Auctorial aspirations

by Suw on April 13, 2006

So, if you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll already know about my writerly leanings. You'll have seen me talk about my scriptwriting; you'll have seen me writing about learning languages (still not finished); you'll have heard about my acquiring a literary agent (whom I still have, by the way, and who is still helping me out with one thing and another). You'll also have heard me gush about Neil Gaiman and what a spiffingly lovely/talented/generous/friendly guy he is.
Forgive my name-dropping, but I've been thinking a lot about Neil lately. Actually, I've had three dreams about him in the last week. The first two dreams were about me staying in a big house that was a bit like something out of MirrorMask which then turned out to be Neil's house. The third dream was me having a coffee with Neil and telling him that I'd had these dreams about staying in his house. That one was really confusing to wake up from, I can tell you.
Anyway… a few splinters have stuck in my mind, and they have reached a point of irritation so great that I have to do something about them. Due to the timely reduction in my consulting workload, I now have both the will and the time to do what needs to be done.
The first splinter was unknowingly embedded by Neil. When I met him to talk about the Open Rights Group (of which he is kindly Patron, and which I would be grateful if you could support so that we can afford to hire talent to help expand the group, thus providing me with more time to write this blog), I ended up going to dinner with Neil and some of his friends. I did one of those things I do sometimes where I mindlessly say something really inane, and then have to rely on everyone around me to either ignore it or be kind. The inane thing I said was that I 'really ought to do something about this whole book reading thing'. The look Neil gave me in response to that I interpreted to mean 'Well, why don't you then?'. Quite right too. Why don't I?
Next splinter. People all around me keep writing books. Bastards. Cory, obviously, all the sodding time. Jeeze… ever been in a room with Cory typing at full speed? It's frightening. Tom. Ben. Half my geek friends have books on the shelf at Waterstones. Where on earth to they find the time? I know how busy Cory and Ben are. And I know Tom doesn't exactly sit on his arse all day. So, being busy is not an excuse.
Final splinter. I met up with Ben Whyte from the British Library a few weeks ago, and before we got down to the nitty gritty of copyright and licensing, he showed me the gallery they have there. You'd never think to go to the British Library, but my god, they have an astonishing collection of manuscripts. The Lindisfarne Gospels, Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, Handel's Messiah… they even have the Magna Carta. Wowser.
But the thing that really struck me was the fact that they have Lewis Carroll's original hand-written Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Eventually, they may carry Neil's original notebooks for Anansi Boys, who knows?
The thing is, it's a physical thing. My first instinct when writing anything is to crack open the iBook and start there, but that instinct is causing me to pause. Is that the right way to go about this?
I used to be on a mailing list of Cory's, where he was writing a novel and sending out to a small group of people about 250 words a day. I don't know what happened to that – he stopped for a while, and I'm not even sure if I'm still on the list, but I thought it was an interesting way to try and keep motivation going. It was exciting for me as a reader, but fascinating for me as a writer to see how things would develop and whether it would work as a tactic for getting oneself to keep writing.
As a blogger, however, I was thinking that maybe I should start a new blog, and publish my 250 words a day on that. Again, having an audience would put a comfortable pressure on me to write regularly. But then again… I have an audience here and we can't exactly say that I've felt any pressure to write here regularly, can we? Besides, I'm not sure I actually feel happy publishing my first drafts. Writing a book is not writing a blog, even if some publishers at the moment are happy to hunt through blogs for stuff that might make a decent book, the two are not interchangeable. Just ask Tom.
Then there's that saying, “If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got.”
If I sit and write on my iBook, maybe, just maybe, it'll go the way of all previous books of mine. It will languish on my hard drive and never actually go anywhere.
So… add up all the pieces. Extract the splinters and try to figure out why they have been bugging me. That's what writing this post is for. If I recognise what's been stopping me, and what motivates me, maybe I can clear whatever mental block has been in the way and stopping me doing what I frequently claim to want to do but never actually seem to get on with doing.
Final piece of the puzzle. It's my birthday on Saturday. I'll be 35. Shit. How did that happen? I mean… where did the years go? I don't feel 35. And I feel a bit like I haven't really fulfilled my potential, and that the only person to blame for that is me.
Walking round Brugge at Christmas, I announced to T'Other that I would damn well write a book this year, or else. Christmas/New Year is a really bad time to make resolutions, but birthdays are much better for it. So I have requested as my present from my beloved a nice Moleskine notebook. In it, I shall carefully write my novel. I shall remove my thumb from my arse, and I shall get on with it. And the next time I see Neil, I shall be hoping to say 'My new novel will be out soon…'

Anonymous April 13, 2006 at 3:08 pm

I'm sure the only reason you haven't done more writing in the past year or so is because you've been so busy with work. Having had a flirtation of my own recently with the kind of work that takes up evenings and weekends, I noted that progress on my book ground to a halt for the duration. I say busy is an excuse and a good one (then again, I take 'don't feel like it' as a legitimate excuse for not writing). However, I don't know if there's a good excuse for working that hard and that long at the expense of being able to do things like write books.
Though if you need a greater incentive, how about a race? If you can finish your book before I finish mine, then I'll buy you a badger or something. If I win, you have to wear a 'Vincent is the Greatest' t-shirt for the rest of your life. And you're not allowed to wash it. Deal?

