Silver Linings for a Writer

It is very difficult to irk out quality lumps of time to write. There are far too many distractions – books to read, films to watch, games to play, work to do, beer to drink… you get the picture. Siggy’s lifestyle allows me some time in the evenings and at the weekend in which to write, but these are generally two to three-hour slots. In a three-hour slot only the middle hour’s worth of writing generally has any value and ends up being used in the final draft of a book or screenplay, and I only write when I feel awake enough to do so. A lot of the time after work I just feel like curling up in a ball and ignoring everything around me, at other times only shooting people in the face on my X-Box will do.

So when I found out that as part of my wonderful job I would be stuck in a hotel on my own for almost a week I immediately thought back to the last time this happened. I was in Warrington trapped by bad weather but with a brain brimming with ideas for ‘Tales of the New Found Land’. It was a very productive few days and I came out of the experience with a number of keys scenes written up. So there is some truth in the phrase that every cloud has a silver lining; it’s just sometimes you have to look real hard to find it.

This time I was in Aberdeen in a hotel a few minutes walk from a ten-screen cinema. Immediately the film-goer in me was warring with my inner frustrated writer with concerns over a book so patchy and unfinished that I was beginning to think it would never be finished. The troublesome book is ‘Lucky’ and has been at the first draft stage since 2012. I have rewritten ‘Broken’, adapted it to a screenplay and written a couple of short stories since starting ‘Lucky’. One of the reasons for the slow progress was that I wanted to do a lot of research into spies before writing the book, but mostly it was because I never got the time I needed to really knuckle down and write.

The first thing I did in Aberdeen was to make the decision to only allow myself one cinema trip despite there being four good-looking films on that I wanted to see. The second thing I did was to reread the two hundred or so pages of ‘Lucky’ I had already written in fits and starts to see where the holes were and if there were any inconsistencies – for example do I refer to the main character’s father as still being alive when he’s actually already died? Well yes I did and so that got fixed! During the re-read I went ahead and wrote out some gaps, changed tenses, rewrote dialogue as I went along. This was in itself a valuable process and made me feel a whole lot more confident that I could get this book done and be happy with it. I could see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t a train charging towards me.

The next step in the process was to think about the story. I had a beginning, a middle and an end, which is always a good start, but the end didn’t seem quite right and I also had a lot of trouble with character motivations – why would Lucy (the main character) want to do the things she did? Despite the fantastical elements of her character her decision process had to be grounded in reality. Also I had a character who appears once and seems important and then never comes back into the story – this really seemed like a bad move on my part and so at 3 a.m. one morning my subconscious figured it out for me and I rewrote a chunk of plotting.  I left Aberdeen with a nice chunk of notes, some new pages on my laptop and some hastily handwritten scenes ready for reworking based on the new plot.

All in all it was a very successful few days for my writing. I wish I could say the same for my ‘proper’ IT work, but that’s another story.

It is definitely the case for me as a writer that solitude and a complete absence of distractions helps me concentrate on my story-telling. In some ways this is akin to what is required for a good night’s sleep and I suppose when I am writing I am dreaming with my eyes open and my fingers on a keyboard. However, a writer needs to feed off the people, situations, stories and stimuli around him, so permanent continual solitude is definate no-no.

Thanks to the silver lining provided by the need to be marooned as part of my day job I am confident that ‘Lucky’ will be out some time next year and it will be something I will be proud to have written. I have added a ‘page’ place holder on the main menu of this blog site to spur me on to get this story completed now that I have crested the hump in the writing process, and I will be adding some ‘preview’ content next year.

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