I had no idea that writing a book would be this difficult.
I thought that the challenges would come from wrangling with questions such as which adjective to use here, or how to avoid repeating that verb there. How wrong I was.
No, the challenge is to hold in one’s mind a library’s worth of thoughts and events, to know their significance at every level of detail from the microscopic to the cosmological, and — for each chunk of empty space on the two or three hundred pages between a book’s two covers — to somehow pluck from that vast repertoire a single, precisely-worded thought, and lay it in exactly the right place.
As the book evolves from an idea into a sprawling mess of complete and utter crap, that demand must be repeated exponentially before any order can be brought to the chaos. Because for every potential thought to drop along this physical timeline of words, there are a hundred billion alternatives that would be irrelevant, diverge too far, sound too repetitive, change the mood, stray from the truth, confuse too deeply, clash with something previously said, give too much away, ruin the suspense, depart from established style, or simply sound like shit. They must all be discarded. And yet they should not be forgotten, for many of those rejected lines placed differently might suddenly prove exactly right!
It’s exhausting to the point that it’s beyond my capacity to deal with it at all. Every day I spend at my laptop, sipping cappucinos and thyme tea in Yerevan’s sole non-smoking coffee shop, is a day on which my expectations for the book sink further. But my motives as a writer prevent me from publishing anything that doesn’t resonate intimately with my most honest assessment of the truth. And so I must plough on with a manuscript that I have filled with so many hours of toil that I can hardly see what it is any more.
Every other aspect of my life is suffering at the hands of this project. I understand profoundly why writers ‘retreat’ in order to work on their literary offerings. There simply isn’t space for anything else. The book is all-consuming. Even this post that you are reading right now is primarily a vent for my frustrations at the all the eroding demands of everyday life; a futile attempt to acknowledge and make sense of my fragility under this kind of (self-imposed) pressure.
The tiniest decisions and dilemmas become intensely annoying distractions, clouding the thoughts and making concentration quite impossible and any attempt at control over my own mood even more futile. I want nothing more than to be alone in an empty house in the hills, without telephone or internet connection, a pre-selected box of groceries left outside the door every day by an anonymous benefactor, and to stay there until it’s finished. I am utterly awful company and I feel sorry for everyone around me, and it is all because of the story I desperately want to be as effectively told and close to the truth as it can possibly be.
And the worst thing is that nobody understands. People tell me to chill out, and then ask me innocent questions such as where I’m going, what I’m doing, what time I’m going to be back, whether I would prefer this or that or the other option in a selection of choices that I could not give the tiniest crap about because I need every inch of head-space to figure out how, for example, I’m going to write this new scene into that section of the story without destroying the relevance and meaning of a thousand other passages scattered throughout the manuscript. That, and a hundred similar conundrums.
How could anyone understand, anyway? Hardly anyone has written a book. This is my first attempt. Every day now, as I approach the end of a fourth re-write, I tackle the greatest creative challenge of my life. But as far as everyone else is concerned, I’m just sitting in Yerevan’s sole non-smoking coffee shop sipping cappucinos and thyme tea in front of a laptop, which sounds like a pretty nice way to spend one’s time.
They wonder why I still seem deep in thought late at night or over breakfast, serious-looking, brow furrowed, quiet and uncommunicative. Of course. Most people forget their jobs as soon as they clock off. Their work manifests itself tangibly, they know where it’s taking them, and it’ll still be there tomorrow.
But my work (for that is what it is) remains imaginary. The mindset required doesn’t pop into existence whenever I feel like cranking out a few chapters. It has to stay with me day and night, for weeks on end, else I’ll lose my grasp on the things I need to to be clear and present in order to write a story that makes sense. And, throughout all of the searching and uncovering involved, the form of the finished article remains a mystery until the very last moment.
So I don’t blame anyone for not understanding why it’s not all that. After all, only I can hear the monologue. Hey, everyone. I’m really sorry. This is the way it’s going to be for a little while longer.
Hands up if you’re also a writer! Am I alone in this? Should I head for the hills and retreat from society ‘until it’s done’?
