Big Smashy Things

To cut a long story short, while I've had a great couple of months edging my novel forward after a successful and revealing round of beta-reading in Dec, other areas of life have intervened, and suddenly - a change of plan - I'm back for another round of vfx madness with my buddies at DNeg.

A sideward step for the novel perhaps, but not a backward one - the past couple of months I have also been quite busy setting up the additional business arms I have been hinting at over the last several months, now fully up and running (despite not having officially launched), paying clients and all. Even with a return to VFX, the virtual businesses are a solid step toward future-proofing my writing career; whenever the time comes to step away from the film stuff even further, there'll be something to keep food on the table besides the gamble of hoping a successful book might do that - from here on in I can focus on improving at the craft without necessarily needing treat writing like 'a job', something I always hated as a musician.

2014 is shaping up to be an interesting year. I've set up a company, had a pile of people read and critique my book, about to move into a (bought and paid for) new flat in East London, and somehow already squeezed in a movie or two... January has most certainly not been an unproductive month. (Side note: I could always do a little better on that 'blog more' New Year's Resolution...).

For now, I'll leave you with a little taste of the movie I've started working on this week :


Page Break

It's been a busy November. After several very solid crunch-time weeks getting my upcoming novel The Brave ready for a team of readers to break, it's out there, being picked through, chuckled at, and critiqued even as I type this.

No matter how much I prepared myself for the day it would finally leave my laptop, it was still an unexpected and difficult moment - sitting there, finger poised above the send button on a bunch of emails, waiting to send the baby off on its first day of school. The feedback has already started trickling in - largely a good list of constructive picking-apart which I'm largely taking aboard in order to make The Brave a better book (and without too much work) - valid points, all. I expected there'd be fights and tears, but those haven't come. (Still... early days - nobody has finished yet...)

For now I'm trying to forget about the book, the disastrous number of typos I'm only just starting to notice, and focus on the next phase - agents, my pitch, and how to get it out there. There's still going to be some work to do once the team have delivered their numerous verdicts, but it's been nice getting out of the word-space this week and back into the cold, boring reality of finding the right home for the toddler once it hits its teenage years. Mind-numbing stuff. Staring at a billion literary agents' websites, poring over the likes and dislikes of the numerous strangers' biographies (all those heads I need to get right inside), staring at their mugshots, trying to see if I 'feel the vibe'. It's fun in its own way, but difficult - I know how busy these people are, and I don't want to waste their time with a book or a relationship that's not going to work out. I've got a strategy at least. I don't know if it's a good one, but like any great casino gambler will tell you, coming up with a thoughtful game-plan before putting in the hours is the only way to get results.

For now it's a great distraction. The coming weeks are likely to get icky as I keep polishing, incorporating reader feedback, and trying to stay positive about the steep curve of rejection I'm about to start stumbling up, but even with all of that I'm still loving the hell out of this process. The crazy long weeks I've been putting in lately meant that suddenly I'd absorbed the entire book into my head, and can picture it as a whole beast rather than the individual sections I'd been working on in the past - a funny zen absorbency situation, just like Neo and his kung-fu. I kinda know the deal with it now - how the book really is, as opposed to how it was as a plan, and what the aftertaste is once you put it down. There are plenty of things about it that I'm not in love with, but it feels like something at least, warts and all. While there were a few moments I cringed at the craptacular, but there were plenty of others where I laughed out loud or felt genuinely stirred. I'm happy. I've learned a lot, and already have plenty of thoughts as to what I'll do better writing the next book. Yes, there's still a pile of that self-doubt rolling around as always, where I'm still asking "Is this good enough?", hoping trained eyes will see enough promise to throw their talents into the manuscript and make it a book. But for my part, I'm happy. It's not finished, but writing a book is something I've done now - the rest from here is a new and different process, one laden with a whole new set of mysteries. 

Anyway, can't sit here blabbing on all day. This phase might be nearly done, but the toughest hurdles are yet to come...

Wish me luck.


Words, words, words.

I finished reading The Brave last night. After taking a few weeks off after finishing the draft - just to clear the air - the read-through took a lot longer than expected, in part due to how much more closely I was paying attention to it than a regular novel-smash. Also, I took a lot of notes.

The verdict? 

It's a book. Definitely a book. Particularly from about half way to the end it felt like something, albeit a messy kind of something. Having said that, the first few chapters are a different beast; five chapters in, I was actually starting to feel something close to despair. I finally understood what they mean when folks describe their early drafts as utter rubbish. Salvageable, yes, but still rubbish. If it weren't for the fact I seemed to find my stride at a particular moment in the book, then hold the same level fairly consistently through to the end, I'd be heavily entering the murky realms of self-doubt.

