I think I might have had a bit of an epiphany. Don't worry, It didn't hurt.
Last year, as those few followers who are still here might know, I wrote a novel in a month. Well, I say 'wrote a novel.' In truth, the word 'month' is probably the only accurate part of that sentence. What I actually did was to put some 62,000 words together that roughly followed a half-plot. I did manage to do it all in November, though.
Since then, people have asked me what I intend to do next. When can we read it, they ask? When's it coming out? What the hell do you think you're playing at, Sawyer?
Actually, I get asked that last one a lot. I used to be asked it long before the novel, if I'm being honest.
But despite all this interest, I didn't want to face the draft novel and look at what I'd written. I was uncertain about climbing back on that particular horse. First of all, I was pretty certain it would be ugly. After all, no-one can write a novel in a month that you would actually want to read. Trust me on this. And the second reason was one of scale. Although 62,000 is actually a relatively low word count for a modern novel, it's still a big chunk of writing to re-work. And you've done the fun, creative part already. Where do you start?
Well, my answer to that final question was simply not to start at all. I let the thing fester on my hard drive. (And on a USB stick, my other hard drive, my Dropbox folder - at least I back things up). I looked at it briefly in January this year, shuddered and put it away again.
There were always things to do. Unfortunately, none of those things looked like 'writing a second draft'. Instead, quite a few of those things bore a resemblance to 'pratting around on Twitter'. Trying to come up with witty and amusing 140-character messages - and getting instant feedback - was attractive. When I realised I couldn't do it, watching others succeed was almost as much fun.
But it wasn't writing. Not really. That was beginning to slow down. The short stories, articles, blog posts - they began to dry up. And with every passing week it became easier to carry on doing nothing. I decided not to bother continuing my writing class. And all the time, the 62,000-word elephant in the room loomed large. Which, by all accounts, elephants are wont to do. I couldn't really start anything new. After all, when people asked me what I was doing, I could say I was editing my novel, couldn't I? Even though I plainly wasn't.
A good friend of mine also wrote a novel last November. Since then she's re-written it, self-published the thing, sold some copies and got great feedback. She's now done a sequel and is about to start a separate trilogy. Every time I read an update from her I felt like a neglectful parent.
Then a few things happened. We lost my grandmother not long ago, and the funeral brought together brothers and cousins. These are people who are not easily misdirected, so when they asked me the same questions, they weren't convinced by the whole 'I'm still editing it' line. I think more than one person told me to stop sitting on my thumbs and just publish the bloody thing.
I should add that we weren't having this conversation during the service.
I sat down a few days later and wrote a new short story based on my grandparents - I posted it here last month and people said nice things about it.
I ended up renewing my writing classes for another year. Having the need to submit a new piece every week might help to get the writing muscles going once more.
Last week we went away to a remote Welsh village. There was no broadband - in fact, hardly even a phone signal. So I took a pen. A loose-leaf pad. And the printed draft of a novel I wrote at break-neck speed last November. Look - here's the proof:
Writers using illicit substances is such a cliche, isn't it? In my case, it was a cuppa and Sudafed nasal spray. I'm like a latter-day Hunter S. Thompson, aren't I?
So this is what I did. I read my novel and made notes as I went. I noted how long each 'scene' was, as if it was a screenplay. What worked well, what didn't. I saw what was overdone, what could be cut and what was missing. Which characters needed more work and where the plot holes were (and there were some doozies, let me tell you).
After that work, I actually had a plan and a to-do list. It might not seem wildly, romantically creative, but I'm no longer scared of my draft. I came home yesterday with my notes, several new character studies and a completely new beginning to the first chapter. I'm motivated to get cracking with this book.
The funny thing is, it's not even as if it's some great ground-breaking piece of literary greatness. It's just a silly story. It's not intended to change your life. So perhaps I can just stop stressing, yes? Anyway, hopefully you'll have something else to read soon.
Don't say I didn't warn you.