|Image description: God Bomb (with the O as a grenade)|
By Kit Power
by Kit Powers
So I was going to write about procrastination, but I got distracted, and when I came back, I wasn’t sure if that was the right line to take or not.
Then I figured maybe I’d pivot instead to writing advice, and specifically about how writing advice is bad because you should totally find your own way of working and don’t let ‘experts’ or TEH MAN tell you how to write, man. And then I remembered this is a guest post for a blog that contains a lot of actually very good writing advice, and that as someone with exactly one novel out, whose primary source of income in not, in point of fact, writing, and further as someone who is only a writer at all because of a book of writing advice (King’s ‘On Writing’, which our host has written about rather brilliantly), that was clearly a terrible idea on just about every level. I mean sure, you could make it an elaborate joke about why writing advice is actually good, but that’d just be cheap mirror of an article that, again, our host has already done better. Full disclosure - ‘this is a terrible idea on every level’ hasn’t always stopped me attempting to write something. But a burning desire not to fall flat on my face and bust my nose open and bleed pathetically all over what is effectively my Writing On Writing audition guest post meant that taking such an approach felt, well, a little self-sabotaging.
Even for me.
So that led to an interrogation - why had I thought that was a good idea, even fleetingly? What about the notion of saying ‘writing advice is bad’ on a blog full of good writing advice seemed funny/clever/appropriate?
Hang on. Back Up. ‘Self sabotaging’?
I don’t know what the hell I’m doing (chorus of ‘no kidding!’). I mean, of course nobody does - it’s turtles all the way down. But I really don’t. As of this moment, I have six non-fiction pieces, either book reviews or blog articles, that I should be writing, two author interviews in progress, two left wing/progressive Doctor Who podcasts guest appearances I need to prep for (!), along with the small matter of producing a third draft of the framing device text for my short story/essay collection before my editor dies of boredom, and, oh yeah, getting back to the 17K start I’ve made on my second novel. So of course, the logical thing to do would be to talk my way into writing a guest post for a writer whose blogging and political writing I have a massive amount of respect for, and then put myself under an insane deadline to get something produced.
So, okay, self sabotage.
This is where the juice is, for me. I write a monthly column for UK horror review site The Gingernuts Of Horror. It’s called ‘My Life In Horror’, and every month I write about some seminal childhood novel, film, album or event that had a permanent effect on me, and that I consider horror.
And I write it fast. As fast as I can. I slam on the headphones, crank up some guitars loud enough to drown out the world, and I pound the letters. Most months, it’s the best time I have at a keyboard. Most months, it’s also the best writing I do.
Not belabour the point here, but by far the most popular one I’ve so far written - a love letter to watching the movie Gremlins at aged 11 or so - was written in 90 minutes. The site was interviewing Joe Dante, and I’d offered to do the piece, then completely forgotten about it. The interview was going up that day. I was at the work that actually pays the rent. So on my lunch break, I cracked knuckles and went to work. One hour to write, 30 minutes to polish, subbed, posted, and a couple of weeks later, thanks to the official Gremlins FB page, boom, viral.
This is where it gets dangerous. Leaving aside my staggering lack of any kind of qualification to be talking advice in the first place, what can we usefully learn from all this? I mean, set near-impossible deadlines? Write so fast you don’t have time to think? Write from a place of passion and love or burning rage? Write like your fingers and mind are on fire?
Hmm. Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad.
On the other hand…
On the other hand, there’s that Difficult Second Novel, mouldering on my hard drive while I write guest posts laying bare my own insecurities and inadequacies and banging on about being all ‘on fire’ and that. Glaring at me accusingly. And it is difficult. It’s hard. Normal nights, with a passing wind, I can hit 1k an hour. This story, I’m dragging out 500 in the same length of time, and it’s painful.
Maybe that’s a sign that it’s bad. It’s a theory. So, okay, send the manuscript so far out to a kind but critical friend. Explain the quandary. Ask for a no BS assessment - is this worth my time? This is someone who has turned down stories from me in his professional editor capacity, by the way. So I know my ass will remain blown-smoke free, and I know he’s capable of saying ‘ditch it’.
And he loves it. He tells me I HAVE to finish it. He offers to help.
So now we’re back to King, right? King on Carrie, to be precise. Giving up because it’s hard is bad. Sometimes you’ve got to plough on, even if you just feel like you’re shoveling shit from a sitting position.
Ah, but the fire calls out, doesn’t it? Instant gratification. Bang out a review, a blog post, that retrospective on the classic album you love so much. Share it. Instant hit, instant feedback, instant love. The words just flow. It’s easy. The book is hard.
But the reviews won’t pay the rent (so far, nor do the books, but they could, maybe, someday). They’re not worthless - far from it. They really do matter, that’s the hell of it. They force you to think critically about WHY a book works, or why it doesn’t. I’ve learned so much from mediocre and bad writing about how not to do it.
As for the blog posts… well, it’s all word count, right? All part of that first million words. And, you know, that’s not total BS either. Writing is writing. My Life In Horror will collect nicely into a volume or two at some point, a fun little non-fiction collection. Just like that old joke about each pack of cigarettes being an alternate pension contribution, each column is a 2,000 word down payment on what will essentially be a free book.
On the other hand…
On the other hand, well, you probably guessed it, but blog posts aren't novels. More broadly, non-fiction writing isn’t fiction writing. It’s as different as journalism is to, say, textbook authoring. By which I mean, to be explicit, they utilise completely different skills. This blog post, fun as it is, isn’t teaching me a damn thing about characterisation, plotting, POV, third person close… you know. Novel stuff. It’s a different skill. A different style. Does playing bluegrass teach you how to play metal? Not really.
It’s a different million words, in other words.
Also, there’s no such thing as a free book. Remember that short story/essay collection? That’s a free book too, right? Nope. Not when you decide to write a 20k metafictional framing device to tie all the stories (and essays) into a shared fictional universe, it isn’t. And, no, I won’t do that with MLiH, but if you think I’d be able to turn down the opportunity to edit every single blog post before publication, for a spit and polish and now-I’ve-thought-about-it-one-more-thing… Ah hell, I don’t need to finish that sentence, do I? You’re my people. You know.
So, we circle back to the opening question - self sabotage or professional development? Procrastination or procreative effort?
I genuinely don’t know. All I know for sure is that writing is the most fun I can have with my clothes on, and I never ever want to not be doing it. And while the odds of ever doing it full time are slim, I think - I think - novels are probably a better long term bet in terms of potential for payoff.
I think I need to get smarter at how I manage my time, and what I say yes to. I think I need to get more hard nosed at setting deadlines for what I think of as my work, as opposed to the work I’m doing for others.
Or maybe I just need to find a way to add more hours to the day. Did they find a cure for sleep yet?
PS - Anyone else feeling this? Struggled or struggling still with these kind of competing demands? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s strategise. :)
PPS - I just realised that I wrote a guest blog post saying ‘write less guest blog posts’. This advice should never be applied to Chris or Writing About Writing, because both are made of awesome. Apologies for any confusion. :)
Kit Power lives and writes in Milton Keynes, England, and insists he’s fine with that. His published fiction (including his debut novel GodBomb!) is all available worldwide via his Amazon author page, in both print and e-book formats. For more of his non-fiction, see his monthly blog ‘My Life In Horror’. He is currently spectacularly failing to make progress on both his second novel and short story collection, though he is rapidly running out of displacement activity. So fingers crossed.
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