Back at work after the Labour Day long weekend. I was out Friday and Saturday nights and otherwise took it easy at home.
As I do every weekend I did a little work on the book, but unlike any weekend for more than a year I then set it aside.
One of the tasks I set myself over the weekend was to return to a couple of the stories I’d begun writing some time ago. Way back I’d tried to work on them concurrently with the book, but they’re so different that it was a wrench shifting from one mindset to another. It’s strange, I can read multiple books at once without inconvenience, but it’s different when I write. There’s something akin being a method actor. You get into character when writing, especially, as in the case of the book, when it’s told in the first person. That was further exaggerated because the style of writing I chose was more mannered than my natural style. It requires effort to stay in character.
It felt like a kind of milestone to shift back to my stories. I hadn’t looked at them for ages. I wondered how they would read now, and I wondered how after writing the book I would approach them.
The first thing is that writing every weekend for the last 18 months has created a discipline in me that now comes reasonably natural. Starting always is difficult, but there is never any real hesitation in knuckling down to it. Once I’ve started it comes a lot easier. Looking back it feels an unnatural existence devoting so much time to my writing, but I’ve done the hard work now and want to keep up with it. It should be a lot easier from here – particularly as I can see the benefits.
The other thing is that writing so consistently for so long has made me a much more efficient writer. I used to agonise and go round in circles. I’d try one thing, and then another. I kid you not when I report there are stories I started 15 years ago I’m still working on. Sure I’m a perfectionist, but a good part of it is that I hadn’t mastered the craft.
I haven’t mastered it yet, but I now feel as if I’ve got a good eye for where the story should go, and what it needs. I’m a lot more certain and decisive when proceeding. The two stories I worked on yesterday have been in the pipeline for about 10 and 12 years. I looked at them again and knew what they needed. The trick then was to execute.
You might think writing day after day that the art of putting one word after another would become simpler. In a way it has, but I’m not sure the quality is any greater, but that’s because it was always pretty good.
I’m often surprised re-reading old stuff of mine at how good it is. There have been times when I’ve read something and been impressed and wondered where it came from – before realising that I had written it myself it on some long forgotten day. The stories I read yesterday were familiar, and contained in each of them was writing both powerful and descriptive. One thing I noticed was the influences of other writers – in one I could see clearly the shadow of Bunin (not a bad thing). I have a more distinct natural style now, but I believe in being adaptable – different stories have different ways of being told, and often demand different voices. If anything I have eliminated some of the tics and repetitions of days gone by, and less ‘loose’. I’m more direct because I’m more certain of where I’m heading.
The writing has improved – and certainly become more flexible– but by no more than 5-10% That’ll do me. The real test is whether I’d be happy in releasing it to the wider world to judge – and I am.
At the end of yesterday I had two pretty ambitious stories fully sketched out and perhaps 80% done. There are another two which need minor tidying up (today’s eye is more demanding), but virtually done. Add that t the book – which needs some professional editing before I proceed further – and it’s adding up nicely.
I have a screenplay in mind, another two novels roughly drafted in my head, and probably another dozen stories I can bring up to snuff. I’m pretty happy with that.