Word count for current work in progress: 28,327. It’s slow going, so in an effort to improve my deplorable working practices I thought I’d do some reading. I accumulate books on writing in the way that I accumulate books for research: I pile them up and believe that I’ll somehow absorb their contents by osmosis, without having to go so far as to open them. As this method clearly hasn’t been working I decided to read one, and chose Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer because Hilary Mantel has said it’s the only book on writing you need and if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me. I feel better for having read it – and it’s good and concise – but I haven’t adopted Brande’s suggested method of getting up an hour earlier and writing for an hour, or fixing a time to write each day for 15 minutes, because I’m hopeless at routine.
Is there such a creature as a writer who likes routine? That’s the problem: we’re overflowing with imagination but not so great at application. With me at least it goes further than that: I actively avoid sitting down and writing because I know very well that the story in my head is so much more vibrant and moving than the one I will read on the page. I suspect that few writers ever look at their work and think tell you what – I nailed it there. It’s so much more fun to let your book exist in your imagination, perfectly formed and flawless, than it is to get down to the hard graft of making it real, only to discover that your Precious isn’t of quite so much importance to others as you’d imagined.
Nonetheless, that’s what you have to do eventually, and in some ways it’s harder if you’ve already done it once, because you have to prove that the first book wasn’t a fluke, that you can build on what you’ve already done, that your career has a trajectory, that you have a career
Something Brande writes about does chime with me, though: the idea of the writer as two people. During the long fallow years when I was raising my children and not writing I often pictured my writer self as a Bertha Rochester figure – a mad woman in the attic – and my every day self as Jane Eyre, standing with her back pressed to the door, trying to contain her. Not being able to write – or not feeling that I should – had a debilitating effect and I don’t think I could ever abandon it again, regardless of whether or not I ever publish another novel.
Odd, isn’t it, to have such a compulsion to write and at the same time such an aversion to actually sitting down and doing it? Is that unique to writers? Or maybe it’s just me.
The picture above, which was taken at night and may be hard to make out, is of any Eddie Stobart lorry bearing the legend ‘Delivering Sustainable Distribution’. Being a crabby old thing, I’m frequently annoyed by buzzwords and the misuse of the verb ‘to deliver’ has been one of them recently. It seemed to reach a crescendo at the time of the Olympics, when we were constantly told that London had ‘delivered’ the Games. Letters are delivered, babies are delivered, bad news and blows are delivered; the Olympic Games was organised, managed, staged, it wasn’t delivered. Eddie Stobart, being a haulage company, is able to use the word legitimately, as it does genuinely deliver stuff, so why ruin it by claiming to deliver distribution? How exactly would that work? And don’t even get me started on the concept of distribution being ‘sustainable’.
Another current phrase that I actively dislike is ‘going forward’ used instead of ‘in the future’ or ‘from now on’. If one person used it it would be perfectly inoffensive; it’s the fact that it’s been so widely adopted, particularly by politicians, that grates.
So, going forward, I intend to concentrate more on my writing.