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?

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