The writing of a book: part 2

I don’t think there was a time in my life when I didn’t want to write a book. I vaguely remember learning to write, although it feels like I’ve always known letters and words. I remember learning to form the letters, but at some level I’ve always recognised meaning in letters and words. It’s the most innate way of communicating for me, which sounds totally bizarre, but it’s true; speaking is fun and often fluid but doesn’t feel as natural as writing for me.

I’ve had ‘the idea’ running around in my head for about five years now. It has morphed a bit, but it’s been there waiting to be written. There are some other ideas that have been hanging around for longer than this one, but I know this is ‘the one’ for the moment. I’ve known for a while.

Recently, after getting a copy of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent to review, I was reading up on Hannah and her journey to becoming a published author (and apparently securing a kick arse publishing deal!). I found a fantastic piece on the Kill Your Darlings literary journal where she talks in detail about the process, from the time she first stumbled upon the idea for the book ten years ago on an exchange program in Iceland, to the days she spent holed up in her writing room despairing at ever getting this thing done. She seems to have read the same ‘How to write a book in 30 days’ series from the Guardian that I’d been poring over for a while. Oh how inspiring to read this honest account of writing a first novel! She is clearly a very talented writer and has been working on her craft for a number of years, given the book is part of her PhD in creative writing. Her promise to herself to write 1000 words every day really struck me; while I can’t realistically do the same, I can get pretty close to it. After all, most blog posts I write (this isn’t one of them, by the way) just flood out and suddenly I look down to the discover I’ve written 800 words without even blinking. I’m not saying they’re ‘good’ words, but it proves I can churn the writing out when I knuckle down, which is essentially the way one writes a book.

So I began. I plotted a bit of an outline, although I’m not referring to this at all. It became a way of organising my thoughts, or sort of releasing some of the rubbish that was clogging up my head. And then I began writing. I did my best not to second guess myself or edit along the way and I tried not to think about how awful the writing was in some parts. As I progressed beyond a measly 2,000 words, I started to feel disillusioned. The writing was getting worse! I couldn’t even continue much beyond that, so I left it for a day. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. The only reason I didn’t give up on the spot is that I have been here before; I know my inner critic very well, and I know she likes to find ways to stop me. My high school English teacher, Mr P, used to say it was good practice to get up earlier than you normally would and write while you’re half asleep; the inner critic isn’t a morning person. Of course, I never managed this as I’m definitely not a morning person, and now I have become one through becoming a mum, I never get a chance to get up early enough to beat my son to it and have any time alone to write.

As it was whirling around in my head depressing me, I mentioned to Mr Chewbacca what had happened to my writing. We’d spent a few minutes in a coffee shop the week before having a thoroughly enjoyable and motivating conversation about my future book and how I might structure it, and although he’s not a writer, he is highly intelligent and very good at ideas and concepts. He also gives excellent feedback. This time, when I complained about stalling so early on, he hardly said anything. Just by talking about it, I realised that I needed to keep going. I realised that all the crappy writing needed to come out before I could get to the good stuff. It had to come out sometime, why not now? It’s seriously so awful. But in amongst it, there is some lovely stuff.

So I’m going to have faith that the crap will eventually be cleared out and it will make way for some goodness. I’m going to keep writing. My goal is an arbitrary 100,000 words, although I suspect, like Hannah Kent, I might just stop one day and realise that the book is finished.

I’ll be writing many more parts to this ongoing saga until the book is actually finished. Given I’m only on about 3,000 words now and most of it is utter garbage, there will be a few more posts yet…

Phew! Books aren’t dead after all

Lately my son has begun actually ‘going down’ for sleeps during the day and I’m actually able to put him to bed like a regular little baby – it’s great!*  Gone are the days of pacing round the loungeroom with him in the Ergobaby trying to rock him to sleep, or waiting for him to pass out in my arms and then debating whether to sit still for two hours or try and transfer him to bed.  The latter was never a success!  Anyway, as I’m now feeding him in bed while he goes off to sleep, I have a lot of time to read blogs on my trusty iPhone.**

I’m absolutely loving keeping up to date with the latest news, and I’ve totally shunned my pregnancy/parenting/baby blogs now and I’m right into the books/reading/writing ones.  I especially enjoy the updates from the Guardian, and from the wonderful Allen & Unwin blog Alien Onion, all class.