Anonymous April 13, 2006 at 3:14 pm

Make it a penguin, and you're on. If I win, you buy me a penguin. If you win, I er, wear a t-shirt saying 'Vincent is the Greatest' for the rest of my life.
Although, that said, (and here's the get-out), your first book is actually at complete first draft stage, is it not? So that would give you somewhat of an unfair advantage. If we're making it both books, then you definitely have a deal. I know how fast you write, and I can write faster.
Hmm… on further thought, how do you define 'finish'? As in, finish the first raw draft? Finish the final draft? Sent to publisher? Published? In the SmartyPants Literarti Top Ten Fabuloso Books? Mentioned on Neil's blog as 'what a wonderful read this book is, you should all go buy it'?
I'm not signing on to a bet til I know the terms.

Anonymous April 13, 2006 at 4:24 pm

I was hoping to leave it vague, so I could wangle a victory whatever happened (though you've already spotted my trump card – having a first draft of one book already done – curses!).
Specifics are tricky. I would say first draft, but just churning out the first one hundred thousands words or so that pop into your head is easy, it's revising that into something worth reading that's the tricky part (well, unless revising simply involves writing a whole new hundred thousand words or so that pop into your head like my draft two).
The average, apparently, is seven drafts from first to final (which could take more than a year) and then there's no guarantee of publication. As for a mention on Neil's blog, that would make it far too easy for you, given you could just flutter your eyelashes and offer sexual favours and I'm above that sort of thing (even though my eyelashes are prettier).
Then there's the fact that my second book is likely to be 150,000 to 200,000 words, when any sane person would aim for around 90,000 for their first bash, so that's not a fair basis of comparison either.
All of which leads me to conclude that one set of rules is as good as another, so let's say the winner is the first to 90,000 words of a first draft, finished or unfinished. Though given I don't expect my re-write of book one to be finished until June, could we postpone the start date please?

Anonymous April 13, 2006 at 6:33 pm

Bravo. Good to hear.
Best of luck in your heroic quest.

Anonymous April 13, 2006 at 9:45 pm

Suw, I may have two things actually, that may be helpful. But for some reason I'm not finding your gmail address handy to send you. Remind me?

Anonymous April 14, 2006 at 10:56 am

Oh I don't know what you are worried about – it's all a piece of wee.
(Now it's pretty much finsihed that is…)
So – what'll it be about, You tell me yours and I'll tell you about my next one…

Anonymous April 15, 2006 at 4:22 pm

I read your recent post with interest. I’m kind of surprised you don’t crank out a book when you want to. Maybe an issue is how you feel mentally when you’re writing an article or blog entry, versus when you consider writing a novel. Books can seem daunting.
Does your agent have any suggestions for you to write a book that could become motivational?
And oh yes, happy birthday (even though Tax Day here in the States is Monday this year)!

Anonymous April 16, 2006 at 5:49 pm

JD! Happy Tax Day!
It's not that I can't just crank out a book when I want to – i am sure I can. It's just that finding time to has been a serious issue. I simply haven't had the time (or found the time) to work on anything.
I actually have two books I want to write this year – one on social software, and the novel version of Tag. I'm starting to feel fired up about the both of them, so I guess we'll see what we'll see. 😉
Meantime, how's it all going with you?

Anonymous April 16, 2006 at 5:50 pm

Oh yeah, course it's a piece of wee when you've *finished*. Cheeky.
The novel is basically about… well, let's just say it's like Buffy meets Highlander in Reading.
Fun, eh? 😉

Anonymous April 17, 2006 at 9:21 pm

Thanks Suw for the thoughts and I have had similar splinters in the mind about writing and my 35 in July, so I am setting a goal. Rough draft by 35, since I have done NaNoWriMo successfully three months should be plenty of time.

Anonymous April 18, 2006 at 6:13 pm

Still writing, still submitting, still collecting rejection slips.
I‚Äôve faced similar situations to what you have — too many things to do, and not enough time for all of them. Art was what I gave up to make room for writing. Of course, I suppose I could do less writing and some art, and every once in a while I buy new art boards or some new pens or brushes, thinking I‚Äôll work on an illustration soon. But the most I‚Äôve done in the last ten years has been a pencil sketch now and again.
Your Tag novelization sounds like a good candidate. It isn’t easy writing a novel in bits and pieces, but if you already have the main plot (the screenplay), then it’s possible, if you can find 20-30 minutes every day or so. (Something to do while eating your lunch?)
And I owe you for you having read some of my stuff way back when, so if you ever want to send a chapter or two my way to look over, feel free!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: