Tuesday 29 November 2011

...and, as the darkness, lurks

There are days that its existence is too much. Days when I am happy to bury myself in the writing I actually get paid for. Days when, for a moment, it is only a part of my shadow and nothing more. Sucking light out of the world while my back is turned.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

It was a low, dull, quick sound

After struggling to make eye contact with the Book for what has turned into weeks, I have put twelve hours over the last three days into the current major edit. This new-found endurance started last week when I became suddenly and inexplicably more resolved to make quality time for me and the book.

I’m glad to have achieved even this small period of productivity, as I never put it away, but leave it neatly stacked on the corner of the coffee table. This has the effect of causing all actions that do not involve it to be tainted with guilt. It is my tell-tale heart, and was getting louder during my most recent attempts at procrastination. I don’t want to call it writer’s block. I didn’t stop writing. I didn’t even stop working on the project at hand. I just avoided the edit.

I’ve been putting off this red pen extravaganza for some time now. Even with the pages beating away in plain view It is easy to find things I would rather be doing than editing a hundred and thirty pages of text, and to prove this to myself I recently made the mistake of bringing new video games into the house. Despite this I have remained on task, and have tonight completed the first step of this edit.

It waits, neatly stacked, for tomorrow evening.

Friday 18 November 2011

He who hesitates gets out-gunned by Paolo

However many years ago that it was now, lets go with six, I started a book based on a title I liked the sound of. I didn’t get close to finishing the book, and I put it aside when I hit a wall concerning my knowledge of biology. Instead of reading up and finishing the book, I put it aside.

Early this year I picked up a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and it is a good book to have picked up, and I did so on the presence of the elephant and the zeppelin on the cover. I defied the proverb and I was rewarded. It is a great book.

These two incidents are united by one thing. At the very core of Paolo’s book was a book very similar to the book I never finished. I will clarify by saying that Paolo’s book has a better plot, more interesting and three-dimensional characters and a stronger conveyance of the themes and ideas that the two share.

I have recently bumped that long abandoned book back up into my priority list after a recent splurge of activity on it while held up in hotel rooms in India during the rainy season. I am not particularly concerned about the similarities any more. There are likely to be some. I’ve ditched some of the more striking family resemblances, but the story is different and the characters are from another world.

The relationship between the two works will be like that between Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, perhaps even less so. If Windup is Caves, then my book is another sci-fi detective mystery with robots that are easily mistaken for humans, which is far less well known than DADoES.

If I one day finish this book and get it to print, it will be completed and published in the shadow of The Windup Girl.

The moral here being that if you have an idea for a story, don’t stop! The alternative is that someone better will do a better job first.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Hey mum, look how much I haven't done!

Today is a workday. I have a fan and a cool drink, and the looming summer is making noises at me through the screen door. I’m taking late lunch and fantasising about the completion of a book, any book.

I fantasise about this a lot. Mostly it’s the Book, but for most of last week it was a rehash of a story I started in 1995. I remember the year, because it was in response to a film I had quite enjoyed, particularly the soundtrack, but had found it frustratingly unrealistic. This is a bad habit. The sudden switching of major projects, even in fantasy can be a hinder to productivity. This is largely due to the edit that is ahead of me. In response I endeavoured to make my weekend productive and actually whip out the red pen, scissors and paste.

I went to visit my mother over the weekend, who resides in a house on a ridge outside the city limits, and I rummaged. Rummaging is rarely productive, but she has a large garage, a ‘library’ and a spare room that I like to pretend is mine which are all your run of the mill rummaging treasure troves, if you happen to value out-dated videogame systems and computer components, art supplies, Lego, pre-used notebooks, and, most of all, books. It is like playing Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Geeks where all the treasures are real.

It was while rummaging that I discovered boxes of notebooks, printouts and scraps that date back to 1998, and are best measured by the kilo. Among them were nearly two-dozen unfinished scripts and outlines for several more from that scriptwriting phase, copies of some of the incomplete short stories that became my current work in progress, one of them with a nearly identical title dating back to 2008, which I had apparently forgotten about. The point of this being that I managed to put my hands on what I can safely assume is cruising up on a million words, and nothing was finished. This is to say nothing of the unfinished works that I knew to be missing from this archive, much of which I was reminded of when I found a book-box full of painstakingly labelled external hard drives, zip disks, floppies and CDs. The box itself was simply labelled “Story Backups” in familiar scrawl.

Later, while lamenting my lack of focus, my mother asked how I can work on more than a couple of stories at a time and I showed her the database I had produced to keep track of my stories and the next tasks required on each. This cemented the case that my practices haven’t changed. There were seventy-nine stories in the database in various stages of incompletion, amounting to more than four hundred thousand words.

Isaac Asimov said, “When I feel difficulty coming on, I switch to another book I am writing. When I get to the problem, my unconscious has solved it.” This is pretty much how I operate. Big edit looming? Go back to a sixteen year old story of which no copies currently exist. Can't resolve the ending satisfactorily? Write a scene about four Korean aunties who work in a fish shop playing Wii after work. Can't reconcile the newly rearranged plot points with the preexisting character development? Start knocking around a script from '02 with zombie breasts in it. Unfortunately, while I am in good company on this, my unconscious doesn’t seem to solve very much while I'm away, and I only recently started prioritising my projects so that they don't end up in boxes in the garage.

How much have I written without writing anything?

Friday 11 November 2011


I’m a professional writer. Not the sort of professional writer I once aspired to be, but a copywriter. I don’t have an issue with copywriting. I know where I stand when compared with novelists, journalists, ghostwriters, travel writers and, when it comes down to it, other copywriters. I write e-newsletters and web copy. That’s my thing. In reality I would write anything I was paid to write, but as it stands that’s all I’m getting paid to write.

The situation suits me. I can work from home most days of the week, which means I’m working on the edge of a reserve on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Like most other people I know who make sense out of piles of unsorted words for a living I have a book, actually books. Most of my spare time goes into however many of my books I’m working on at any given time. There are a few books. One of them is nearly finished and has been dominating my life for the last sixteen months. People have been asking me how close I am to finishing for a full year, and I’ve been telling them that I am very close for the duration. It’s not that I’m lying to all of the people that I know, and some strangers at parties. This is what I have honestly believed. I have honestly believed this since November of last year. In my defence, at this time last year I was convinced the tome in question would be about forty-five thousand words, of which I had written forty-three. Every time I looked at it, or anything else for that matter, the story grew an extra character, or new sub-plot, or tentacles.

The Book, if there had to be only one, is longer now than it was, but I don’t feel any closer. I feel like Sisyphus with words. Leonardo da Vinci said you don’t finish art you abandon it. That’s what it’s like with books. My book needs to stop growing so I can finish it before I leave it on someone’s doorstep. In reality I need to stop making decisions about the book.

Right now it’s staring at me.