So I’m happily reading away, getting all inspired, occasionally making little notes to myself about ideas for the books I’m writing (yes, there’s more than one), and all of a sudden I realise all may not be well in the land of publishing!  It seems the printed book as we know it is doomed.  Say what now?  Yes, that’s right.  When my son is at uni, he’ll be reading all his books on his hand-held device apparently, and they’ll all be e-books that have never been published in hard copy.  And he’ll probably not have to pay for them.  That scares the crap out of me!  Books are so important!

At first when I read a couple of articles about the demise of the printed word, I thought, meh, what do they know, it’s all speculation, just like the millennium bug or some such garbage.  But then I read this article from the Guardian and I really began to worry.  I began to believe it.  In 25 years there will be no more books.  No more bookshelves.  No more pages.  No more bookmarks.  No more margins to scribble in. No more folding and crinkling and spilling and bending and feeling all those chunky good words in the thickness of the leaves.  This is scary, not just because I intend to be a published novelist at some point, but because books are important to me.  I’m sentimental about books, and I think even if I didn’t like them much I’d have trouble throwing them out or giving them away.  My mum isn’t sentimental about books and there have been many occasions where I’ve ‘saved’ books from being given to charity for no particular reason.  Saved for no reason, that is… my mum constantly gives things to charity, on the premise of having ‘a clear out’, although she buys so much from second-hand shops that it all evens out in the end.

After reading all this doom and gloom about books, I began to imagine how that sentimentality about books will just dwindle.  Once we loved our records; we’d await the release of a new and wonderful album and look forward to seeing the image in its centre, holding that vinyl up to blow the dust off and squint across the grooves.  The joy of having the right touch, placing that needle at the right point, or watching the automatic turntable do it at the touch of a button.  I loved turning the record over on the little stories I had on records.  Tapes were so compact and seemed so efficient, and you could salvage one when the ribbon got caught in the tape player and you had to wind it back into the plastic case with a pencil.  Something satisfying about that.  My first tape was Roxette – Look Sharp.  Or actually I think it was Billy Joel – Glass Houses.  CDs were once exciting too.  I’d love to sit and listen to a new album, sometimes right through, but usually just the tracks I’d already heard, and then pore over the album artwork, the lyrics or imagery in the little booklet.  I got the best of The Eurythmics with my first CD player.  I remember the moment of surprise and delight when I was distracted for long enough to leave the CD playing and after a few minutes of nothing, Mystify began at the end of The CranberriesNo Need To Argue… a hidden track!  No such thing now really, is there?  Does dad download Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and put it on his daughter’s iPod now?  Or does she never get to hear the brilliance because people don’t listen to albums any more?  Books will be going in the same direction, cheaply produced digital word fodder for consumption by a mass audience of average Joes who just want to skip to the ‘good’ bit.

Today I read this article which made me breathe a sigh of relief.  It was all just a bad dream.  At least I hope so.  Maybe I’m showing my age but I can’t imagine a world without books.

*Slight exaggeration – he does go to sleep, eventually, but it’s not for very long, and it takes just as long to actually get him to sleep and creep away without him stirring and waking! Ah the joys of new parenting.  Surely this gets easier.  I swear I have a really full on baby, they can’t all be this hard to calm down!

**Actually, it’s not that trusty.  It’s a 3G that I bought in October 2008, so it’s had a good run, but bloody hell is it slow!  And the latest update from Apple?  Nope, doesn’t apply to the 3G.  It seems Apple think no one owns one any more.  Or, more realistically, they think everyone has a spare thousand bucks to shell out for their latest product!  I’m so not buying another iPhone, I’m going with something generic next time…