Major existential crisis vs minor annoyance
A friend asked me the other day how things were going with the current book. This was my reply:
I’ve dragged it kicking and screaming to 16K and have hit the stage where I think it’s all terrible and the characters are cardboard and I haven’t done enough research and it shows and I’ve got everything wrong and should just dump the entire project.
Interestingly, this state of affairs didn’t particularly bother me. Because, as I went on to say, I remember this happening last time round. In fact, I officially gave up on Speak Its Name at least twice because I thought it was all terrible and the characters were cardboard and I hadn’t done enough research and it showed and I’d got everything wrong. So I just dumped the entire project.
Except I didn’t, obviously, because twice – or more – I came back to it, dug in again, and sorted out what was wrong.
This time round, I see exactly what’s going on. I recognise the stuckness as a minor annoyance rather than a major existential crisis. I also see why it’s feeling stuck.
Massive mess vs massive progress
The picture at the top of the page shows the sitting room of the flat we rented in Woking, during the process of packing up almost everything to move it to Cambridge. For tedious work-related reasons, I did most of the packing while my partner started his job out east (he did all of the driving, so it worked out more or less even).
I hate moving house. It’s commonly said to be one of the most stressful experiences of modern life, and I’ve done it far more times than I ever wanted to. What that means is, I’m getting better at it.
Here, an extract from our chatlogs:
K: the packing is getting me down
I think it gets worse before it gets better
K: I am hoping that you will come back and see Massive Progress
I am just seeing Massive Mess
T: That is what progress usually looks like
ALL OF THE THINGS
T: One hundred percent of them
and they all need to be in boxes
or somewhere else that is not in the flat
The more often it comes, the easier it is to recognise it
The first time I got depression, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know there was an ‘it’ to know: it works by erasing all your previous frame of reference, so you start believing that this grey expanse of meh is all there ever was and all there ever will be.
The first time it went away was because of a change of scenery and Bruckner’s fourth symphony. It was as if someone had switched the lights on; and that was when I learned not to mistake a low mood for a loss of faith. I can forgive myself for having been mistaken, though: it was a very, very ongoing low mood.
The next time was when several awful things (two bereavements, a bedsit with leaks and mice, a temp job in a cellar) all showed up in a bandwagon and depression jumped on.
The time after that I went to see the doctor about it and he said, yes, depression. My brain lying to me about the way things are, not the way things actually are.
A while after that, I started recognising the feeling that I should break up with my partner for his own good as not just a very bad idea, but a symptom of the returning visitor.
These days, it comes and goes, and I get better and better at recognising it. I’ve got to know its little ways so well that I could almost mark it on the calendar, and when it turns up say, ‘oh, yes, August’.
Twenty-four per cent
The current wordcount for Wheels (I thought briefly about changing the title to Bonk this morning, but I fear I’d disappoint a lot of Jilly Cooper fans) is 19,354. Assuming I’m aiming for eighty thousand words, that puts me just under a quarter of the way there.
Actually, it puts me nowhere near a quarter of the way there. I’m not expert enough yet to guess how much editing and reading and re-editing and re-reading I’m going to need to do once I’ve got the first draft down, but I know it’s going to be a lot. I can tell that from looking at what there is of the first draft.
That’s why I’m thinking it’s all terrible and the characters are cardboard and I haven’t done enough research and it shows and I’ve got everything wrong.
You don’t realise how much stuff you have until you try to put it all into boxes, and then you have boxes everywhere and also stuff everywhere. Moving is always horrible. Depression is always horrible. The more often you have to deal with either, the better tools you pick up and the quicker you are to recognise what’s wrong, but at no stage does this make them fun.
At twenty-four per cent, the book is terrible and the characters are a bit thin, and I do need to do more research, and I probably have got some stuff wrong. And, yes it does show.
The vital information that I was missing at this point in the last book is that this is all true, but nothing is wrong. This is just the way that things look at sixteen thousand or nineteen thousand words into the first draft. Massive progress looks like massive mess. It can’t possibly look like anything else, not until I get a long way further in.
I’ve been here before, and it’s much less scary this time around.