Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Get Lost

By Jay Stringer

Hey I'm back.

My return would have nothing to do with the fact that my third Eoin Miller novel, Lost City, comes out next week, would it?

Absolutely not.

It does tie in to my reasons for coming back, but only in the same way it tied into my reasons for leaving. I had a very difficult year in 2013, from a writing point of view. I've written a number of times here at DSD about writers block. I've called it a myth, an excuse, a joke. 2013 did it's best to prove me wrong. The year kept laughing in my face and pointing to those blog posts and telling me (in Terrence Stamp's voice, for some reason) that I was going to kneel before the internet and eat my word.

So did I?


Here's what happened;

The Eoin Miller books are a trilogy. I take him on a specific journey, a three act story, and by the end of Lost City I'd done what I set out to do with him. And then I found the single most crippling question that I asked myself in all of last year- "What Next?"

The problem was't that I had no ideas. I had tonnes of ideas. Actual metric tonnes. I could have opened an idea factory, manned by Idea-Umpa-Lumpas, and mined my mind for all it was worth. But that was the very problem. I'd spent three books knowing what I was doing, and why, and when they had to be done by, and who had to see them and in what order. I had a roadmap for my ideas.

Once I typed Miller's final line of dialogue and sent it off to my agent, I didn't have the roadmap anymore. I had seven different books fighting to be the one and no real idea in which one was the right one. People gave me suggestions and prodded me toward this or that project, but nothing really earned my commitment, and I drifted. I'd write 5k of one book, then realise I wasn't feeling it, then right 3k of another, then go and stare at the clouds, then go to the pub.

And I was having problems elsewhere. I wasn't enjoying myself at the day job. I wasn't getting out an exercising. I wasn't watching much TV and I definitely wasn't reading many books.

Here's the thing; 80% of writing is the stuff you do when you're not writing. It's all the time you spend thinking, or arguing, or debating, or reading, or singing. It's everything else that you do, everything that keeps the wheels spinning in your brain. And my wheels weren't spinning. I even had a couple of job offers, writing jobs, that I couldn't in all honesty take simply because I couldn't get my brain to engage with them.

Did I have writers block? No. That was the easy way out. That was giving some mythical name to my ailments in the hope that it would excuse my lack of progress. No, what I had was distraction, and frustration, what I had was bad days at the day job, and not enough reading.

I forced myself to read, that was the first step. I found things that I could pull myself through. Then I had an amazing trip to Seattle to meet up with other authors and talk shop, and to get my butt kicked for the amount of writing I wasn't doing. Then I came home, to my wife and my cats, and to some great books, and I was on.

Between January and August, I didn't produce anything new of note (though I did turn in Lost City, which was written the previous year) and then, in a 14 week burst of energy after August, I wrote a book. A new book. In a new setting with new characters and new voices.

And I sit here now with two blank word documents in front of me, both of which are about to become novels, and I'm not scared one damn bit.

Everyone wants to tell you what writing is. "Writing is rewriting." "Writing is not writing." "Writing is writing." "Writing is a water-based ball game usually played on Mars."

In 2013, as I finished that book, I decided that writing is getting to the end. It's getting it done, and it's getting it done by any means necessary. There are zero problems in the world that you can solve by blaming writers block. There are many, many problems that you can solve by finishing the project that you're working on. Any project. Doesn't matter which, just start it and finish.

It's just writing. Don't overcomplicate things. And trust your brain. Listen to it. It'll tell you when it needs some fuel.

And don't forget to order my book.

"Comic books. The Bible. Road Maps. Pornography. Whatever you wanna read. Go out sit in a field sometime."
-Paul Westerberg. 


David Cranmer said...

Sell a ton, Jay!

Holly West said...

Ugh. I'm at a similar cross roads. Book two is in edits and people keep asking me what now? I've got three manuscripts started. I could lie and say none of them feel right--the problem is that I need to commit to one and finish it. Thanks for the reminder.