I am a self-doubter and a self-regulator. I am not confident in my own abilities but contrarily I do trust my own instincts. I know a good story when I see it, it’s just that I doubt my ability to execute it to its finest, best, most beautiful incarnation, which makes me depressed. And I constantly question myself about whether I’m doing my best, and if I am lacking some vital skill or technique.
A few days ago I read on LinkedIn where someone said they had no patience with writer’s block, that it didn’t really exist, not in the case of ‘real’ writers, ‘real’ writers ignore such collywobbles and just get on with it. Yes, said all their friends, so true, Writer’s block just isn’t a real thing, it’s just a poor excuse. I say poo! of course it’s real, maybe ‘real’ writers have learned techniques to help them overcome or cope with self-doubt and plough on, but many, many very ‘real’ very talented writer’s struggle with issues of self-doubt and difficulty getting started, or with continuing a project.
I found this today when I was browsing through some old computer files. I wrote it in 2011, about my book Criss Cross that came out in 2013. I’d like to say it’s an insight into the writing process (how grand and exotic that sounds!) but really it’s just an insight into my processes – thought and writing.
For the last couple or three or four months I’ve been working on a novel called Criss Cross, it’s about a woman who appears quite nice in an arrogant, posh-person way, but who really sees no reason why she shouldn’t just kill people who annoy her or get in her way, or at the behest of a friend (as in Criss Cross, a phrase from the film, Strangers on a Train). Anyway it’s slow work because I’m not very disciplined at the moment, but it’s up to about 35,000 words and I’m worried the whole story will be finished by the time I reach 50,000. I’m trying to think of how to make it longer without just padding, so I’ve started rereading it from the beginning to see places where I could put in a new incident or elaborate on what I’ve already said. The other thing that hampers the situation is that I’ve written it as diary entries, so of course you only ever get the protagonist‘s viewpoint, or what she thinks is her viewpoint, sometimes you have to read between the lines a bit, and sometimes she will go through and carefully reproduce a whole scene, other times it’s just a few sentences summing something up. And when her husband – very much loved by her – is killed by her friend as revenge for the killing of the friend’s own husband, you get a long silence and no real clue (except if she chooses to discuss it later) what happened in that time – so the death is very much ′off camera‘ as is all the procedure surrounding it. And I would have liked to have other people’s reaction to her grief, but I didn’t really see how that could happen unless someone else wrote in her diary – which I did consider briefly. So, to recap – epistolic writing is not without it’s own peculiar problems and limitations, but I like using the 1st person, and this seemed like a good way, and it is a good way for the protagonist to tell what happened and what they think and what they know without any interruptions or repercussions. And also of course, they tell from their own point of view, which may not be true.
On Friday and Saturday (it’s Monday now) I did rewrites of 2 short stories – Martin Kaminski Comes Home and The Neverending Wife. Martin Kam I reduced by around 200 words, but Neverending Wife was a bit more complex. First of all it was 7795 words to begin with. Then I cut it to about 6500. And I saved that on here as a separate file. Then I really got my teeth into it – it’s true what someone or other said ( I can’t remember who – Patricia Highsmith? Or the other one I always get her muddled with?) – you can cut at least two thirds away and still be left with something reasonable. I was a bit scared, ludicrously, but I ended up reducing the whole story to 1450 words, and I feel I have still retained the essential elements of the story. Actually, I feel a sense of achievement. And obviously I’ve saved that too. The short version of the story, not the sense of achievement! lol. Maybe I should save that!
And I’ve got to finish Criss Cross – I keep saying that, but where’s the action? – I can’t leave it stranded at 43,000 words.
And on top of all this, I’m trying not to worry about things too much and especially trying not to worry about money too much, and I’m wondering if I ought to try to find another full-time job, and I’m quite stressed enough with the one I’ve already got as it is…
The worries of the world …
It’s quite nice in a way to look back and see that I’ve actually done something! I’ve finished the first draft of Criss Cross (last week actually) – it ended up being quite short at around 58,000 words, but it is only the first draft and I’ve already thought of several things to change or enhance or do completely differently.
And alongside that, I’ve been transcribing the first (and only, as it turns out) draft of Dolly – almost 14 years old! It’s not great writing, I’m sad to say, but I hope to rewrite it and make something good out of it. Again will have to make huge changes throughout to make it any good.
So it’s not an easy process, is it guys? We just have to do the best we can, soldier on, and ignore the people who say that because we worry, because we struggle, we’re not ‘real’ writers.