Chapter Thirteen - Seeing It Through24 August 2010
One of the hardest things for any developing writer is seeing the job through to the end!! The start of a novel, and the ending of a novel, are normally the fun parts—the middle is where you have to grit your teeth and battle on grimly! There’s nothing I can say that will help you find what you need to do this—just that we all struggle with is, so take heart and push on bravely!! I think that stubborn determination is actually the most defining quality of any writer. Many have the talent, but fall by the wayside because they heart the stomach for a real fight, which is what writing requires. Those who refuse to give up, who keep on trying no matter what, are the ones who will succeed. Here are some blog reports about my own struggles over the years with various projects.
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Wrote another 11 pages of the new book. The first chapter turned out to be much longer than I anticipated—it’s actually turned into 4 chapters! That’s a good sign—while it always helps to make your chapters plan as concise as possible in advance, ideally you want the story to take on a life of its own and throw up more than you were expecting. You know you’re in trouble on a story if you have to stretch to make ends meet, if you’re looking for padding to fill things out. With a good story, you write more than you need, then trim it back in later edits.
I’m going great guns at the moment, as I usually do at the start of a book. This is the honeymoon period—introducing characters and setting plot lines in motion if the easy part of writing a book. The real difficulties normally come further down the line, in the middle section. Starts and ends are exciting times when you’re working on a book, but the middle can often drag. I find it the hardest part of writing. Even if a book’s going well, and I’m enjoying it, there’s always a period in the middle where I feel like things are dragging and the book is never going to end. But I’m used to that by now, and I know that when it happens, as it most probably will, I’ll just have to force myself to continue and work even harder to make sure that my standards don’t dip.
Learning to master middle sections is really the key to being a writer, I think. I started several books before I finally finished one, and got quite a long way through one of them before running out of steam and putting it aside. I’d always begin brightly and burn through the pages, before burning out two or three or even ten chapters in. That’s all part of the learning process and I think most writers go through it. (Though I suspect most wisely learn their lessons working on short stories as opposed to novels—but what the hell, I was precocious!!!) If you’re a wannabe writer, you shouldn’t lose heart if you find yourself getting lost after a while on a story or book. It’s natural and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. As I said, most of us go through it, and I bet almost every writer has the failed beginnings of lots of stories which never quite worked out the way they hoped.
At the same time, you should acknowledge that an incomplete story is never going to get you very far. Every bit of writing you do is a lesson learnt. It’s better to start a story and not finish it than not start it at all. But the real lessons are learnt when you take stories all the way to the end. Good writing is all about neatly tying a beginning, middle and end together. The only way you can learn how to do that is by actually doing it. Don’t worry if you feel a story slipping away from you somewhere around the middle. If you can sustain interest, my advice is to keep going. Carry it forward as long as you can, all the way to the end if possible. Even if it’s not working out the way you hoped, you shouldn’t abandon it. Because you’re learning every step of the way. And even if the story sucks big time, if you finish it, you’ll have learnt a lot about structure. And the next story you write will probably be a bit better. And the next will be better after that. And so on. In time you’ll find yourself able to do more, and write more, and take stories off in new, exciting directions. You’ll learn to write longer stories, and better stories, and books (if you want to). And sooner or later, those stories will start to come good. But first you’ve got to put up with the experiments, lessons and failures. If you can do that ... if you can write a stinker of a story, but learn from it, and not lose heart ... if you can keep writing even when it’s frustrating you and you can’t see yourself ever getting anywhere ... if you accept your limits but continuously push them ... if you’re prepared for hard work and the need to learn, learn and then learn again ... then, my friend, you have a chance.
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Finished my latest edit of Book 7 of The Demonata today, which I was very happy about. I feckon there will be one more thorough edit (when my editor comes back with detailed notes), then a couple of more tidy-up drafts—and that will be that!! Time flies by so quickly when you’re working on a book. I started the first draft of Book 7 back in May 2005. I knew I had 3 years to work on it, which seemed like more time that I could ever possibly need, yet here I am now and it’s almost time to put the baby to bed!! You have to be VERY patient to be a writer—nothing happens quickly in this business! The trick to getting your head around it and not getting frustrated is to never think about all the time the book is going to take before it gets published. I know, when I first sit down with a story, that it will be years before it sees print—but I don’t focus on that. I don’t even think about it. I just get on with the current job at hand (finishing the first draft), then set it aside for a while and don’t think about it. Next time round, I do the same, focus on doing my editing, then set it aside again and don’t think about it. Before I know it, 3 years have passed and BANG—it’s history!!!! Writing can be scary if you stop to think about all the time and effort and problems involved in taking a book or story all the way to print—SO DON’T THINK ABOUT IT!!! If that seems facetious, it’s not—I think that’s the best bit of advice I could ever give. It might not seem like much if you’re just starting out and thinking “Three years? No way!! That guy’s just slow—I’ll get my work published in a month or two, tops!!!!!” But those of you who are serious about being writers, take note—the waters of writing are riddled with dragons, but they can only cause you problems if you CHOOSE to focus on them. If you look away and ignore them, they cease to really exist ...
