Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hangover Squared

After the party comes the hangover.

In the previous post I described how I met a character in my new novel who proved to be a most welcome guest at the party because he brought with him a whole new plot line. In fact, it was the only plot because he appeared in chapter two when I was well and truly stuck for direction.

Well, I've moved on since then - I'm now at the end of chapter three - and, as usual, the doubts have set in. What seemed such a brilliant idea a couple of weeks ago doesn't seem quite so clever now. Part of the problem I guess is that I'm already anticipating the rejection slips that will - if the past is any guide - inevitably come winging back to me like homing pigeons with bird flu when I finish the book and submit it for publication. I don't care how often it happens, when someone rejects the child you've spawned as flawed and imperfect the result is devastating. What kind of parent would look forward to that day?

Because maybe the child is imperfect. There is no way of knowing at this stage. I'm only three chapters in but even when I finish the book I won't really know if it's any good until other people start reading it. Fortunately, it's perfectly possible to delude yourself for three hundred pages. If you didn't you'd probably never finish the damned thing.

The current problem of self-doubt (which I'm sure all writers with the possible exception of Jeffrey Archer experience) is compounded by the way I write. I am an inveterate re-writer. Every day I go back over the previous few pages and start correcting and changing. If I'm lucky after a session I'll have advanced the book by another couple of pages - or more often paragraphs - or, sometimes, disastrously, I'll have less than when I started.

I know this isn't a very clever way to write. It would make far more sense I'm sure to map out a plot in advance, to do lots of research, become familiar with my characters in my head and then simply crash on until I'd completed the first draft. And then do the revision.

But I just can't work that way. So I wade around in a miasma of self-doubt and uncertainty that inevitably leads to disillusion and despair. What seemed so fresh and amusing a couple of weeks ago now seems stale and unoriginal. I'm already sick of the book and I've only written three chapters.

And yet. Sometimes you can hate the things you love most but if it's true love the antipathy is only temporary. One good paragraph can change everything. Right now though, writing one good sentence is a challenge.

Why do I do this to myself? That's easy. Because there is no alternative. Writing is the only thing I do in my life that makes me feel remotely human. And I guess I wouldn't be human if I didn't occasionally feel miserable at my own shortcomings.