Time Away

It’s sage advice:

Step away from the manuscript. Put it in a drawer. Take a break and work on something new.

It allows you to come back to the manuscript with ‘fresh eyes’.

But what if you take too long away from the manuscript?

What if you forget to come back?

Or which drawer you put it in?

Obviously, it’s all digital, so I know exactly where my manuscript is, but sometimes it’s like when I ask my daughter where her shoes are…

‘Hey Stu, how’s that Mars story coming along?’

Basically, my manuscript may as well be on Mars, for all I open it.

In fact, Spirit and Curiosity have probably moved faster across the Martian plains each day than I do writing my story.

Why? But, why?

Okay, okay. I will level with you all. It’s not as bad as I’m making out.

I did do a fair bit of work on it in Early September. About 15k all in. Mostly rewritten stuff from the space junk I had before.

But then I said (wrongly) that I had other things to focus on.

If you haven’t worked this out by now, I’m an ALL or NOTHING kind of person.

So as soon as something comes up, that takes even a micro-second of my attention, there I go, like a moth…

‘oh light…’

And all else I was doing is forgotten. It’s a crappy trait, one I’m not proud of, but also not one I hide. I’m a huge advocate of showing your full self to the world, warts and all. When we right stories, the very characters we connect most to are those with the greatest flaws and fears, the ones who have the most to overcome because they are not perfect!

Those arcs are always the most interesting…

I simultaneously find myself interesting and infuriating…my self-analysis and self-critiscm far exceeds any kind of job anyone could do on me…

Seriously, do your worst and you won’t even scratch where I go when getting stuck into myself.

I reckon a good story is in the specifics, so let me get specific.

I sit down at my computer – the time I do this varies – but the action does not. I log-in. I open email first (I do get lots of emails and I’m one of those compulsive people, who must read and reply to an email the second I see it – this is AWFUL, potentially my worst flaw because it means I can basically never switch off – I hate it), then I open Twitter – DMs first, then scrolling and notifications.

You can see where this is going…

Actually, watch this Ted Talk, it sums it up perfectly:

My problem: no deadlines!

Seriously, I kinda need the jet up my butt. Something clear, with consequences if I don’t make it.

I did school and uni that way. I wrote 10 biology textbooks that way (even asked for a couple of extensions…😳).

I need a deadline, like Luke had…

Luke had it easy.

Deadline: the Death Star is about to blow up Yavin IV, and destroy the rebellion.

Motivation: revenge for the murder of Obi-Wan and being imprisoned.

Consequences if he failed: all his new friends died (Aunt and Uncle already dead 😢).

He’s so, so lucky, right? I mean, give me some of those deadlines, and some of those stakes right now, please…consequences…

But when you’re a pre-agented and pre-published writer, there ain’t no real deadlines.

You have this constant battle with yourself. The self that says, ‘Sit your arse down and write, White!’ and the other self that says, ‘Tomorrow, pal. You can still write, tomorrow.’

But, and fucking hell I’m sounding like Ronan Keating, but what if tomorrow never comes?

I ask myself: ‘Do you really want this?’ ‘Do you love writing enough?’ ‘Do you want your books published enough?’

2015 me would climb The Wall and tale on the Hulk with a resounding:

But at the moment, I have so many days where I just don’t know.

And that infuriates me – I am angry with myself for not wanting it more. For battling with myself on a constant and daily basis.

I get good advice:

  • Take a break
  • Write something else
  • Do something else

And I do genuinely wonder, sometimes, if someone said to me – ‘you can never write again’ – then how would I feel?

Relieved?

Terrified?

Angry?

Lost?

A mixture of all?

I ask myself what would future-me say to me right now if he could come back?

I always wonder what I’d say to 30-me or 20-me, and I have pretty solid, concrete things I would say and advice I would give.

But I always think the wee dafty that I was wouldn’t listen to older-me.

Every day I question my vulnerability and my direction, my productivity and my motivation…I genuine can spend a whole day mentally dissecting my behaviours and thought patterns to try and root out the problem…

It’s so simplistic to say the problem is myself…I know this…

And I know that the four of you reading this, will probably say, just sit down and write – don’t think about it. Just hit the keys.

And I agree – good advice.

But I think there’s a self-sabotaging part of me that wants me to fail. It’s bizarre to be typing this, but I’ve made it a professional sport, my whole adult life, to put myself down. Pre-emptive self-defence: if I criticise myself so badly first, before anyone else gets a chance, what harm can they do me.

I don’t need to be a professional psychologist to know that it’s because of my childhood. A perceived lack of love from parents. A lack of praise and and a general lack of interest (their separation and divorce mean they focussed very much on themselves) and I know this is at the root of my behaviour.

Or am I just making excuses for laziness? Or am I productively procrastinating by doing all the things I do with WriteMentor? If I help others chase their publication dreams, do I live vicariously in their slipstream and enjoy their success? But without giving myself any personal joy – I believe deep down I don’t deserve any.

So, yes, time away is great advice. It really is. But don’t take so much time away from that manuscript that whole epochs can squeeze in between your glances…

And if you do step away for too long…be kind to yourself.

May the Force be with you!

2 thoughts on “Time Away

  1. There are certainly more than four of us reading this! Stuart I suspect you’ve not had a lot of time to manage family, job, a writing conference, friends, general life, internal reflection and mental rest time on top of writing. But even so the fact you wrote or rewrote 15k in September – I mean, wow! That’s more than I managed. I still think you have a magic time stopper somewhere. I honestly don’t know how you do it. Whatever you tackle, you do so whole heartedly, and with resounding success. Your churning depths belie what others witness on the surface.

    Books are a law unto themselves. You will complete this novel and, one day soon you will be a published author – of that I have zero doubt. Keep going my friend, and if you want a deadline then, if you haven’t already, how another targeting the Children’s BNA submission? X

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  2. Stuart, I am with you on this, you are not alone! I have driven myself crazy trying to sit my arse down and finish the novel I started years ago. I even got shortlisted for a major competition on the strength of the first draft, but can I finish the damn thing? No. Instead I spend my time writing picture books and designing greeting cards. I’ve finally realised that there’s no point in fighting this and making myself feel miserable; I can add to my novel as and when I feel like it (which is about once or twice a month at the mo – so I will probably finish my novel in 2030). Anyway, I just wanted to say hi. I love your posts and there are probably quite a few of us reading this who are in the same boat (which is comforting to know) 🙂

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