I’m sure you already know this, but just in case you don’t, I’m going to tell you what I have learned over the last day or so.
You can try too hard to make a piece of writing do too many things. You can stop reading there if you like. Or you can cast your eyes down through the explanation below. But warning, it’s a much longer post than I expected it to be.
I’m working on two writing things at the moment. Two main things anyway. A new novel (new novel: that’s gotta be tautology) arrangement which will be this collection of short stories which all become one story in the end – nothing that hasn’t been done before in some guise or other, but I’m enjoying it. As I go, I’m also working out how to create a sustainable piece of web fiction, with the intention of creating a novel and a related fiction blog. I don’t know that the web-based stuff will be particularly cutting edge, because my storytelling is very word-based (I don’t know much about pictures and so on), but still it is interesting and a little bit new. And that’s going very well. Thanks for asking.
The second thing is what I told you about yesterday. This play which I was going to write through the process of standup. And what a pickle I got myself into. Didn’t I?
There is a lot of reasons for the emergence of that pickle.
The simplest reason is, that as elsewhere has commented (even as I have been writing this post), competitions can be something of a distraction. They distract you from the path you were on, and you begin to reshape your work in unnatural ways. Now please, do not read this as me saying that government funding and competitions and that type of thing mean that people write what they think they need to write to get the funding or win the competition. It happens, I’m sure. I’ve heard people say that’s what they did. But I’m equally sure that what generally, more often happens is, as elswhere has succinctly said, you decide what needs to be done, then do it. And, because it comes from your heart or your soul or wherever it is your creative pieces come, then you have a better chance of winning the funding or the competition which happens to be around at around about the right time (which is rarely going to be in the early stages of your first draft). If you are at the right stage of your project at the time of a deadline, or if you have anticipated the deadline with more than two months to go, it (the deadline) can give you particular focus and, importantly, a sense of achievement. A most elusive, but powerful, thing. Not that I’ve ever won a competition, or been involved in their administration, so you shouldn’t really be taking my word for it.
There are more substantial and complex reasons though, for the pickle in which I found myself. Because after several years of being singlemindedly focussed on a singular goal, over the last year, my focus has broadened. And perhaps, slightly changed. You see, this standup comedy thing wasn’t in my plan. Not that I had an articulated plan as such, with three month, six month, one year, five year goals. But I did have a vision of who I would be, should everything go my way. I would be a writer, and very particularly, a novelist. And in the year or so before I had my first child, I had a few good nibbles, and a bit of an idea that I could maybe make it happen. Maybe. Enough to make me think I should give it a try.
Now, while having children obviously inhibits writing in very many ways (let’s not even pretend that we can count them), there was an unexpected bonus (and no, not that monetary vote-buying one which I never got and anyway my vote isn’t for sale). It has given me time to hide myself away a bit and have a little stab at writing things – novels – without having to talk too much about it with anyone (except, obviously, the internet).
That’s one of the reasons I’ve been happy to have things – professional career-type things – on hold while I had young children. So I could spend time with them and chip away at writing a novel. When I say happy, of course, I mean happy interspersed with intense, and often long, periods of frustration and boredom and worry about the gurgling sound of my career and so on thrown in. But I’ve been more or less happy, because I thought I was gathering all of my momentum and ideas and then, as both my children went off to school all the groundwork would be done and I would hit the ground running. And get my novel done, so that before anyone noticed I wasn’t really doing anything, I could give them an invitation to my book launch and they would say oh and I wouldn’t have to explain myself anymore.
Of course, it was never going to be that easy. Not really. But it was a plan. A solid, focussed plan.
But then I started performing comedy and having fun while I was doing it. My plan is now much less clear than it was and I have more decisions to make than I thought I would.
Writing a novel – especially your first one, with no idea whether or not it is good or will see the light of day – is a lonely experience and to a large extent it is feedback-free. Word after word after careful word all without an audience. Except the mister who, let’s face it, is biased. So in a way, standup has come as something of a relief. Of course, it takes a loooong time to write a joke, but, once written, the feedback is immediate – for better or for worse. And I can’t tell you how good it is to make people laugh (conversely, I can’t tell you how awful it is making people sit there with their arms folded waiting for a laugh).
And that is why I started trying to do too many things. To make small pieces of writing be too many things. Because all of a sudden, I want to do two things, instead of one. And that is why I need to re-focus myself, and why I have defined two projects. The novel – as described above – andthis standup story (working title After Hours Shoot about a librarian who is dead, but nobody has noticed). If, in the process of writing that, I end up with something suitable to enter in this competition, then I shall submit it. Otherwise, I shan’t.
Once I let myself make that decision – on the way into school this morning – then I had two quite productive hours this morning. And then, it was back on the preschool/school pickups again, and making lunch, and playing soccer, and admiring plasticine sculptures and so on and so forth.
Of course, written like this, in a few neat, if rambly, paragraphs, it all seems more straightforward than it really is. Because none of this is likely to make me a living. Or help me reduce my (current) financial dependence on the mister (and, yes, I know, we all make different contributions to relationships and so on and so forth, but committing to financial dependence was not something I was ever expecting to do).What of my career? I mean, I thought I was going to spend my life working for development agencies, and I like being on boards. But I can’t look after young children, and work at a job, and think about strategic directions, and write another manuscript – some people can do all those things, but I can’t. I thought I could, but I can’t. Not with everything else that comes with being part of a family and having friends, and so on. And so forth.
All of this is a rather long-winded way of saying: that idea I had, to try and have it all, to save time and so on…that’s not a bad idea. It’s possible. It might work. But it’s not a practical plan.