Once I did get to the end, I was pleased. Proud even, if one is allowed to be at such an early juncture. It's definitely a "first book", in that it's not that complicated, not that heavily layered, and the subject matter is fairly straight-forward, but at the same time I did find myself entertained, chuckling at some of the characters, and feeling for (at least some) of the characters. It's hard to read something you've been so immersed in for so long, but if anything, the fact that it had taken me so long to write afforded me a certain distance from particularly the earlier half of the book, and I did find myself coming into certain scenes quite cold, unable to recall exactly how I'd written through. There were no surprises (beyond a couple of classic typo's... I actually used my own name in dialog at one point by mistake, twice on the one page.... who knows what that was all about.... The annotation (for correction) I left in the margin was simply : "LOL"...) but I did feel I was reading certain lines or paragraphs quite fresh.

Hopefully, for the last time. Now shit gets real. The next time I sit down for a scheduled writing session, it's game on. I know what I need to do to pull the early structure back into line. I'm absolutely GAGGING to get finished with the structural reshuffling and start looking at each and every paragraph, sentence and word, and working on my economics. I'm really, really looking forward to ditching - entirely - the chapter now formerly known as Chapter Three, razed ruthlessly and dissolving back into the ether from whence it came by the time I do the next full read.  

Exciting times, though who can tell? The whole process so far has proven that yes, I enjoy the hell out of writing, but that life does indeed get in the way when you're still trying to hold down a day job. I wonder if I'll get there? To that place where I'm actually smashing out words all day long, instead of smashing out slap-comps for the shooty-bang-bang car-chase action movie? (Side note : not that I'm not enjoying vfx at the moment. It's strange - I've had a complete revival of enthusiasm for the job since getting to London. The change was as good as a holiday, and while I still do plan on moving on eventually, I'm not hating my days at all right now.)

I shouldn't get hung up on the time it takes though. Nobody else is. I'm getting a few "shit... how long have you been working on that now" comments of late, but internally I'm pretty aware of how long this stuff takes now, especially when you're only getting to it for a few hours a few times a week.

I'll get there. It's still a steaming great mess, there'll be hair-pulling, grunts, speaking in tongues and moments of madness, but I will get there.


Smashed

219,276 words in, and suddenly I'm all finished. The big draft, at least. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a private tear of two from my lurking-place in the back corner of the café as I tapped that last word and hit "Save", either. Whatever that feeling was that washed over me, it was intense, and I liked it. Today was a good day.

There's a shitload to do now - in a lot of ways, the real work has just begun - but tonight, I rest. Messy, but beast now has a start, middle and end, and a distinct voice, shape and flavour. The rest, from here, is just in the details, the perfectionist's urge, and blind luck.

The writing part has been so awesome, particularly these past couple of weeks, where it's been my full-time pursuit. The momentum, rounding the final curve, has been incredible. My first day in the library I cracked about 3000 words, the total gradually rising, until today, running on very little (too excited to) sleep, I crashed through 6000 words to finish out the final chapter and the shorter epilogue. I knew how exactly how it was going to end - the plan drawn up 18 months ago still largely holding true; all I needed to do was stick to it, keep my ass of Facebook, and type.

In the greater scheme of things, patting myself on the back today seems a little bit premature; just a draft. But it's a first, and anything first deserves it's moment.

So much work to do now, still. Two chapters I'm determined to turn into one. Minor characters whose stories I forgot to lay the groundwork for in earlier chapters. Important historic strands which only sprung into life once I'd hit chapter eight, now very much needing referencing somewhere in chapters one through seven. Hacky, shitty writing in the earlier chapters which progressively found it's form as time went on and the narrator found his true voice. A tonne of repetitive words, phrases, errors. Probably around five-hundred too many instances of the word "fuck". Some of the smaller characters need to be smaller. Some of the larger characters need a bit more three-dimensionality. Apostrophes...

...And these are the ones I can remember, not having read the thing back yet. A mess, to be sure, but it's my mess, and one which I'm chomping at the bit and rearing to get in and improve upon.

Hope I've got a great novel for y'all to read pretty soon. I've got a novel now, at least.

I'm tired. School's out. Time for bed.


One Million Keystrokes

Photo: stevecadman
Photo: stevecadman

I've been camped out in the British Library all week, typing like a mad bastard in a dark corner of the café. There are a lot of us there, us mad-bastard typists. I'm most probably not the only person tapping away at a novel either, though from a quick glance around at the MacBooks and the old-school yellowed paper notebooks, it appears that the aspiring novelists still only make up a small portion of the rows.

