Saturday 3 September 2016

Just get on with it!

Motivation is tricky for people engaged in creative activities. The initial enthusiasm, the new idea that you’re desperate to work on anytime, all the time, that doesn’t last.

Most of the time it’s slog. It’s digging the foundations, setting brick upon brick, standing back and sighing over how little you’ve done or how it sags, right there, where it really needs to be strong, deciding that the twiddly bit you spent so long on is just totally wrong and will have to go.

Now and then, here and there, there’s a moment of brightness in it and you want to grab someone and go, ‘Listen, let me tell you about this great thing I’m working on.’ And in the telling, that first love of it grabs you again and you can see what you saw then: the point of it all.

If the slog were all bad, of course, no one would ever bother to finish. There’s a pleasure when you write of just seeing the number of words growing, even if you’re fairly sure that they’re the wrong words. And I’m sure there must be creative people who are in love with their work from beginning to end and never experience the slog at all.

For me, the way to deal with the slog is to be very, very organised. It’s tempting to think that you can’t write until the muse strikes, but it’s just not true. Write, and the muse will come. Not always, but most of the time.

  •  I set myself small, easily achievable targets and I write every day.
  • I try not to go back over what I’ve previously written because that wastes time.
  • If I need to check something, I’ll write myself a note and check it when I come to my next draft. 
  •  If I’m stuck for a line or a word or a passage to carry my characters from one place to the next, I’ll add a note to say what’s missing and go on to the bit I can write. 
  •  If I’ve got an idea for a bit that goes later in the book, I write it out of order. Otherwise I might have forgotten it by the time I get there. 
  •  I have a complicated spreadsheet that I consult and add to all the time, detailing what’s happening, where, when and, when necessary, why. 
  • I have another spreadsheet for my daily word count because there is nothing more satisfying than seeing that number grow!

Writing is, of course, only the beginning. I approach my second (and subsequent) drafts in the same, methodical manner. I set myself date targets and I do my best to stick to them. I need time to read the book as a reader – quickly too, to get an overall impression. Then I have to work through it, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. It’s tempting to linger on key scenes, but at this stage better to mark them and come back later, once the book as a whole is in good order. So I plough through, correcting, changing, writing notes, and always cutting, cutting, cutting. It can be soul-destroying to think how many of the hours and hours of work you put into your 80,000-word manuscript you must now throw away to get it down to a sensible 65,000 words. But for me, writing without looking back as I go pretty much always means what I have written will be flabby and will need streamlining. For each draft, I’ll repeat this: read as a reader, work through from beginning to end, come back to fix more complex issues.

And then there’s the question of when it’s finished. But that’s another story.

So, nose to the grindstone, creative types. It’s hard work, but you chose to do it. Just get on with it.

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