This might be progress

It’s a good thing I am not superstitious, or I might regret writing this for fear of jinxing something. Don’t say it too loud, but I think I am making progress with the writing.

After a year of trying out a lot of different approaches and (with hindsight) allowing myself the liberty of not worrying too much about it, I think I have got some way towards ridding myself of the overtly academic, philosophising, over-thinking-it writing which I knew I was unconsciously but constantly reverting to. Given that I’ve spent decades writing like that, I am not surprised about that, but it takes a lot to start to overcome that natural tendency. Over the last year, I have started to recognise what works and what doesn’t when I read other people’s writing. Now that might be helpful, and I think it is, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I can do it any better myself.

But this time round, it feels different. I decided essentially to start again and write a novel, not just a semi-fictitious way of writing about what was bothering or interesting me. Big difference. It means I have had to catapult a lot of hobby horses and random facts, but so far I’ve done so happily. I’ve also taken a step back and asked myself how best to tell the story. I had been pretty fixed on one point of view for a long time, and I don’t think it works. So this time, it’s multiple first person voices. Oh dear. That’s potentially a recipe for disaster. Still looking for someone who has done it really well, I’m sure they’re out there. But I think it’s what’s needed. And it’s also quite a bit more fun to move around and see how another character views the same thing. Time will tell how it evolves.

I’ve finally admitted that the only way for this to work is to get away from anything that can connect to the outside world. It turns out that I was – a big surprise to me – happiest writing during the last year when I was writing with pen and paper. I was also writing a tangent that was one of the character’s backstories and I probably won’t use any of it, but it looks like the first draft will be now handwritten. I have a stack of my favourite Rhodia pads, the paper of which is insanely smooth for writing on, and my heavy Pelikan fountain pen. It’s a combination that works for me. And this novel will be in “Amazing Amethyst” ink. I’m allowed to be geeky about such things given the amount of time I am spending with them. You can, of course, write anywhere with such advanced technology, although apparently I should use a pencil on a plane as the ink might leak, and I should actually have two pencils in case one isn’t sharp or breaks. Good job I have a supply of a hundred Ticonderoga pencils courtesy of Costco.

Pen and paper

And then there’s the whole switching off thing. One hour and thirteen minutes is the answer. That’s how long it takes me to be running until I have gone through everything I’m worried about, thinking about or preoccupied with. Then I’m done and can just keep running and my imagination and body both get to play. There is definitely something about the combination of running and writing, which is one reason why I find having a run in the middle of the day helpful.

Stephen King writes with heavy metal playing in the background. I don’t. But I do have the beginnings of a theory about this. I think it’s perhaps a little similar to the practice of repeating a word or phrase over and over as part of meditation. It frees your mind. I’ve found that by having the same song (in my case, by U2 but that was just because I heard it, liked the guitar part and played it a few times) repeating over and over again is immensely helpful to allow me to present in the story I’m trying to tell. I am now and again aware of the song, but it’s the exception.

When it comes down to it, though, the writing is back to being fun again. And it really needs to be fun. It’s hard enough even then, but it’s nice to want to be doing this again every day. Fingers crossed… no, wait, that would be superstitious.

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