Friday, 28 March 2014

5 things I learned from writing book 2

My friends

Having just submitted my second book to Gollancz (part two of the Barricade Trilogy) I thought I would write a few lines on what I’ve learned during its production.

The answer, truthfully, is not a lot – but I thought I’d have a crack at a brief list of the key points. The internet doesn’t have enough lists.

1. I can’t write at home.

OK, I kind of can, but only very late at night when the world is silent and still. It’s not just that I live on a noisy street - It’s that I’m super-easily distracted.

Often, when I sit down to write my 2000 words, I suddenly gain the will to take on household chores: any household chores. I once actually cleaned the bin rather than get on with my writing sesh. It’s extraordinary, but it’s the truth. If I don’t get out of the house my chances of productive writing are near zero.

I have now located a great cafe near my flat where I get a huge amount done every time – it’s quiet, with great ambience, lovely staff and delicious coffee.

I’m not telling you where it is. You’ll ruin it.

2. The mice are my friends.

I wrote all of Barricade at home… I have no idea how I concentrated, except perhaps that in my old flat writing was the best way to ignore the mice scurrying about my feet.

I wrote most of Book 2 in Barbican, and there were mice there too. While having my lunch I would spot them running along the walls. Occasionally they would stop and look at me, as if to ask:

“You going to finish that sandwich?”

I had a fair few ideas, down there with the mice. Still more when I stared at Underground tracks, watching their subway brethren track in and under the rails.

Only now does it occur to me that they’ve been with me throughout the entire process. Were they my inspiration? Could they have been transmitting ideas directly to my brain? It’s not impossible. As Douglas Adams states: 

“These creatures you call mice, you see, they are not quite as they appear. They are merely the protrusion into our dimension of vastly hyperintelligent pandimensional beings.” 

So I wouldn’t put it past them.

3. I can write 2000 words of NOTHING.

Reading through the first draft of book 2 I was struck by the huge seams of utterly worthless garbage running through it.

It was interesting because I can’t remember walking back from one of my Barbican sessions and going: “Wow, that was a hopeless waste of time.”

Maybe that obliviousness isn’t such a bad thing, though – maybe the important thing is simply to go through the motions for a couple of hours, to know that the project, however, gracelessly, is at least growing.

Without that I might think about the enormity of what I'm doing (writing something to a meaningful deadline) and hurtle off into a great black abyss of panic. I’m pleased to report that never happened during the first draft. It just kept coming.

4. I can’t write books in parallel.

Obvious one this – or so you would think. The submission deadline for Book 2 seemed impossibly far away. So when I finished the first draft of book 2 I decided to go off and start another novel that I’ve had bumping around my head for a while.

I really got into it and had loads mapped out. Then I sat down, re-read the first draft of Book 2, and broke into a cold sweat. I realised I had a huge amount of work to do and would in no way have time to write another book at the same time. I had to ditch the new novel and step on the gas with Book 2. Now that other novel is just a lot of cryptic scrawls on a white board.

Weirdly, that might be for the best. While wandering about on a lunch break the other week I had a moment of clarity about the story and became really excited about it again. I just hope I don’t try and write it in parallel to Book 3. Because that would be a mistake.

5. I am lucky not to be dead.

I am constantly bleating at H about my hopes and fears for the book. I can’t seem to compute how dull this stuff must be for her, particularly when she hasn’t read the damn thing.

The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that she hasn’t snapped one evening and plunged a kitchen knife into my chest, or made me eat my own laptop. Somehow, she’s maintained her sanity, despite the constant assault on her mental health.

Curiously, when I Google “Wife murders writer husband” I don't find many instances of it. What I do find is a lot of stories about male writers murdering their female spouses.

Great. I’m potentially even more of a health hazard to her. 

Yet somehow she stays with me. A good thing too: she is my rock and my muse and without her there would only be the mice.

I guess I should buy her some flowers or something…