I’ve always felt one of the surest signs of a writer in a rut is that they start writing about writing. Hi there, I’m Dan.
My book is still in the works and I still like it, most of the time. Every time I edge closer to sending it out to literary agents, however, I shit myself in fear and slam the manuscript shut until I feel brave enough to resume the endless edit, the edit I am nine months into thus far. It took around ten months to write the damn thing, now an apparent infinity to twiddle and tweak.
Because how on earth do you know when it’s good enough? It’s like getting ready for a night out in the mirror – apart from when you emerge and reveal your face to the congregation, if they deem you unattractive you are never allowed out again. How the hell do you decide that you have reached your peak? Is there not always an eyebrow to smooth out, a further roll of belly fat to cram below your waistband?
It’s not just that – it’s the fact that each edit requires five hundred subsequent edits. For example, I decided that two of my characters – a thirty-something year old man and a teenage girl who live together and work as thieves – had a weird relationship. Why would this man and girl live together? The backstory was originally that he found her living on the street and took pity on her, and gave her shelter. But then they… isn’t that weird? I mean, if you met a man in a bar and he told you a teenage girl lived with him and he found her on the street and took her home with him you’d call the fucking fire brigade.
So I changed their odd relationship. I made them uncle and niece; much nicer, much more digestible. Nothing weird there.
But then other questions popped up: what happened to her parents? Did they die? How did they die? Do I want to make her an orphan? Isn’t that a big cliche in adventure stories? So maybe her parents abused her and she ran away? No, too dark. Okay, so they abandoned her and her uncle is all she has left. Does her uncle want her? Did he get along with her parents? Why did they abandon her? Perhaps they were addicts. Hmm, but then-
And so on. Throw into the mix that these are two of the main characters and their relationship alters the context of almost every interaction they have throughout the book, and the fact that this is a time travel story which adds infinite possibilities to every minor backstory snippet you add in (if her parents died young could she go back and change that? if not, why not?) and you begin to see why this process takes shitting forever.
Inspiration doesn’t come every day, either. People say it’s all about work ethic, but that’s just not true. You have to feel productive and in a mood to match you’re novel. Mine is silly and jovial – I can’t write it if I’m feeling frustrated, angry, shit, depressed (which is often because, hah, life) because it comes out in the writing. The characters end up having gloomy existential rants about the state of the world or some shit, and the next day I open the document, roll my eyes at past Dan’s hysterics, delete everything and start over.
It’s hard to write if your mood is too good, as well. If I’m bouncing off the walls with energy and lust for life, the last thing I want to do is sit still, open the same document I’ve spent literally thousands of hours staring at and agonise over whether my use of adjectives in chapter fifteen is excessive.
Progress is progress. Moving very slowly towards a goal is still moving towards a goal. I am going to get this mother fucker published if it kills me.*
*in a strictly metaphorical sense. I have no interest in being dead when my book is published, because I would be unable to gloat.