The End of the Beginning

Odd feel­ing; start­ing a nov­el, that is. You don’t know if it will actu­ally turn out to be a nov­el. There is an equal like­li­hood the story will splut­ter and die like a sud­denly beached fish. At the moment, I have some ideas that refuse to tes­sel­late. I hope my gentle read­ers won’t be offen­ded if I don’t go into them in too much detail. Suffice it to say that I’m read­ing some excel­lent oral his­tor­ies of women anarch­ists in 1870s Russia. An intriguing archi­tec­tur­al folly known as the Amber Room will fea­ture. Much of my research, at present, involves listen­ing to the Enemy at the Gates soundtrack (crikey, doesn’t it sound like the music from Schindler’s List?) and sketch­ing young Georgian revolu­tion­ary poets.

When I was writ­ing my last nov­el (which is now in the hands of my agent), I kept a run­ning word count on the blog. I don’t think I’ll do this again. Not because it isn’t fun to share pro­gress, but because a word count is essen­tially mean­ing­less. Flashback — that last nov­el — clocked in at about 120,000 words in first draft. The ver­sion I sent off to Mr Jarrold was…let me check…73,000. On the face of it, the nov­el lost almost 50,000 words. But it lost even more than that, because many of the words that remain are brand-spank­ing new ones. So a word count isn’t all that indic­at­ive.

What’s the point of this blog? To record and expand upon some of the issues that con­fronts the writer. Alas, 90% of these issues con­cern deal­ing with the pub­lish­ing industry. For example, the pub­lish­er that had expressed an interest in put­ting out the second edi­tion of Deja Vu got cold feet. Deja Vu will remain out of print until I can set it free with a new pub­lish­er or (which seems more likely at this point) use a ser­vice like Lulu to self-pub­lish it. If the lat­ter comes to pass, I’ll have some­where to point people when they ask for a copy.

I was talk­ing about the point of this blog. I wanted to make clear that I’ll keep away from the ups and downs of the pub­lic­a­tion pro­cess in the next few weeks. I’ll try to focus on the writ­ing pro­cess itself. For a long time, I’ve wanted to present real-time win­dow onto my word pro­cessing applic­a­tion, where read­ers can see the words appear as I lay them down. Corrections, addi­tions and dele­tions would appear too. When the book is fin­ished, I’d fig­ure out a way of rush­ing through the foot­age like a time-lapse photo, and the nov­el would grow before your very eyes. But I haven’t figured out a way to do that. Maybe I’ll try again for my next nov­el.

Finally, a word on the writ­ing life itself. The year has been busy so far. This sum­mer, we relo­cated from Exeter to Canterbury, and I’m still catch­ing up on freel­ance work. And now I find myself run­ning psy­cho­logy sem­inars totalling six hours of teach­ing per week. I’ve got some great stu­dents and the job, frankly, is much more fun than writ­ing. Which is to say that it’s much more fun than writ­ing for the point­less hell of it. Art for art’s sake is well and good, but I’m not writ­ing nov­els just so I can put them in a draw­er and show my grand chil­dren. I’m writ­ing in order to be read. Plenty of edit­ors are get­ting back to my agent say­ing how much they like my stuff, but don’t have space on a giv­en list, don’t have the money to mar­ket it, and so on. (Oops. I said I’d try to avoid writ­ing about these tribu­la­tions.) My point is that, if I’m going back to uni­ver­sity teach­ing, lov­ing it, get­ting paid actu­al money, it might be a good idea to do it full time and for­get about the writ­ing.

Big talk, I know. And, don’t worry, I am about to start anoth­er nov­el. I still believe in writ­ing and I believe in books. But the next time someone tells me to ‘Keep going! You’re almost there!’ with two thumbs up and a grin, I might det­on­ate. It’s my thirty-first birth­day next week, and it’ll be almost fif­teen years since the pub­lic­a­tion of my first short story. I’ve ‘kept going’ for fif­teen years. In the mean time, I’ve picked up a degree or two, but nev­er really thought very hard about my aca­dem­ic career because I was con­fid­ent that, one day, I’d be a full time writer. I guess there comes a point when scrap­ing togeth­er enough for the rent gets to be less fun, even if it does allow me to write ‘full time’.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

14 thoughts on “The End of the Beginning”

  1. Word count IS mean­ing­less. You’re right. All it tells you is that, yes, you are actu­ally writ­ing — as opposed to? Watching TV?

    It says noth­ing about the state of the story, wheth­er it is good, or even wheth­er the story is even that much bet­ter developed for hav­ing 10K more or less words.

