A touch of hope

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the struggle to keep going. The novel I am working on was feeling unwieldy and misshapen, and I couldn’t get a grip on it. It was only by writing that post that I realised how long that struggle had been going on, and I took drastic action.

The next day, I cut 12,000 words. It was like losing a gangrenous limb. Those three sections had, at one time, seemed necessary. They were long, obviously, and I liked so many things about them. I had worked so hard to make them as good as I thought they could be. But I had had doubts for weeks and the relief when they were finally gone, falling away while the rest of the manuscript drifted slightly higher, was intense and energising.

I began a new plan. I moved other elements around. I streamlined, though that sounds coldly managerial, and all of a sudden I had room for the parts that had been missing. Which means I am once again writing, actually writing, and not just tweaking. Whole new scenes need to be created and, since that is the fun part, I’m in quite a good mood.

It’s easy to write blog posts about things being difficult, so I am going to leave this happy little post here to remind me: there is so much joy in creating something new, and that creation shouldn’t always be shackled to complaints of how hard it is as well.



The politics of prizes

The news came yesterday that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There has been so much written about it already, an endless back and forth about whether songwriting is literature and, if it is, what that means for literature.

I find it hard to get angry about prize-giving. The idea that one person, or book, is simply and objectively better than all the rest seems obviously foolish. The idea that one person, or book, is absolutely undeserving of a prize seems just as foolish.

But this prize has made me sad and it took me a while to figure out why.

Last year’s winner was Svetlana Alexievich. I had never heard of her before, but I read a number of articles following the Nobel announcement and then read one of her books, Voices from Chernobyl. This is a woman whose work investigating, exposing and simply recording the tragedies of Soviet and post-Soviet history in Eastern Europe is intensely political. She had to leave Belarus because of what she was writing. Despite the size of the tragedies she writes about, the stories she tells are those of people whose stories do not generally get told. People get so easily lost within history and she gives them a place. By giving her a prize like the Nobel, it felt like the world gave them a place as well.

This year, I was looking forward to seeing whose stories would be illuminated by the Nobel. What part of the world would they open a door to? It was undoubtedly selfish of me to want the Nobel committee to give me someone whose work, and world, I could begin exploring.

I’m sad that this year we missed out on the chance of being introduced to someone who writes about people whose stories aren’t given much space or time or thought. I’m sad that for another year they will remain in obscurity because we are once again looking at white, middle-of-the-range America.

It’s not about deserving or not, it never really is with prizes. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of writers who might have deserved the Nobel this year and maybe Bob Dylan was one of them. But this year in particular, when diversity finally seems to be moving out of the tokenism of the early 2000s, I had higher hopes of whose stories might be chosen as a shining example of the best.


Freakily found quotes on the same idea. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare, oranges and apples etc, but I know who sounds more like a poet to me.





Endless possibilities: the unromantic side

I have been stuck for a while. I have blamed it on many things but mainly the upheaval of moving to a different city. But I was stuck before that as well, and then I blamed it on summer and it’s associated distractions – socialising, long evenings, heat. The truth is I would be stuck no matter what was going on and these are just useful excuses.

I started thinking that maybe I am done, I’ve published something, isn’t that enough? Am I really going to just keep doing this, over and over and over? It’s really hard. And apparently it won’t ever not be hard. What the hell have I got myself into?

I have a draft of a novel, and another almost-draft. This is supposed to be good. I have done a lot of work and  I’m reasonably proud of both of them. I should be elated.

But I’m not. After weeks (months) of tinkering, changing a word and knowing deep down the change did nothing, I did what we all do when we get stuck these days and I asked google. I found this:

A first draft is the beginning of the end. But the end lasts for ever.

Forever is a long time. I feel like I should be seeing a finish line for at least one of these drafts but instead it is like I just got off the plane at the foot of the Andes, and now I have to actually climb the bloody mountains. All of them. Do I restructure? Change the tense? (If you have ever changed the tense of more than a page, you will know what an intimidating thought that is.) Will it actually be better if I drastically change it or am I so tired that anything different will seem fresh and interesting? Do I just throw in the towel and start something else from scratch, something that might be good enough with only one draft? In the words of Mr Bernard Black, don’t make me laugh bitterly.

The worst thing, by far, is that there is nothing for it but to keep going, at a snail’s pace, with lots of cursing and wine, with the knowledge that even if the end comes it might not really be the end, there might be another eight-hundred drafts behind it, and the constant toddler-like foot-stamping changes nothing. This is it, and you better believe it just keeps going.

At least there’s Bernard.