Writing is a complicated thing. For the record, I don’t mean to imply any, deep, pretentious artistic connotations about my stuff, but it is a weirdly layered practice. I write because I love it, but it is not as simple as just sitting down, making up a story, and typing it out. Sometimes you have ideas that seem great until you have to write them, and then they just don’t work. Sometimes you can’t make a story what you want it to be until you realise you’ve been approaching it the wrong way all along. Sometimes, some beautiful, rare times, it just flows so naturally and it’s like a dream.
And then there’s Phoenix.
This story has been the biggest challenge of my writing life. Every time I think I have a handle on it, I’m wrong. Sometimes it goes smoothly until I realise that I’m staring down the barrel of an enormous plot hole. That happened just this morning, after spending hours changing around the whole structure of the story to make it flow better. I felt like I’d done a good job, set down to write some more and then realised that a major plot point essential to the conclusion of the novel makes no goddamn sense. And I’m furious because, for the life of me, I can’t see a way to make it work.
This is not the first time this has happened. Phoenix is like a problem child; all through it I come up against walls of my own making, dead ends that I have to completely reshuffle the narrative to work around. Part of that’s an issue of plot; the novel has five main characters, all of whom have their own subplots that intertwine with the others. It’s more complex than anything I have ever written, and it’s driving me totally insane.
By contrast, Windmills was pretty simple. The novel was divided into four parts, the first three each from the perspective of a different character. They weren’t really intertwined; they were like their own individual but related mini novels. That structure was easy.
The irony is that, where Windmills doesn’t really subscribe to any genre or target audience, therefore making it a little too odd and left of centre (and unmarketable) to get it a widely promoted release, Phoenix was meant to be a more straightforward, commercial young adult thriller. It was meant to be simpler than Windmills. It has turned out to be anything but.
I’ve merged the plots for the first and second book, which turned out to be a good idea, but now I’m sitting on 60,000 words and it looks as though I’m gonna have to re-write the last ten thousand of those to get around this stupid plot hole that I idiotically didn’t see coming. The way I see it, it can go one of two ways; either this will all be a baptism by fire and the book will turn out excellent, or it will just be a poorly thought out mess that was ultimately a waste of time. And yet, I’ve come way too far to drop it now.
But am I just forcing a story that doesn’t want to be written? Maybe there could be something better for me to focus on. Yet here I still am, biting my nails, drinking coffee after coffee, sitting in my room staring at this unwieldy manuscript which has become exactly what it wasn’t meant to be; a gigantic pain in the arse.
It’s funny how things can build up so quickly. When it boils down to it, writing is not (yet) my career. It doesn’t make me any money and I do it for the love of it. In theory, this SHOULD mean that I can pick and choose when I want to commit to it. But the more I push my stuff out into the world the more linked responsibilities turn up. When it rains, it pours.
The thing is, I’ve had a funny little revelation lately. A few months back, I was living in a terrible, windowless studio apartment with overpriced rent and a funny smell to the place. Sure, I lived by myself, but it was beyond depressing. I found myself perpetually in a bad mood and finding any excuse to get out. It was around this time when, realising I hadn’t written anything in a long time, I decided to knuckle down on an idea I’d had for a while.
Phoenix started life as a terribly amateur YouTube series I made with some friends in Warburton a few years back. I’ve since taken it down from YouTube on grounds of crapness, but I always liked the ideas behind it, that of a gang of teenagers surviving after a nuclear war, and I toyed with turning it into a novel series. So, when the depression of living in a dank hellhole got too much, I dug up the old notes and got to work. I forced myself into a café every single day to write and soon things improved. My mood got better and I found myself smashing out three to four thousand words a day. I was obsessed. When I finished my first draft, I sat back, feeling in need of a well-deserved rest. It was around this time that I moved into my new house, an awesome, spacious place, but I didn’t really write anything new. I had ideas, sure, but I would get to them. Sooner or later I would start work on the second Phoenix book, or at least re-draft the first, but I was too busy.
Then, day by day, I started to get more irritable. Minor things pissed me off; I was on edge about almost everything and didn’t know why. Finally I resolved to go home to Mansfield for the weekend and get away from things. On the train, bored, I started writing The Lost Girl and next thing I had devoted my whole brief holiday to that story. I returned to work in a great mood.
It has become very clear that I’m only truly happy when I’m writing. I’m not really sure why this is; Phoenix is a straight action thriller that wasn’t really tapping into any of the anxieties I was feeling at the time, but I think that was the key; it was an escape. When I write I obsess over what I’m working on, and everything else recedes. This might sound unhealthy, but I love it. I love more than anything thinking about story ideas and getting that itch in my fingers that means I have to write. Sometimes I even get distracted when out with friends thinking about what I can write when I get home. But I’m fine with that.
When I finished The Lost Girl I realised that if I decided to take a break I would lose motivation, not write for weeks and get depressed and cranky again. So I got straight to work on the second Phoenix book, and have so far smashed out almost ten thousand words. I want to devote myself to this book, but two other projects are demanding my attention right now; one is the currently in rehearsal production of Hometown out at the 1812 Theatre, which I’m meant to be writing new material for, the other is the production of Reunion that I’m trying to get together with some friends from work. We had our first read through the other day and I’m working on revising the script, hoping for a performance in July or October. And yet the three different projects all require such a different headspace. Hometown is all about melancholy nostalgia, Reunion is snappy dialogue and immature behaviour and Phoenix is graphic violence, angst and conspiracy theories.
It’s harder than you’d think. I’m having immense trouble committing to any one of them at a time. I want them all to be in progress, but every time I start work on one I think I should be doing another and I end up drinking coffee and watching Community instead. Yes, I can be lazy. But I really need to just get to work on them. And yet, a small part of me is thrilled because you know what? It’s a great problem to have. I’m doing what I love, and I’d rather have more of it to focus on than less.
And yes, writing this blog also counts as procrastination. But I will get to work on the stories the moment it’s done. Maybe.
Just some thoughts.