It’s two and a half months since I left my job. With Christmas between old life and new, and a couple of days blanked (in a nice way) here and there with long weekends, today – Friday 16th March 2012 – is my 51st day spent writing.
Writing, in that time, I’ve worked up old bits from the past – some stuff from over twenty years ago – and returned to coo over scribbles and diagrams babbling in notebook nurseries. I’ve made a decent-ish start on ‘the main project’; the one I left the job for: the historical research and writing ‘in a time’ is fun, and suits my genealogist gene, but it can be hard going, and slow – although some elaborate Edwardian monkey sex helps make up the pace (in the story, that is). And I’ve started this online collection of posts on a variety of subjects, which provides a weekly deadline and helps keeps my thinking and delivery… buoyant.
Back up. ‘A decent-ish start on ‘the main project’’? That was rather buried away in the overview. Fact is, it’s hard to know how to qualify the progress. Quantitatively, there are easy indicators, like words-per-day and gags (of all three kinds) per chapter, but how I’m doing, not how much I’m doing, is a little slippy. (Contextually, it’s worth explaining my M.O. is to work alone on this, naivety my noble sword, at the outset at least; to lay it down first and to learn from the doing so.) Some days, some whole weeks even, it feels really good. Some days, weeks even – ooph!
I’ve been in ooph! for most of this week just gone. Fans of John Shuttleworth – versatile singer-songwriter from Sheffield, South Yorkshire – will recognise the ‘word’; his soft shock of punctuation marking an observed vexation: “a strip of beading is slightly proud – ooph!”; “Ladybower reservoir is low today – ooph!” My ooph!s are directly linked to a vexing problem of motivation; not mine, but that of a character in my story. I know where I want to get to, where I want her and all of the buggers to go: I know how this historical element hands off to its modern-day descendant. But I’ve been snagging on this one motivation thing – a revenge motivation, to be specific.
I tried a dozen techniques from my old world of work. I gorged on Haribo. I used coloured paper. Hell, I used Excel. And then I googled ‘Revenge Motivation’ (possibly the most technical thing I’ve done in connection with a writing process) and came across a blog post from an author, who, on that subject and in pithy praise of The French Connection, cites Gene Hackman’s character’s dogged pursuit of his quarry as being motivated by nothing more complicated, more hyperbolic or limb-flailing than ‘because it’s his job’. I then spent an unscheduled hour with Alex Bledsoe’s blog, thoroughly enjoying the conversational light touch of an other-world-writer’s real-world wisdom – no coincidence his profile pics have him on a porch swing and at a diner counter.
‘In’ Wisconsin I’d found my character’s motivation. More correctly, I’d rid her of the ordinary obligation of lugging around some extraordinary life-long luggage. Sure, what she initiates is to be an appalling business – a Skyped sharing of which with my bezzie, Rob, had him briefly disconnecting – but now with the juicy possibility that she’ll be doing this because she just really didn’t like someone, well, she was suddenly not just more interesting to me, but also more real. She – my character – could be something other than a balanced equation, a by-product, a Tweedle-Dee. Excitingly, the ooph! could be focussed on what she does; not on my explaining why.
For the record, Alex Bledsoe’s blogged provocation isn’t as simplistic as my take-out, it was simply the friendly nudge I needed. Least I can do is use this as motivation to buy one of his books.
Here’s that post, and your gateway to his world.
Some days when B. comes home she passes on well-wishing questions from ex-colleagues. Here’s a little answering slice on the logistics’ front.
I’ve got a great routine going which I established from the off, if discipline’s a measure of greatness. At my desk by 7.15 every weekday morning, and shutting the laptop when B.’s car pulls up in the drive in the evening. Gym three times a week. More coffee than there’s ever been in my life, but nowhere near the milk intake level of the work lattes. Lost half a stone with that gone. (The garden birds, meanwhile, are putting weight on; eating very well now I’m home-based. And you can read all about that here.) I miss the guys and all manner of stuff: but I’m still pinching myself every day.
© Copyright, Steve Mitchell and Fisher Lane, 2012