What's hitting me, now so close to the end of this draft, isn't the usual arsenal of self-doubt. It's not like sitting amongst the shadows of the greats has fixed my punctuation issues or repetition, or that nursing the same £1.90 cup of coffee all day has bought me the literary degree I keep hearing I need to ever be considered anybody. None of that stuff is lurking around at the moment, swept into the darkest corners by the momentum and the pace which I'm now smashing through this beast.

The thing is, I'm having too much fun right now to worry whether it's good or not. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Part of me doesn't give a fuck, cause part of me is all about the "Hell yeah! I've (sorta) written a book", which hey, regardless of whatever comes next, is a lot bigger a deal than a million others' dreams or talked-up talk.

I'm not there yet. Not quite. I hit 200,000 words today, so I certainly hope the finish line is as close now as it tastes, based on how far through the mega-spreadsheet I am. I couldn't help myself, right on the ding, to take a few and check the stats. It was astounding to see that I swept past the million-character mark a while back, which ok, doesn't really mean all that much. But think about it: a million of anything, even a thing as inane as fingers tapping on a keyboard, certainly feels like either something, or madness. 

It's a strange feeling, galloping down the final straight after so long plodding along with the manuscript, stealing a few hours of a normal week, as opposed to the 20 or so I've spent writing during this one. I shouldn't say "final" either, really, because this will most certainly not be the end of work on the book. Quite the contrary, but because it is the first time through the novel thing - and not the last - the milestones feel like they're worth celebrating.

Not long now. Eyes on the prize.


Writing Yourself In Too Deep

"Write what you know", they said. "Look to your own life for inspiration", they said. So I did, only to discover there was indeed a story lurking in there. But now, plodding along somewhere in my last chapter (not including the epilogue) I've been getting a distinct feeling that perhaps - oh shit - I've written far too much of me into the novel.

First-person was always going to be tough not to completely separate, but when the main character is living through a similar major arc to a chapter from my own life - a major chapter dotted with incidents and incitements whose kernels are pulled from my own memories and the collected fireside tales of my colleagues at the time - then complete isolation got tricky. Next time (and there is most certainly going to be a next time, premise and rough plan already being held back while I finish the current opus) I'm going to stay far, far away from anything even vaguely connected with my personal life or personal history. 

Why? Well, not because I'm in too deep. It's not like there's been an Adaptation moment where I've realised I've written myself all the way in. No, our hero still isn't me exactly. But sometimes he thinks and speaks like me; therein lies the problem. Call me paranoid, but should this beast eventually make it out there and published, there's enough of my calling-cards in the current draft that people who know me are more than likely going to assume it's all me. Or worse: know it's not, but in later years, only ever remember the fictional account of the few scenes which I did lift from real life. Or even worse: I forget how things really were, and only remember the semi-fictional account I put to page. (To be clear: lifted the setup and the scenario, but I've mostly let the characters play things out organically within those scenarios, without too much forcing of square pins into round holes). Then there's the exes, the one-night stands and the crazy germans who I guarantee will read more than their fair share into some of the fictitious-but-littered-with-hints-of-memory events in the book, and very easily become enraged to nostril-flaring, forum-burning proportions.

All sounds a bit presumptuous, self-centered and delusional, but that is precisely my issue: perhaps in a completely fictional universe, I wouldn't have any of these insecurities bumping around, because hey, who cares? It's my book, my story. If they don't like it? Fine. No problem. I guess it wasn't the book for them. But once that fourth wall has been broken, even just a bit, suddenly I feel more responsibility over how it's all going to be received. Bad enough that this is my first novel, likely to be torn to shreds time and time as it is, purely for being the first, with all the rookie mistakes.

Which is fine too. I've learned a lot, and I can't wait to get cracking on the next project to put all the new lessons into practice. I don't entirely regret the inspired by actual events path that was taken, but I don't think I'll do it this way again. All the normal writer's insecurity stuff aside, I'm mostly just sick of spending so much time in my 2003-4 headspace. A fantastic, thrilling, reckless and memorable time for me, possibly the most. But in other ways, the most lonely and self-punishing. And I think what's bugged me the most during this process: if bits of me weren't flooding so many of the scenes and situations I think I'd be much more able to switch off and walk away from the character when I'm not typing at my desk. Instead, I'm going to sealed-off places every night, writing them like it's still fresh and raw; dredging up real shit for the sake of dredging up real shit kinda sucks.

But hey: if it makes for a better book, then whatever. I shouldn't complain; I should just keep typing, then vent about the murky stuff afterward on a blog. "Write what you know", they said. So I did, only to discover there was indeed a story lurking in there.