of financial return on the work I’ve put in. I’m pretty much there now, though, I think. It’s become a point of pride, more than anything. I’ve exhausted all the worry I can muster about things I can’t control (whether anyone will buy it, whether people will think it’s good) and I’m left only with the goal of doing my best. Of course, there’s still plenty to worry about there. Never doubt my ability to find something to worry about.
There have been a whole bunch of smaller changes, too, many of them not exactly insignificant. To name a few off the top of my head: the main characters’ personalities, the identity of the villain, whether or not there actually is a villain… in fact, several characters have been added or removed (sometimes both), as have numerous plot points. It would probably be quicker to list things that have stayed the same.
What I’m saying, essentially, is that this is a completely different book to the one I started writing in 2014. I wonder if I would feel better if I saw it that way, as though I’d given up on that original book and written a different one instead? On balance, I don’t think so. The one thing I do feel good about is that I haven’t given up. This is by far the longest I’ve gone without giving up on a project, and the hardest it’s been not to do so.
So, what does the future hold?
Well, I’m tentatively setting a release date of February 2017. Accounting for editing and some pre-release promotional things I want to try, I’m also setting a deadline for finishing it of October 2016. After all this time, setting a deadline – especially one that close – seems almost laughable. But I’m cautiously optimistic. Maybe it’s not long enough to make it perfect. In fact, it’s definitely not, because I’m pretty sure now that I could work on it for the rest of my life and never make it perfect. But maybe the best I can do in that time is actually the best I can do. And maybe that will be good enough.
* Or SFTITLATCAI OH GOD WE CAN’T EVEN MAKE A DECENT ACRONYM WE’RE THE WORST
** I mentioned in that post that sometimes I end up with a terrifying gap between work assignments and it allows me to work myself up into a really good lather of anxiety. That’s what’s happening now. CAN YOU TELL?????