A Christmas confession and tidings of joy
All this time – and after more than a hundred emails – I’ve been writing to you under false pretences. I’ve spoken as though I’m an active professional author sharing thoughts with you … but in practice, I’ve been so busy with all things Jericho that it’s been years since I published a work of fiction.
And yes, my spell of inactivity wasn’t all that inactive. I did major rewrites of How To Write A Novel and Getting Published. I put together 52 Letters: A Year of Advice on Writing. I inched forwards with Fiona Griffiths #7 (The House At The End Of The World.) And I re-committed to my crazy-but-fun The Lamentable True Historie of the Sailor, Gregorius.
So by the standards of people who don’t write, my spare time was still very full with writing. But Jericho (and four kids and a disabled wife) didn’t leave me with a lot of free time. I felt a bit jammed creatively. I just didn’t have the spare time and clarity of thought to unjam.
But, as the business grew, it approached the happy place where every job that needed to be done could be better done by someone other than me. In weekly meetings, I sat listening with interest – but contributing nothing very much. I wasn’t the one doing the work.
So, quietly, and little by little, I returned to work – my writing work, my real work.
I came back to find a Fiona Griffiths adventure stuck at 40,000 words. For a long time, I picked away at the text. Revising. Adding a bit. Tinkering away.
I felt committed to the book, but knew it hadn’t yet found its mojo. I tried different lines of attack, but wasn’t satisfied.
Then – ta-daa – I really committed. I had more time to spend on it. I spent the time. I just pushed forwards through that ugly and difficult middle section. And I had a breakthrough. Two actually.
- I was holding a belief about the way the book needed to be structured that was quite simply false. (I was imagining I needed some wham-bam mid-point adventure, but actually the book isn’t going to have one. It doesn’t need it.)
- The thing that the book really, really needed was the thing that had been obvious from the start. I can’t even quite explain why I didn’t see the strategy from the start. It’s clearly what the book needed.
I’m now bombing my way through the text, loving every minute I get to spend on it, and hoping that blooming Christmas isn’t going to get in the way of my hours at the laptop.
And – very closely connected with that sense of joy – is the belief that what I’m writing has value. That readers will enjoy it. That it’ll enhance the series. That the book and the series has some artistic depth, some enduring worth.
And, because it’s a time of year for sharing tidings of comfort and joy, let me offer you these three thoughts from my own recent rebirth into the land of writing:
One: If you feel stuck on a project, push on with it. Break through. Abseil down that wet and dripping cliff. Just add word count. You will probably solve your problem, but you will certainly release yourself from the current pickle. Editing is easier than writing. Just make progress. This was the theme of my abseiling email a few weeks back. I didn't mention it then, but that email was born of raw and recent personal experience.
Two: It’s bewilderingly common, in my experience, for the thing that a book needs to be kind of obvious. In my present case, Fiona finds herself conducting an investigation in a secure psychiatric hospital. She has had severe psychiatric problems herself. Clearly, she needs to undergo a collapse of some kind, a major one. That’s obvious.
And so often, the solution IS the obvious one. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if we sometimes resist the obvious. Or we block ourselves with objections that don’t actually stand up in practice. Or if an over-crowded life just manifests as difficulty in doing the obvious thing.
In any case, my advice to you is simply this: if you find yourself stuck, then ask yourself, “What is the obvious solution to this problem?” Or alternatively, “What is my elevator pitch? What does my elevator pitch tell me about this particular block?”
In most cases, the answers to those questions will be the right ones. And if the answer comes straight from your elevator pitch, the book is that much more likely to be commercially appealing – and memorable to read.
And three: Write with joy. Relish the joy.
You and I and this whole Jericho community is a happy place because we have a reliable source of joy that isn’t open to everyone. Make space for it. Share it. Enjoy it. Be grateful.
I am – this year as much as ever before.
Go well, my old buddies, and see you in the New Year.