Monday, March 03, 2008

Shooting crows

My latest book is on the shelves in the bookshops, I have reprints of other books coming out later this year, another new one out in November. These new one are my 52nd and 53rd books. I know what I'm doing. Dammit, I've even writing two How To Write handbooks telling other people how to do this. And of course, as everyone tells me, once you're accepted it's all so simple and straightforward from then on.

And yes, when I look at the books on the shelves they all look so straightforward. You open them, the story starts - it goes through from A to Z - and the story works, the characters come alive, the conflict is there, the resolution, the happy ending . . . Simple, straighforward storytelling. I've done this before and I can do it again - I hope.

Because, as any writer will tell you, sometimes The Crows of Doubt descend and you wonder if your last book was really your last of if the Great Pretender Syndrome has finally shown itself and people are going to say 'Hey - you can't write at all! Why did we ever think you could?' Sometimes you think you know the characters, you know the story, but life is interfering or something is missing and you find that writing just s-l-o-w-s down and all that lovely inspiration, the stuff that fires you up and gets you going has got lost in the fog somewhere and suddenly the Crows are pecking at you hard, like bullies at school, going 'See - told you - you're not a writer . . . '

I have a wonderful book on my shelves. It's called Snoopy's Guide to The Writing Life and it's full of great cartoons featuring Snoopy 'Dogstoievski' the writer. One of my favourites has a picture of Snoopy sitting on top of his dog kennel, ready to start to write, fingers (paws) poised over the typewriter. The next picture is him still sitting there -

Sometimes, he says, when you are a great writer, the words come so fast you can hardly put them down on paper . . .'

Next picture, Snoopy is still poised, still waiting for inspiration . . .

Next - Snoopy looking totally despondent (or crow-pecked) . . .'Sometimes . . . '

Writing's like that. I'm not the only one who has to contend with the Crows. Julie Cohen wrote about the same problem on her blog this week, Trish Wylie has let us in on her struggles with a book from hell - or two - and many of my friends feel this way often - maybe even with every book. Not for nothing is writng a book often compared to giving birth - in the same way, you forget the hell you went through when you see the result.

And what do you do to handle it? Well, apart from bursting into tears, tearing your hair, declaring 'I'm finished, I'll never write again!' - here are some things I try - going away and leaving your desk totally for a while, walking and thinking work well together. Watching a good film - or even a not so good film - or having a soap-fest - seeing stories taking place in front of you - filling up the imagination banks.

Brainstorming - on paper or aloud - I sometimes sit the Babe Magnet down with a mug of coffee or a glass of wine depending on the time of day and the place and start telling him the story - planning on getting to asking him a quesion - but sometimes I don't get to that question because I've talked myself back into the story and I know the answer. But sometimes I have been known to sit in a cafe and say 'So - you married this girl a year ago and she ran out on you and now you discover that she's going to marry someone else . . . .' And then I realise that at several tables nearby, faces are turned my way, ears almost visibly cocked to hear what I'm going to say next. And they think what I'm talking about is real.

And one of the things that helps is reading my own work. I picked up Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife in paperback - because the hardback library editions dont seem like real romance books - the romance I read are the M&B paperbacks and so that's how I feel at ease with them. And reading through those pages I reminded myself that I was a writer, I remembered how I dealt with situtaions in that book, with those characters - and while I enjoyed the way the story flowed I also remembered how it didn't just flow in the writing - how I struggled with this bit here and I didn't know what was going to happen next there - and there's the bit where I swore I hated this book and it was never going to come right . . . Because most books have these sticky points. The ones that don't - the ones that flow from start to finish, are a dream to write and never cause any struggle are, as the saying goes, rare as hen's teeth.
All that blood sweat and tears don't show in the book. But it does remind me that I've been here before - and I'll probably be here again. And no, after 50+ books it doesn't get any easier. Because each book is different - or it should be. And that's the other thing about the Crows - one tiny bit of me welcomes them because they mean that I still care about what I'm writing. I'm not just going for the easy option - of which there are several. I'm not just going to manoeuvre my characters into actions that I want them to make because if they're sticking at this point it means that those aren't the actions that are right for them. I know that if they're sticking here it's because there's something I haven't quite got to the heart of. And I need to go back and take a look at these two more closely and find out what it is.

And after some time of cursing and swearing and tearing my hair, I think I might see light at the end of the tunnel.

So as the Magnet and I have to go into town to do some bits and pieces of jobs, I'm going to take him into our favourite coffee shop, buy him a large cappucino and say . . .'So if you wanted this girl but she . . . ' And with any luck I'll find I'll be able to answer my own question.


Julie Cohen said...

I think that's a good idea, to look at a finished book and remember the struggles it required.

And of course the support from friends who understand is one of the best cures for crows that there is. Thanks, love.

Would love to be a fly on the wall at one of those conversations with the BM!

Kate Hardy said...

Echoing Julie.

And just to remind you that friends who might have a lot on their plate will still always have time for their friends and won't mind giving time to you. (That's what friends are for!) :o)



Anne McAllister said...

I do like it that you have a tag called "crows of doubt" though frankly I hope we will see very little of it. And of course you know I've been there, done that countless times, too. Have a lovely conversation with The Magnet and may he have the answer to your crows -- or be the catalyst to your figuring out what you need to figure out. It will come -- it's just finding that one loose brick in the wall to get through to the other side. And, of course, when you find it, wiggling it free and then knocking out all the other bricks round it so you can step through.

Have we seen a pic of Santos? Maybe we need a pic of him. I, for one, don't remember what he looks like. Hmmmmm?

Sue said...

Kate, ty, ty, thank you! I read your blog (albeit a day behind, daily via Feedblitz (while drinking my first cuppa and before beginning on the day's writing target).

As is the norm, you have truly inspired me, as well as giving me a little chuckle when I picture you and the BM plotting in a cafe (oh, to be a fly on the wall, LOL).

Thanks for starting my day on a positive note.

Sue xx

Sandra Schwab said...

*gives Kate a blunderbuss to scare the crows away* Bah, eeeeevil birds! On the one hand, it's a relief to know that even experienced, successful authors are assailed by such doubts from time to time. On the other hand, it's somewhat scary because apparently the writing never gets easier. *sigh* I've found that it really helps to call my romance-loving friend in Berlin and whine (especially after I've handed in a manuscript):

Me: "My book is soooo-hooo bad that my agent and my editor will both drop dead when they read it!"

She: "I'm sure they won't."

Me: "They WILL! The book's so bad! They won't want to publish it, you'll see!"

She: "Of course, they'll want to publish it."

Me (getting more hysterical): "No, they won't! Because it's horrid!"

She: "You said exactly the same thing about the last book, too."


Me: "Uhm ... did I?"


Big hugs, and I'm sure that your next novel will be just as wonderful as all the novels you've written before.



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