Things I’ve learned in lockdown so far:
- I can’t play the guitar, no matter how hard I try
- Dominic Cummings is making me very cross
- I should be writing, but I’m not.
There are others, like I’ve learned how very difficult it is to make lemon meringue pie, but it’s the writing thing that’s exercising me the most. Sure I’m doing some writing-y things (like writing this, for instance), but I should be tarting up the novel and sending it out, sorting out a short story or two and getting started on the next story.
Instead, I’m reading a lot (though not as much as I thought I would), watching lots of TV and spending way too much time on the Guardian website getting steadily more open mouthed at the various ramblings of Trump and Johnson.
So why am I not writing? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s always insisted that if only I had the time the novel would be finished in double-quick time and I’d be well on the way with the sequel. And now I don’t have that excuse. I’ve got others of course – it’s too hot, the dog needs walking, I just need to check whether I’ve heard of any of the current Government ministers (where have they all come from? And what happened to all the people who used to do that stuff?) – but it’s now obvious to me what I always suspected: it’s not about time: it’s about something else. Not ideas (I’m pretty sure I’ve got some of those), not motivation (yes, I’d really like to see my books in Waterstones, thank you very much) and it’s not because I don’t know how to do it (doing it well is, of course, something entirely different!).
I think it’s a phobia about finishing stuff. If it’s in my head no one can argue that I’ve got an award-winning novel stashed away. As soon as it leaves my head and enters my computer then , maybe, a bit of the cold light of objectivity might creep in. But that’s okay as long as only I see it because I’m biased and am very good at overlooking my writing’s shortcomings (or I would have if it had any). But once I send a story out? No pretending.
So I tinker, and prevaricate, and check on the BBC News website to see what new ways our leaders have of disappointing us.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having a (writing) commitment phobia. But others seem to get over it, so there must be a plan that works for me. I’m very good at making plans. I have a big, shiny whiteboard. I can map out plotlines, character descriptions, a nice, neat causal chain etc. And I have a spiffy spreadsheet with markets, submission dates, responses and acceptance rates. I’m very pleased with my whiteboard plot plans – pity I never follow them. And the spreadsheet just tells me that if I submit loads of things and they get rejected then my acceptance rate goes down and I feel bad.
So maybe no plan is the plan. So here’s the (no) plan. Write. Edit. Write some more. Edit some more. Then when the pile of newly finished potential masterworks is big, send it out. Try and forget where I send it to, so I won’t be disappointed if they turn it down. Delete the line on the spreadsheet that says ‘acceptance rate’ and always remember that if a magazine prints a story inferior to the one I’ve recently had rejected by them, it must be because I’m not an old schoolfriend or drinking buddy of the editor.
It won’t work because it’s still a plan, of course (even if it is a stripped down, keep your eyes firmly closed kind of a plan). Also I don’t really buy the editor’s drinking buddy’s line, even if there may be a grain of truth in it (talent will shine through, surely?).
I’m pretty sure what would work, though. A nice, fat book deal.
Better get writing.
Mark Bilsborough is a Northerner in long term exile in the soft-bellied South of England where he’s found a rare scrap of countryside to inspire him, though his attempts to write proper science fiction often strangely morph into fantasy. He’s had short stories published in numerous places and is perennially about to finish his novel. In real life he’s been a civil servant, teacher and charity director, occasionally skulking off to attend things like Odyssey and Milford. He writes reviews for SFconcatenation (www.concatenation.org) and edits Mensa’s Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror journal. His infrequently updated website is at www.markbilsborough.com