    More and more, I see prose as a pro­cess of ren­der­ing the story in its cur­rent state of devel­op­ment. It will always only be a reflec­tion of the dev state of the story at that par­tic­u­lar time.

    I think that’s why a lot of my writ­ing has evolved towards a treat­ment style. I like to write the basic actions and dia­logue for a scene, along with some simple dir­ec­tion “Guy goes here at which point…”

    Saves a lot of time and hassle to save any ser­i­ous attempts at fancy prose for last.

  2. You’re right, Eric. I’m try­ing to work out the first draft (per­haps without actu­ally writ­ing any words) in my head before I start. I’ve done a full treat­ment before and it did seem to kill the pro­cess for me some­what. I guess that must mean that explor­ing the story is an import­ant part of the writ­ing pro­cess.

  3. I try to keep it fresh by think­ing up new, bet­ter angles and improve­ments on ways of doing things.

    Think of it as impro­vised revis­ing.

    You’re a Mac guy right? Using Scrivener?

    The Win equi­val­ent SuperNotecard has had a huge impact on my devel­op­ment pro­cess.

  4. Yep, I did a first draft of my nov­el on there, plus a screen­play. Though this time around I feel like being imp­ish and writ­ing the thing on a type­writer… 🙂

  5. I pre­dict you will actu­ally wind up writ­ing a best-selling non-fic­tion title some­how con­nec­ted to your mad psy­cho­logy skillz. And that will in turn give you the plat­form to get some mod­estly suc­cess­ful fic­tion pub­lished — and indeed, get Deja Vu reis­sued to a mass audi­ence (or mass mar­ket­ing cam­paign at least).

  6. Funny you should say that, Chris — I *do* have a folder marked ‘crazy psy­cho­logy skillz’. Watch this space!

  7. Hi Ian
    For some­thing close to “a real-time win­dow on your word-pro­cessing applic­a­tion”, which incid­ent­ally also gives you access to a “back-cata­logue” of all the vari­ous stages of your document’s devel­op­ment, you could try Google docs (

    You can use it to “share” doc­u­ments with oth­ers, either as “view­ers”, or, for the truly inter­act­ive writ­ing exper­i­ence, as “col­lab­or­at­ors”.

  8. You’re right, Ed. It’s not quite what I’m look­ing for, but the ver­sion­ing would get me half way there. I won­der if I can do some­thing in Applescript with the ver­sions it pro­duces, and stitch them all togeth­er at a later stage…

  9. That’s a very poignant post, as you quietly wave good­bye to one dream.

    On the oth­er hand, apart from a lucky few it’s almost impossible to make a good liv­ing as a writer, the odds are so stacked against you. And you can still write if you go back to aca­demia — the two things aren’t mutu­ally exclus­ive and you might actu­ally end up get­ting twice the pleas­ure out of life.

    Besides, I’m not sure that it is a good thing being a full-time writer. You are more likely to be a well-roun­ded indi­vidu­al if you have a job that inter­acts with the real world, and there­fore a bet­ter writer.

    And just like sex, as Mick Jagger once said, it’s great, but you don’t want to do it ALL the time.

  10. Thanks for your com­ment, Pundy. I’m not inter­ested in a roun­ded life! (OK, I am 🙂 Right now I want to write books, and I recall the six-year gest­a­tion of my first book (a pain­ful half-hour per day) with a shud­der…

  11. Hello Ian! Great post!

    I nev­er real­ised you were only a year old than me — the doc­tor­ate and beard made me think you were older!

    I think if any­body ever examined the sheer impossib­lit­ies of ‘mak­ing it’ as a writer, they’d nev­er both­er writ­ing any­thing in the first place. One agent I spoke to said 1 in 500 of their sub­mis­sions ever makes it into print.

    How depress­ing is that!!!

    But think of people like Mary Wesley, who only got her first book pub­lished in her sev­en­ties, or some­thing. Or Ian Fleming, who decided to be a writer and sat down to ham­mer Casino Royale out at 500 words a day. He was in his forties? Fifties? He’d had a heart attack, any­way.

    I think the only sure way to make a liv­ing wage as a writer is to do what I do and write mar­ket­ing copy day to day (and hold off on the adven­tures until you’re home from work.)

    But we must keep plug­ging away!

  12. Hi Roland — thanks for your com­ments. Hope things are going well for you in America. I guess I do make some money from writ­ing, but not the fic­tion stuff, and I’m start­ing to think that my ener­gies might be bet­ter util­ised else­where. Anyway, we’ll see what hap­pens…


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