Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dos and Don'ts

I am a little over 90% done with The Writing Class now, and new challenges await. Quite apart from the last ten percent, there is the matter of a jacket design to consider: while while my old friend Bernice Ascot will do the actual artwork she will need a general idea to go on. Then there is the month or so of forgetting: an essential aspect of the editing process, the post-draft laying-away of the first manuscript the better to edit with fresh eyes is the hardest part of writing a novel - you keep having ideas for things to add, things to remove, things to change, yet must restrain yourself from diving in right away, correcting those flaws. This is a hard thing for a perfectionist to do, and the knowledge that it will be done in due course, when the time is right, doesn't help.

Then, of course, there is the most pressing issue of all: the next book. As usual I have a good two dozen ideas, around half of which will get written at some point... but where next? I wrote TWC as a light-hearted break from Living Things (and wrote Control halfway through as a dark-hearted break from TWC), and my never-ending search for fictional balance demands something meatier and bloodier this time. On the other hand, there are genres I haven't yet tried and I would love to have a full set. Perhaps I can mount them in some kind of cabinet.

Anyway, I believe I have narrowed my choices down to two: both are potentially the beginning of a series, one in a fantasy mould, the other an old-fashioned crime serial. Of these, the first is the beginning of a trilogy (fantasy should always be written in trilogies. Robert Jordan was just showing off, doing the equivalent of a literary wheelie down the High Street) - one that started life as an RPG design document, actually. It would not be your conventional dragons-and-orcs stuff, of course: my attitude to the fantasy genre - or indeed any genre - is that it should be regularly invaded and changed, not preserved in stagnation. It would be fantasy, certainly, but thoroughly Maddoxed-up fantasy.

The second is actually a story I've been meaning to commit to for some years now, inspired by my home town and by the novels of Sue Grafton. I have never written about Watford in any direct way and it is perhaps about time: some of the experiences I have had there defy belief and would fit right into a fictional context. The preliminary research for this has, for reasons too complex to go into here, left me with Veet burns on my chest and shoulders and a slightly broader mind that I had before.

It is something endemic to perfectionism that one is always looking for the next thing, the thing to do, rather than waiting for change to just happen. I'm not actually sure this is a good thing. I am often told - in contexts outside writing, of course - that there's nothing we can do, or it's just one of those things, or we just have to put up with it. When the majority think that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When everybody thinks it's somebody else's problem, it becomes nobody's problem, and never gets fixed. But to be the person who does do something in such circumstances makes you the outcast, the troublemaker... which in turn makes your opinion so much easier to ignore. Many would say that it's better to try and fail than not try at all, but those people don't have rent to pay.

New year resolutions are all about this: they are those choices - those dos that we know need doing - that we expect to fail to make: it is almost traditional to fail to keep one's resolutions. Personally I retain mine on a palmtop so I can refer back to them throughout the year, to tot up my victories and failures during Jools Holland at the turn of midnight. But for most it is an excuse to not do things that need doing, to fail without berating oneself. No wonder people think everything is somebody else's problem.

To do or not to do? That is the question.

1 comment:

Kavey said...

Pleeeease, for the love of {insertfavouritedietyorobjectofcurseshere}, let me take a new portrait photograph of you for the new book.
We discussed this once.
You agreed.