Grindstone Cowboy

It occurs to me that I have not, for some time, pos­ted in navel-gaz­ing fash­ion about the writer’s life. So here I go.

One of the most dif­fi­cult aspects of writ­ing book-length fic­tion is the geo­lo­gic­al time scales involved. Really, things do take a bloody long time. I have a few tricks to fool my brain that pro­gress is being made along whatever career path I tread — chiefly, by work­ing on pro­jects at dif­fer­ent stages of devel­op­ment — but you do get peri­ods, like now, when ‘noth­ing hap­pens, and hap­pens slowly’ (to quote Raymond Chandler).

Here is the state of the griddle in the Hocking kit­chen:

  • Technothriller nov­el Flashback com­pleted in first draft. Work left to do: Major rewrites to the first quarter of the book, a second pass at research­ing some of its ele­ments (Grimm Fairytales, air­craft acci­dent invest­ig­a­tion, Berlin, and — brace thy­self — les­bi­an­ism; I think I can do this by read­ing four books, as a min­im­um). Glass half full inter­pret­a­tion: I think it’s grip­ping and works well as a story. Glass half empty inter­pret­a­tion: I’ll be work­ing on this bas­tard until Christmas, very prob­ably.
  • Comedy nov­el Proper Job com­pleted in fourth draft. This needs anoth­er rewrite to change the open­ing (the cur­rent ver­sion is rather too busy), but the last two thirds should need no more than pol­ish­ing. That said, as any com­edy author will prob­ably tell you, prose pol­ish­ing is abso­lutely crit­ic­al. In a thrill­er, you can cre­ate ten­sion in a num­ber of ways, but with com­edy fic­tion, there’s often only one way to make a gag funny; even if you’re slightly off tar­get, for­get it. In the bin it goes. Half-full inter­pret­a­tion: The book is prob­ably good enough to send out to agents and pub­lish­ers (one agent already gave me warm feed­back, and that was on the bit — the first chapters — that needs most work). Half full inter­pret­a­tion: Fairly near to com­ple­tion, is prob­ably funny, is some­thing my dad might read. Half empty inter­pret­a­tion: At the rate I’m going, I prob­ably won’t have it fin­ished until Christmas either.
  • Made-to-order nov­el. I’m cur­rently in dis­cus­sions with a pub­lish­er to write a book that will fit with their exist­ing ‘prop­er­ties’ (action sub-genres). So far, the edit­or likes my syn­op­sis. I wrote a spec chapter while I was in Germany, and emailed it to him yes­ter­day. It would be good to snag this one. Half full inter­pret­a­tion: This would mark the first time I’ll get any money from writ­ing a nov­el. Half empty inter­pret­a­tion: It would knock out the sum­mer, and might inter­fere with plans to take some time off (to bal­ance my decision to work through week­ends on Flashback last winter).

Oif. I’m glad I’m not work­ing for a com­pany, oth­er­wise my sorry arse would have been fired by now (unless the com­pany is par­tic­u­larly hip and non-res­ults ori­ented). The whole thing is bor­der­line depress­ing. Saw the London Marathon on t’telly Sunday morn­ing. I’ve done the Exeter half-mara­thon a few times, and I sym­path­ized with the looks of, ‘Oh dear Lord, why is this tak­ing so chuff­ing long? And why do my nipples hurt so much?’

I remem­ber run­ning the race dis­tance along the bank of the River Exe. After the first few miles, the num­ber of people on the towpath would drop to just one every few hun­dred yards, and it would get cold because I was one of the highest things on the land­scape for the wind to blast. I might hear rain on the long grasses. That was when it was easi­est to stop. I nev­er did, though. I just looked down at my feet and told myself it was impossible to walk, that run­ning was the slow­est gear I had. A reas­on­ably sim­il­ar situ­ation to writ­ing, I sup­pose. All motion must be for­ward, all words must build upon those already writ­ten. No point stop­ping now.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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