16 replies on “Writer’s Blog: Exhaustion, Frustration, And Other Unexpected Joys”
Oh yes. My son – in Law is the Managing Editor of a UK Daily Evening newspaper having a circulation of almost ½ million each day repeated a bit of advice he was given when he first started out…. Don’t spoil a good story with the truth.
Just found this book section while following your ‘How to make a living as an Adventurer’ section. Very Interesting, Informative if a little disheartening underlining my decision to sell dairies / musses accumulated over 50 odd years of wanderings to a ghost’.
Now don’t spend too much time in front of the screen will you? (Sorry could not resit that)
Tom, as someone who has read an early draft of your book, I can reassure you that all of this hard work, time and effort you have put in since then will all be worth it…
…because the draft was crap and really needs improving.
Ho ho ho!
(From a smug friend who finished his book a few months ago.)
I can understand you, certainly. I haven’t started to write any book, I have just tried (quite deeply) to imagine what it would be like to do so and I have believed to experience similar feelings. Writting a book is like creating something from scratch, a huge creative process, so it requires a lot of effort and imagination.
It may help, I think, to always stick to an idea, message or aspect of us, not to have to choose among hundred or thousand options every time we face the task.
I hope you manage to do it, I might need to be encouraged as well in the future.
Try walking for a little while between glares at the screen.. surprisingly it helps you think clearer, somehow. might be something to do with it being natural. I hope tom still participates in this peasantry “walking”, or is your bike readily hiding underneath the coffee table?
I was told that when you are totally fed-up with your book and feel like it will never be done or good enough to publish, then you are almost there. Keep plugging on. Your frustration is a totally normal and essential part of the process!
That’s great encouragement — thanks 🙂
Good luck mate you will get there, I have been trying to get my book finshed now for 4 months but work keeps getting in the way (hold on I work for my self so what am I saying?) but yer keep pushing and you will get there.
I hear you, Tom. The writing process is hell, especially if you keep true to your story, a very rare thing in these celebrity-driven times. There are two types of adventurer these days, I reckon. Those who sell their souls and become a dancing monkey on TV, boring the pants off the rest of us with their shitey, ghost-written memoirs (too busy to write the miserable thing themselves). And those who see past the career label, and embark on journeys and write about them for reasons other than money and fame. Fortunately, for the reader, you appear to be one of the latter. So keep at it. You could say the journey prepared you for the more difficult task of actually writing it. I just spent four years penning my human-powered circumnavigation, living in a car for periods, and in other people’s houses. Terrible. Worse than the trip itself. Anyway, it’s done, and I’m happy with the result, knowing I’ve done right by the truth and not some money-grubbing publishing house grasping at shrinking profits.
Thanks for the no-holds-barred comment Jason. Can’t say I disagree with your sentiments 🙂
Four years writing?!? Bloody hell. I can barely imagine. That said, I’m really looking forward to reading the resulting book!
If you can articulate your feelings in your book as well as you have in this Blog, you are onto a winner!
Though I have never attempted a feat such as yours, I do “maintain” a blog (I write “maintain” in quotes because I haven’t been so good at maintaining it lately), and I completely understand this need to retreat from society (and even your loving partner and family and friends) while you are writing. Do not feel badly about it, and do not feel like you’re the odd one out (though you are — but then again so are many other writers like you). And as someone who recently spent a day cycling with you on a road so quiet you could “hear the monologue,” you are a pleasure to be around and a far cry from “utterly awful company”. So chin up, Tom, and keep trudging through (and don’t feel sorry for us, your friends) — you’ll get there one day. In the meantime, we’ll just have to be a little more patient with your time.
Thanks for the encouragement Adrineh, and for pointing out that I’m not alone! And I’m glad I didn’t seem too deeply lost in thought during our ride…
Just make sure all those ‘nearest and dearest’ to you read this blog! And I am sure the end product will be worth all the toil and effort even though I may be somewhat biased.
sounds hard. good luck with the rest of it.