At the end of the day, it all comes down to this: I’m afraid.
I don’t cope with change very well. I like things to remain the same and why wouldn’t I be? My life is fabulous. Who’d want to change that?
But sometimes you have to. Endless procrastination does not cure the soul.
The blog’s good for me. Regular deadlines are good for me. They force me to put something out to the world even if it’s not quite perfect, otherwise I’d keep nitpicking, moving semi-colons around, making senseless, endless changes that don’t make any difference. Not really.
I am scared of saying that my novel – or any other piece of writing – is finished because then the question is: what next? I am scared of having to submit it for publication because if it’s rejected (again) then what am I supposed to do with myself? At what point do I have to accept that being a full time (or even part time) writer is not possible? When do I have to accept that this is nothing but a hobby with delusions of grandeur?
This is what usually happens, right? You’ve probably read something like this before. Six years ago my first novel spluttered to an unfinished end in a splatter of disappointment and life upheaval. Just Like Falling didn’t deserve to be published. It was so wrapped up in contradictions, full of lazy cliché and tired staged scenes that it was a mercy killing to file it away.
You’ll Never Be Joe Strummer was different. I poured my heart – and a bottle or two of scotch – into that novel. Over three and a half years it went from radically experimental in its use of the page, great heaving white space sloshing around and typeface tipsily piling atop itself to a more conventional layout with a self-consciously unconventional heart. I touted it around several times, in different formats, but to no avail. I found writing a synopsis of a novel with a fairly convoluted plot and multiple character arcs extremely difficult, which probably didn’t help the strength of my pitch. Even so, I hoped for more than a paltry few “thanks but no thanks” replies. A single word of encouragement would have been preferable to the metres, stacked high, of silence I accumulated.
And now I have Envy – a third novel which I’ve been working on for almost four years. To an extent, it’s a finished article. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve worked through thirteen drafts of it, restructuring, fine tuning, ripping it apart and stuffing it back together. The central thrust, the bit I’m really interested in, has stayed constant, but all the elements which swirl around that narrative have been played with until they either do what they’re supposed to and add to the words or have been, reluctantly, sent home. It has characters which, I think, the reader will care about and a mystery which needs solving. Multiple locations, carefully staged set pieces, moments of introspection, snippets of neatly paced action, heart-break, romance, buildings, self-lothing and bitter class war – what more does a novel want?
And yet, I know it’s not perfect. It needs an editorial steer, I think. I am not convinced I can, alone, help it fulfil its full potential. But to send it out to either agents or publishers in that not quite beautified, meticulous divine state of readiness risks further rejection and disinterest. This novel has gone through three homes and three computers. It has been homeless with me, ignored while painting and decorating took precedence, whisked away for review in Turkey (where it enjoyed the sunshine) and the English south coast (where it sat, lifeless on my hard-drive while sudden inspiration for a short story took over).
We’ve been through a lot together. The first genesis of the idea came to me when I was a different person. I know its lines so well that I can almost recite them by heart; I can’t change it any further because I can’t see its faults anymore. Like a long standing lover who you’re still infatuated with, the cracks and flaws are covered by foundation and lust. I forgive it its failings.
The real fear is not only that this novel proves to be yet another creative dead-end, consigned to the archives folder on my computer, but that – unlike with previous failures – there’s nothing coming up behind it. For the first time I don’t have an idea, a theme, that pressing on my imagination, demanding for me to push the dying embers of one attempted novel aside and devote my attention to it. As paid work takes more of my time, energy and, yes, creativity of a sort, as I recognise the need to be a responsible, home owning, income generating adult, I wonder how deep my reserves of make believe go. I’m worried that this might be the end.
A friend and I were waiting for Neil Young to come on stage and were discussing why a man in his late sixties still has songs which resonate. We decided that it’s because life experience gives you the authority to talk about a range of subjects, because it helps you fit the detail into the scope of the world.
‘It’s like a thirteen year old taking to Facebook and moaning about how much it hurts to split up with her boyfriend,’ my friend continued. ‘What the fuck do you know? You’re thirteen!’
I may be significantly older than thirteen, but perhaps that still encapsulates my problem. I’m thirty-five and have a lived a relatively stable and sedate life. While I don’t overtly write about my life experiences (away from this blog, anyway) it might that there’s only so far the ventriloquist can throw his voice.
I mean, what the fuck do I know about anything?