…the tough get going, according to the famous song. If Billy Ocean was right about this (and who am I to question him?) then evidently I am not particularly tough. When times are hard, and the going is not so much tough as completely stagnant, I just get worried.
I’m talking about writing in particular, of course, though the above holds true for most aspects of my life. I am a worrier by nature. Things are never good enough or quick enough. I’m apt to get stressed by this even in those pursuits that don’t mean a great deal to me, like sweeping up leaves or cleaning the oven. In the case of writing, which means a lot, the stress is multiplied a hundredfold.
I’m going through a rough patch. The words are coming out slowly, if they come at all, and when I read them back they seem like something penned by a twelve-year-old, and a dim-witted twelve-year-old at that. The novel that I once thought almost ready suddenly seems in need of vast amounts of editing and revision. Entire chapters need to be rewritten, entire plot points reconsidered. It’s such a cheerless process that I’ve even found myself being distracted by little tasks like defrosting the freezer. When defrosting the freezer suddenly seems preferable to the glorious process of creating, populating, and refining an entire world, you know you’re in trouble.
Part of me thinks I should just go with the flow. You can’t hurry love (I seem to have old pop songs on the brain today), and you can’t hurry writing either, at least not without compromising the quality of the end product. There is a lot of pressure on indies to churn out one or two books a year, but I doubt that I personally would be capable of that. I’m a firm believer that quality takes precedence over quantity, and that real success cannot be judged by speed. Better to spend another year getting it just right than to put it out there next month and worry about whether it’s good enough. If you’re expecting people to part with their hard-earned cash in return for your book, you have to make sure it’s your best effort.
Phillip Pullman once said something interesting re writer’s block. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, he pointed out; why should writers, uniquely, have an excuse for doing nothing during those troubled times when it isn’t easy? There are bad days in every job, but in just about every other job you have to carry on regardless. And perhaps that is the key – just carrying on, doing your best, and hoping that sooner or later that missing piece of the puzzle will slot into place.
In the meantime, having two WIPs on the go seems to be paying dividends, despite my initial reservations (they do say you can’t serve two masters). When one work grinds to a halt, I often find that just forgetting about it for a couple of days and working on the other helps. Coming back to the first WIP after a short break, with fresher eyes and a clearer head, seems to make things easier. In the same way that you often find things when you’re not consciously aware of looking for them, so too a period of not deliberately working on a problem can allow a possible solution to take shape in your mind.
One thing I’m absolutely sure of is that none of my books will ever make their way into the wider world until I’m satisfied that they are as good as I can make them. On that point, I’m not so much tough as downright unyielding. That magic moment when you can look at a work and say ‘That represents my best effort’ is worth waiting for.
Besides, When the Going Gets Tough is now on constant replay in my mind, accompanied by memories of watching Romancing the Stone as a kid and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. If I remember, the character played by Kathleen Turner in that film was a writer who, shortly after tapping out the last word of her novel on her old manual typewriter, found herself being whisked off to deepest Colombia, where she teamed up with Michael Douglas, rode mudslides, got involved in high-speed car chases and shoot-outs, and eventually (of course) found luurve. Well, that’s one way of getting inspiration, I suppose. I’m half-tempted to call the nearest airport and ask if they have any reasonably-priced tickets to Colombia…
Do you have any tips for dealing with the tough times? Leave a comment.