I have developed a rather unusual motivation problem. Anyone who has ever had a serious go at writing will be familiar with the writer’s block/can’t be arsed/it’s too damned hard syndrome (all of which are nonsense, in my ever so humble opinion) but that’s not what’s bothering me. Staring at a blank page lasts only seconds as ideas pour out of me like over-spiced curry through a simple digestive system. I barely know what a blank page looks like. Shortage of ideas, lack of inspiration, fear of failure are all pretty much alien to me. My problem is:
The next step…
I have loads of first chapters. Three thousand words spill out from the end of my tattered, bitten and over-picked finger ends like…
Aren’t similes hard?
In fact, it’s not just first chapters; I often get three written or even five. Ten thousand words and more written in a frenzy of activity and excitement and then… totally run out of steam. I guess I need to curb my enthusiasm (there’s a title for you). I sort of know what’s going on: everything interests me. I see story in all things. Someone sitting in a pub with their head in their hands; there’s a first chapter. A young man at the train station with a baby, a pig on a lead and a lime-green rucksack; another first chapter. A jacket carefully hung on the branch of a tree next to a fast-flowing river; another first chapter. You get what I mean? And I think this is represented in the style of the novels that I have written so far: crime fiction, romantic thriller, comedy horror, urban realism (is that a genre?) supernatural thriller.
I can’t make my mind up, can I? And there are no shortage of agents who have accused me of cross-genre writing. Cross genre writing? What even is that? Okay, of course, I do know but genre is a slippy little bastard. But if sticking to a known genre is a thing that will lead to success then what genre is Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy written? Most would opt for fantasy maybe but it’s science fiction, too and young adult fiction and allegory. What about Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ novels? Again, fantasy, cowboy, science fiction, horror. These are great books and if the establishment was able to inflict it’s proscriptive desires on the industry then we wouldn’t have them. They wouldn’t be allowed. We almost certainly wouldn’t have Cloud Atlas, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Master and Margarita or even Canterbury Tales. And the world would be a duller place without them.
But none of that solves my problem. What genre (or mash-up of genres) should I write in and stick to? Or should I plough on as I am? After all, I might be siting on the next Slaughterhouse Five or Princess Bride. I’ve already written a sex/horror/comedy/thriller called ‘One Filthy Night’ that I’ve labelled my ‘Carry On Tarantino’ phase. But whatever I decide, I have to deal with the problem of acting like a distracted kid staring out at the playground when I should be learning long division; not that writing stories is at all like long division but it can sometimes feel like it. Reaching for the shiny new thing and dropping the toy I am currently playing with. I guess it’s a bit of self-discipline that I need.
I know exactly what my old mentor, Matt Stanley, would say: ‘It’s because you haven’t planned it properly.’ I know there’s more than a degree of truth in that but I have ten novels pulling down shelves and taking up disk space that prove that I can actually stay the course. I get planning, I really do, I just don’t do it. I’ve tried and it is soul destroying. Although, that is not to damn it out of hand. I studied and eventually turned my hand to script-writing and there is no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that you cannot write a script by the seat of your pants. It simply won’t work. The scenes have to be timed and they have to flow seamlessly. You can’t get away with waffling the way you can in a novel. Not that I waffle (except on here), but I’ve read a few authors that do.
The real solution (and I’ve known this all along) is discipline. I don’t have any and I desperately need some because it seems to get harder as I get older. And it’s not often you hear that! My time management is virtually non-existent and my ability to stick at one thing for anything longer than a few minutes is getting more and more of a challenge. I imagine it’s an age issue. Maybe even a sub-conscious awareness that time is running out! This is something that I have to put some serious work into. One of my main problems is that my old writing space (our converted loft) is in utter disarray. It has been a bedroom to kids for years. Now it is no longer needed for that (they’ve nearly all left us) we have to repossess it as our own art area. The plan is to use it for music (playing and listening), painting and writing. It will be good to get it back. Now all I need is to work up the motivation to get myself up there and clear it all out.
Watch this space!