Tag Archives: Persistence

In Which the Author Loses Control of his Metaphors and Similes

All sorts of sea imagery occurs: fog, heavy waves, riding the wake of larger boat, but sometimes in the however-long-it-is I’ve been writing (thirteen years and four months) I have found myself becalmed – ooh look, there’s another one.

Stuck, in other words; dispirited, in another.  There seems to be no particular way of dealing with it, other than to hope it passes: a favourable wind blows, clouds part, etc. etc.  Sometimes it looks like it’s going to be fine for a while but, like a weather app, it changes its mind two hours later (don’t get me started on weather apps).

Occasionally, all hope goes.  I stare, like the mariner, over the side of the ship, and know that in thirty years or so I’ll be waylaying a stranger on his way to a wedding, saying, ‘I tried to write a novel once…’

Anyway, the clouds seem to be lifting, which is why I felt able to write this.


(For wiser people saying much the same thing, try: http://lithub.com/8-famous-writers-writing-about-not-writing/)


Zen Exercise or Sea Wreck?

At some point this year, I will reach the ninth anniversary of having started my novel.  Nine years, thirteen drafts – still plugging away.  ‘It’s like a zen exercise,’ said my sister, when I last met her.  Pretty much.  Each time I feel I’ve got to the end, there’s another reason to start again.  Usually feedback from an agent or an editor.

In this latest draft, it has lost fifteen thousand words.  Maybe more.  The last one was over seventy thousand words, it’s now at fifty-three.  I might eventually get it published as a short story.

But I’m still learning.  Most of the loss has been the flashback chapters that the current editor felt held up the pace of it.  What is interesting, is that having removed them, they aren’t too much of a loss.  I’ve cut a character and bolstered up another.  I feel like some bloke in his shed, tinkering at something mechanical that will never quite be finished.

Though, this draft feels close.  I think one more read through and I might be ready.  And if I get asked to do another draft?  Maybe.  My friends and writing colleagues seem to be past the point when they asked me if this was really the last version.  They may even have forgotten that I’m writing.

I have in mind a sea wreck, jutting up from the tide, some mad bloke running up and down the shore shouting, ‘It’s nearly done!  Nearly done!’  It’s not me, of course.  I’m just nine years into writing a short novel: on my thirteenth draft, which I’m calling a fourteenth because I think it might be bad luck.

Writing Fiction: Man Without a Yacht

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a presentation from a young entrepreneur explaining her app for making meetings more efficient.  She was introduced by her sponsor, a middle-aged man, who said that he invested in small, promising ventures, such as hers, as a way to earn enough money to be able to live the dream and buy a yacht.  Admitting that clearly, as he was here, he hadn’t achieved it yet.  He then went and sat at the side, looking very much like a man who doesn’t have a yacht.

I know what he means.  I have a tendency to defer my current happiness on the basis that something big will occur in the future.  Getting published, for instance.  Which raises the question, why do I write if this is not going to happen? (A statistical likelihood.)  What is the present pleasure?

I recently started playing guitar again.  Dusted off and restrung (the guitar, not me) I have really enjoyed it.  I find that I am at a level to play a basic version of Bach’s ‘O Haupt voll Blut and Wunden,’ (the one Paul Simon adapted for ‘American Tune’).  Believe me, I have no ambitions to play this in public.  It is doubtful that crowds would fill St Martin’s in the Fields to hear P. Gapper’s faltering versions of Easy Baroque Pieces for Classical Guitar.  But playing each chord of Bach’s magnificent progression is a great joy.

It is said that this is the way to live life.  As if you are singing a song, enjoying each note rather than rushing to the end.

Try telling that to my laptop.  I am in yet another period of struggle with my writing.  But there are moments of pleasure, and over all, the sense of achievement makes it worth it.

During the recent debate over Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, an online contributor said something to the effect that the decision made her wonder about the point of writing novels.  Even suggesting she might give up.  I suspect her argument was about feeling devalued, but there was also something about the importance of an end point to give your work worth.

For me, then, I have to decide, does the pleasure come from the simple act of writing, or am I sitting in the corner waiting for a yacht?

Writing Fiction: How Many Drafts?

At the end of my last writers’ group before the summer break, one of my colleagues approached me in the corridor and asked me if this was going to be the last draft of my novel.  I could have read her wrongly, but it seemed to me she was suggesting that it should be the last draft.  I understand.  Thirteen drafts surely suggests that you’re just hacking over old ground.  What about the liberation of new turf?

Except that in the course of the last eight years, by ploughing back and forth, changing characters, plot, dialogue – you name it – I have been learning how to write.

