I don’t often talk about the writing here. It only really surfaces when there’s something to tell people about. A milestone, a publication, a nomination. And when you’re working on something long, it can be a long time until you’ve got something to report.
Monday’s news made me realize that Arrhythmia was the only piece of work I finished to my satisfaction last year. That’s not to say I wasn’t writing, but most of that effort went into the current novel (Queen Of Clouds), which has shifted fairly radically in nature during the writing, and although I’m coming to the end of it now, will require a serious edit before my patient agent finally gets to see it.
And when that happens, believe me you’ll hear about it. Because I have plans – great, shimmering, sparkling, pastel coloured plans – for the future. Or, to be more precise, a couple of new directions to go in novel-wise which I intend to work up into proposals and punt off to self same agent in due course and a Big Bag O’ Short Story Ideas that I’m dying to delve into to see if I can’t get a few more things into print than I did last year (space sheep anyone?).
Which is a good thing for a writer. A form of validation. The crowd on the sidelines telling you ya still got it. And it’s necessary because writing, by its nature, is an exercise in isolationism. Getting a story down on paper is essentially a case of locking yourself in your own head for a while, and if it’s a long story – like a book, like *this* book – all sorts of issues can creep in. Doubts (is this idea any good?). Dearth (I simply can’t think what happens next?) More doubts (no, really, it’s terrible isn’t it?). Disillusionment (so what’s the point of even continuing? I hate everything and I want to DIE!). And the longer you go on without input, without validation, the more these can pile up and bog the process down.
I’m making this sound more dramatic than it really is, and this post isn’t intended as one of those poor-me writer’s whines (hey, we choose to do this – no-one’s making us). In practice, any decent writer is bull-headed enough to cast the baggage aside and plough ahead, and soon enough the doubts, the dearth and the disillusionment go away. But it really helps to keep up a steady supply of inspiring input too. It doesn’t have to come from validation, from publication or nomination, of course. It can come from all sorts of sources: conversations with other writers, books and stories you read, movies you watch, even just general day-to-day life. I used to have a rule that I wouldn’t read other people’s novels when I was writing because I found them distracting, but it seems I took that to extreme last year. I read very few books, fell way off in my short fiction reading and watched hardly any movies. And I think I starved myself creatively in the process.
So, my single new year resolution this year is to read more books. Plain and simple. Re-engage with the craft of other writers, and reconnect with the joy of being told a great story. I’ve already started, with Grahame Joyce’s excellent The Silent Land and Lee Child’s The Killing Floor, am halfway through Douglas Thompson’s amazingly inventive Sylvow, and have Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House lined up next. After that, why not, I’m going to attempt to read all of the other BSFA award nominated novels before Easter. What better way to flush the last dregs of doubt down the mental drain? I’ll probably post my reactions to the books on the blog here. Why don’t you join me?
On the subject of the BSFA awards (I know, this is the last time I’ll mention them, I promise) I have to admit that I find it frustrating not to be able to discuss the shortlisted stories this year. But I’m just going to say this (and hopefully after admitting that I read comparatively little last year this isn’t damning with faint praise): all three were among the best pieces of fiction, of any length, that I read all year. They’re all online now – I urge you to read them. And if you like them, drop the author a line and let them know.