Writing is like a salsa; for as many steps forward you make, there are as many back, but every once in a while you get to do a spin or a flourish, and those stay with you. They’re the good bits.So it is with me; I bear good news, with bad news, but my catalogue of narrative pirouettes thankfully continues to grow.
The good news? I’ve reached the final act of my novel, Citadel. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, a lot of forward motion, but with almost as much backtracking. Aside from a manuscript of around 105,000 words, I have documents of cut scenes and entire plot lines that amount to 80,000 words. That is a staggering amount of editing. And it sounds like a colossal waste of time, right? Still: FINAL ACT people. That is good news.
The bad news is I’m finding it difficult to wrap it up. I’ve escalated the peril to such a degree, all seems lost, as it should by the end of Act 4. But closing it out and reaching a neat conclusion is proving a challenge.
The outline is complete, or thereabouts, so it’s not so much figuring out what happens that’s obstructing my route to those two haloed words: The End. Rather, I fear it is the very act of completion that vexes me. When I’m writing it, there’s always potential energy. It crackles with possibilities. When it is finished, that effervescence will disappear, and in its place the cold, arduous task of polishing a turd will remain.
The real obstacle is doubt. I worry that the story I’ve spent a decade cultivating will turn out to be a steaming pile of demon dung.
I’m well aware my writing craft has continuously improved since I started this fool’s errand, and that invites yet new temptations – to start something new, something fresh, using what I’ve learned writing Citadel.
I began writing a short story on my commute a few months back, a few hundred words on the way to the office, another few on the way home. That “short” story – currently titled The Plainface – has now reached 15,000 words and looks strikingly like the beginning of a full-blown novel.
The words come easier than for Citadel, the characters seem in my head more real and rounded, the world more vivid and believable. Much of that is down to Citadel being set in a supernatural realm of the afterlife, and the other is a vision of the future should the Earth’s oceans rise dramatically.
In Plainface, I don’t have to worry about establishing laws of physiology, or biology, or the physical fucking properties of a soul. I don’t have to decide what happens to the souls of babes, or whether plant and animal life have any place in Hell.
In Plainface, physics, biology and chemistry are as we know them. Yes, I have to research different elements, like nautical terms, European topography, marine biology, ocean erosion and free-diving records. But that’s stuff I can research – I don’t have to invent it.
The thing that stops me from jacking in Citadel for the sake of Plainface? Simply, I’m so close to finishing an entire novel, and I don’t want to be that guy that dumps every project when it gets too hard and moves on to something easier, over and over, ad infinitum.
Not this guy. I’m going to finish it, edit the bastard into shape and only then will I move on. For one, I can’t let 10 years go to waste. And if my first novel doesn’t cut the mustard, so be it. There’s no shame in that, not when completing a novel is no small feat in itself. And I won’t be the first writer whose first novel sucked giant donkey balls. (Edit: this is subjective self-doubt, by the way. It may well be a work of unbridled genius… MAYBE…)
Meanwhile, I have every faith the next novel will be better, and the next after that, and the next after that – until my friends and family hold an invtervention to say, “Stop it Tim! You’re just not good enough. Think of your children, Tim. You’ve not spoken to them in 20 years! You have grandchildren now, Tim. They’d rather like to meet their grandfather, you doddery old recluse, you.”
I doubt that will ever happen, though. Either I’ll have written something good by then, or else we’ll all be dead from nuclear holocaust, or dredging the greedy oceans for remants of civilisation. ONE OR THE OTHER.
You can tell I’m optimistic, can’t you?