At the moment, I’m sowing in a new plot line.  What has surprised me is the pleasure of doing so.  A confidence in the voice.  The way solutions have presented themselves.  Perhaps it’s because I know the field (sorry about this, I’ve got stuck in a metaphor), and there are joys in staying here a while longer.  I’ll finish when I know that I have truly transformed it to something I can happily leave behind.

I’m not there yet.  There may be many drafts to come.  I hope not too many.  But I’m willing to stay.

Writing Fiction: Signless

Sometimes, on meditation retreats, I get impatient with my dreams. What I want is golden buddhas descending through the rose-coloured air, pointing the way and saying, ‘Yes, Paul Gapper, you are doing the right thing. Your presence here is exactly what is required.’ Instead, I have dreams about missing training sessions, going to the wrong place, arguing with friends.

But I know that I will come away feeling better: more in touch with myself, more contented.

Much of my life seems to be like this. No great signposts saying, ‘This Way in 300 Yards,’ just a feeling of satisfaction or dissatisfaction after the event.

There are more decisive moments. When I did my first writing course, I knew that I loved it and had to get on the one-year novel-writing follow-up. But day-to-day, I turn up with my laptop with a feeling it is probably the right thing to do.

Recently, after I hit a bump with my writing, a friend suggested I consider stopping. I said, ‘No, no. You keep turning up, keep turning up.’ Though I’m not sure I argued a particularly strong case for why. Just a hunch that it was probably better than giving up.

And, for a lot of the time, that’s pretty much all I have to go on.

Snakes and Ladders: Snake

I bet there’s a point, when you’re two-thirds up climbing a mountain, and you stop and think: oh, what do I do now? You look up the third to go, and down the distance covered and, letting go of the rock, allow yourself to sway a little on the guide rope.

The story so far: an agent expressed interest in my second novel but suggested that an editor look at it, hoping she would be able to tell me how to increase the ‘line-by-line pacing.’ Thus closing the small gap between unpublishable and publishable.

This week, the editor sent me her report. She said there was no point in giving a line-by-line edit because, though well written, the novel had fundamental structural problems. I won’t describe them all because I may be tempted to reach up with a penknife and cut through the only thing holding me to this rock. But, suffice to say, it covered plot, character, structure and tone.

So, well. The view is nice from up here. I’ve come a hell of a distance. I’m philosophical enough to be able to recognise the usual thoughts: ‘I am never going to write anything original,’ ‘It will be impossible to get this piece into shape,’ and my favourite, ‘What’s the point?’

Over the way, birds are circling in ritual fashion, rising on air currents from the plain. I may reach back for my sandwiches. Which is all very lovely, but I’m going to have to do something, aren’t I? To lower myself down, or get back on the rock and start climbing.

Yesterday, I wrote my five-hundred words; today, I wrote my five-hundred words; tomorrow, I will write my five-hundred words.

Writing Fiction: Disappointment

One of my favourite programmes, when I was a kid, was It’s a Knockout. Stupid games. A man dressed as a rabbit, carrying a large inflatable carrot, flops along a course. At the end is a ramp with water flowing down it. His task is to get to the top, then launch the carrot across a divide into a basket. One chance, then back to get another carrot. Meanwhile, his opponents are throwing actual lettuces to knock him over. The crowd cheers, the commentator screams, the clock is ticking away.

But what if there was no clock? Or commentator, or crowd. Or ramp, or opponents, or lettuces or great divide. Just a man in a rabbit suit with an inflatable carrot, who had to walk from A to B and place the carrot in a basket. Then go back and get another. Over and over. With a general sense that, if there was a game, it was probably being played in a different field.

I have noticed, recently, that a number of the people who started writing when I did, or who I have encountered along the way, have decided to stop or slow down. I know the feeling. When one is trying to get to the end of the first novel; or entering competitions and almost winning; or sending to agents who begin to make encouraging noises; it is easy to see them as entertaining obstacles to overcome. With a clear aim in mind and an idea of when it will be achieved.

But sometimes, it all goes quiet. My competition entries do not place, agents do not even reply, the next novel I am halfway through, does not seem as interesting as the next novel, but that would take three more years and a great deal more effort even to get into a workable state. With no guarantee that it would be any more successful.
The game appears to be being played elsewhere. And I trudge from A to B, A to B, A to B.

Disappointment is an obstacle in itself. But not one that you can drop into conversation at dinner parties and get interested and admiring looks. Just one you have to deal with yourself. And make a decision. Do I carry on? Or do I pack up my carrot and go home.