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I’ve continued working hard on Hell’s Horizon over the last couple of days—in fact I’ve been putting in more hours per day than I’ve done in a LONG while!!! This book started life very unimpressively—my original idea was to do a grisly but fun homage to the noir films and books which I love so much, stuff like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. The first draft was short and snappy, full of supposedly sharp one-liners ... and it stunk!!! That just wasn’t my style. But something about the story appealed to me, so I went back and expanded it, threw in more plot lines and characters, made it a bit more serious. But it still didn’t work. Anyone with a modicum of sense would have junked it as a lost cause at that stage, but it gnawed away at me. I’ve written lots of books in my time, and while they always occupy a lot of my thoughts while I’m working on them, they tend to slip from them afterwards—except for the good ones. Some of them just don’t go away—that’s how I judge what’s good and what isn’t. Hell’s Horizon wasn’t working, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I believed there was a decent book in there somewhere, that I was failing it, that it could be better if I just figured out the right approach ...
So I went back to it and tried again. And this time it clicked. This was back in 1997, around the same time that I was working on the first draft of Cirque Du Freak. I’d finished my first book when I was a tender 17, in 1989, and had written quite a few more over the coming years. But it wasn’t really until the mid 1990s that I felt things starting to truly come together, when I “found my voice” and began writing books in my own style. I wrote all different types of books, flitting from one genre to another—horror, fantasy, sci-fi, sex (yes, I’ve written a few VERY steamy and disturbing books in my time, though none of those have yet to see print, and probably won’t any time soon, if ever!!!). But in the mid 90s I began to develop an actual style, one that shone through regardless of the genre I was working with. It didn’t mean everything I tried came off perfectly—but at least I could see my strengths starting to shine through, even when a story wasn’t working out quite the way I wanted.
The draft of Hell’s Horizon that finally worked was probably one of my happiest experiences ever. The book had thrown up a mountain of obstacles, but by plugging away at it, I managed to overcome all of them. There was still a lot of work to do (here I am, applying the final polishes ten years later!!), but the most difficult part was behind me. I had written something that I KNEW was good, something that I KNEW would work. It hadn’t been easy, and it had looked for a long time like I would fail. But pulling success from the fires of defeat is one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer. I don’t think you can really appreciate success unless you’ve stared into the abyss of defeat. I believe that just about every writer (indeed, people in all walks of life) faces a moment in their life (probably lots of moments) when they look into their soul and admit, “I can’t do this.” Making that admission is an important part of developing. But even more important is then taking that admission, curling your fist around it, and walking forward to do that which you don’t think you can do. Because you CAN do it. We all have the potential to do more than we believe we can. It’s simply a case of refusing to accept our limits, of constantly pushing to do more, to be better, to go where we know, believe and fear we can’t. In life, ultimately, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as CAN’T. There are those who DON’T. But all of us CAN.
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Edited a good chunk of Hell’s Horizon over the weekend—no rest for me in the run-up to Christmas!! I’m determined to finish it before the end of the year, not because I have to, but because that’s the goal I set myself, and I like meeting goals—a lot of writing, as I’ve said before, is about your mental attitude, and if you set goals for yourself and meet them, you feel positive, and that feeds back into your writing and helps you keep going. So, yuletide or not, I’m pushing on and squeezing in as much work on the book every day that I can. I’ll obviously ease up a bit over the next few days, to enjoy the festivities, but I won’t rest fully until I have my edit in the can!
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I’m almost finished my latest edit of Book 10 of The Demonata. Hard to believe that this time next year the series will have finished. I started work on Lord Loss back in February 2001. So, assuming I do my final edit of book 10 next May or thereabouts (I usually finish up work a few months before a book sees print, so that my publishers have plenty of time to print it up and get everything ready ahead of its launch), I’ll have spent over 8 years working on the series!!! That’s a hell of a long time to devote to a story! As I’ve said many times before, when I began Lord Loss, it was meant to be a one-off—I had no intention of writing a series about demons. But when I realised, a year or two later, that I wanted to write more books about the Demonata, and that I was going to be locked into this story for a long time, I just stuck my head down and tried not to think about it!! It can be scary, if you look too far ahead at the start of a project. It’s very easy to lose your nerve, thinking about all the months and years of hard work and frustration to come. I think a lot of writers pull back at that stage, and end up not moving forward with their ideas. The best way is to just plough ahead and try not to think too much about the future. Just work on things one book at a time, one challenge at a time, one obstacle at a time… and before you know it, you’ll look up and you’ll be into the final year, wondering what’s happened to the last 7 and how they zipped by so swiftly!