“But she’ll bring out the best and the worst you can be…”
Let’s talk about sagging middles. I mean of my book, not my anatomy (although that too, soon, probably, given the amount of comfort-sugar I’m getting through…). Writers say that 40K is a milestone and after you get there you won’t pack it in. But just as runners tell you the middle section of a run is the worst, writers will tell you the middle section of a book – 40-60K ish – is the biggest drag. Guess what, they’re right: Moody, apathetic, libidinous, as alluring as a Cabinet Minister’s pants draw, constantly hungry, not sleeping properly, skint, daftly paranoid – crikey, have I been writing a book for the last four-and-a-half months or smoking skunk?! * (* Not my thing, just FYI).
I’m currently hobbling towards 50K – juuust about still on schedule, albeit because my schedule allows for some wiggle room. This is the point you start to pick through everything you’ve written thinking WAH THIS IS EFFING AWFUL and start editing even though you swore you wouldn’t until it was finished. Where you decide what Chapter Two really, really needs is a reference to Kit and Toby election-victory dancing to She’s Always A Woman from the 2010 John Lewis ad * (the ad where a woman becomes heavily pregnant as she opens the fridge. Not a feature I want from a fridge, John Lewis…) And when you get annoyed every time someone thinks Kit is a bloke – it’s a short form of Katherine, dammit. Wikipedia says so! If you’re really lucky all of this also coincides with That time of the month! Hooray! I mean, what’s a better accompaniment to self-doubt than a very-late period, nausea and stomach cramps?!
The paranoia aspect is an interesting one. Well, not so much interesting, mainly rubbish, actually, but anyway. Writing a novel is in some ways more fraught than writing true-life or a memoir, or even interviewing someone else for journalism. In the latter, everyone knows everything is real and can take or leave it as they see fit. Most novels, on the other hand, are a mish-mash of fiction and reality to some extent. No-one but you will know entirely which is which, and many people won’t feel comfortable asking, or will draw the wrong conclusions and keep it to themselves. When I started writing the current draft I did a cost-benefits analysis (OK, had a think over a cuppa…) and concluded the potential benefits to me of writing it outweigh any risks – including any of the people who might possibly take umbrage at any of it actually bothering to read it in the first place. Still, the what-ifs happen. What if anyone hates it, and/or me? I have a handful of awesome supportive best friends from school/university/blogging who I know have always got my back and will still be best friends even if they think this book sucks like a Dyson in a brothel. I’ve also had some very lovely feedback from one newer friend who’s read/heard bits already. But what about everyone else, particularly less close/long-standing-but-still-valuable friends? If they read the book will I start fretting they’re avoiding me because they hated it every time they’re busy and can’t come for a drink, or don’t reply to me within three seconds? I should probably work out a way of dealing with this before it becomes relevant, and/or so that it doesn’t interfere with my writing meanwhile…
In the midst of the above, I’ve also been pondering the wider future and my day-job, preparing (mostly mentally, not practically thus far….) for a conference this week, applying for writing bursaries and submitting other work to major contests (yes, self-doubt, big decisions and hyper-competitive schemes – that other winning combination…). There are basically three strands to my bursary case 1) The difficulty of finding work to support myself for both personal and wider-climate reasons, 2) The timeliness of the book – some of the themes stand the better chance of attracting interest the sooner it’s out and 3) The social-commentary malarky: it depicts people from different generations with the same level of education, and their very different economic and career fortunes. Now – as ever with these schemes – comes the wait. I should know in December if I’ve reached the perpetual semi-final, and by January/February if I actually get it.
Yesterday turned into very much one of those perspective-giving days: checking with a local friend that her family in the Philippines are safe and well – thankfully, yes – and hearing some second-hand rather sad and worrying health news about someone I babysit for, which shook me up some. On a happier note, two of my friends are coming over for a few days tomorrow. This should be a nice chance to recharge and regain momentum so I can hit 50K before the end of the month – and get a better grip on the rest of life too…
* Coincidental-symmetrical-fact: The director of that ad went to the same university at the same time as they did. One of my contemporaries from there, who writes for the ad industry trade press, has met him. He’s also directed some great music videos – here’s him talking about that (YouTube link, obligatory bonkers comments beneath).