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Living life to write life

I have a tendency towards the hermetic, especially when I have something of a deadline, or a great idea I want to get down.

But sometimes, you really do have to wave your sofa-office goodbye, put some actual, real life clothes on that are not gravy stained or, as is currently the case, your pyjamas, and go and see what the world has to offer.

And what better place to explore real life than in a pub?

I’m serious.

All walks of life go there: rich, poor, downtrodden, jubilant and those who have just won a trophy in darts. The old man with the dribble stained cardigan shares the same space with an eighteen year old girl wearing her new Ugg boots out for the very first time.

Best of all, you’re reminded that stereotypes, however much we shy away from them, really do exist.

I live in rural Somerset. The pub in my village is currently closed (I know. I KNOW!) so I drove the six long miles to my friend’s village, where their pub is still, happily, open. And, it being Somerset, that pub had five different cider varieties to choose from. The first song that was played on the jukebox was Combine Harvester by the Wurzels.  And everyone knew everyone else, even me, which I still find disconcerting after seven and a half years of living here.

The rare night out was useful in many ways, but posed one of the greatest problems when writing real life. How do you make a scene, which would widely be viewed as stereotypical, realistic and believable, breaking through the stereotype to the drama that lurks beneath?

The answer, for me at least, is seeking the humanity at the base of the stereotype. The reason why the old man was drinking, alone, with dribble staining his cardigan collar. The story behind the song choice, why it was played at that moment, by whom and for what purpose?

So, what did I learn from throwing off the garbs of my reclusive writing life and stepping out into the world? That the world is a pretty great place. And that everyone, even the most stereotypical of characters, has their own story to tell.

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Kicking my own naivety

We all know that, if we were walk into a bar and have a drink, that that bar, the glass we drink from, the people we speak to, would still be there once our drink has been finished and we’ve left the room. People and places exist outside of our own sphere of existence. I know that. You know that. It’s just how the real world works.

So why, oh why, did I forget to do this in my writing?

This week I’m undertaking one of the most frustrating rewrites of my writing career to date. Seriously. Made even more frustrating because of the deadline I’m working towards and the fact that the rewrite could have been avoided entirely had I just paused to consider the lives of my characters outside that of my protagonist.

I forgot to include their own lives. I forgot to include all the issues they’re facing outside of their involvement with my main character. I basically forgot to make them rounded, three dimensional individuals and instead simply made them react to the primary plot. Hence the reason I am kicking myself.

You see, I’m undertaking a rather big structural rewrite. You may recall me mentioning that one character is being rewritten as a woman. What I haven’t yet mentioned is that the entire novel is being pretty much rewritten to evenly reflect the voices of three separate characters, rather than just one.

So why did I only focus on the plot of one of these characters?

Because I’m still learning. And I still have a lot to learn.

Thankfully I’m pretty confident on the backstory/sidestory/futurestory for all my characters, so I’m hoping it won’t take too long to rectify. I also have a very clever agent, who’s ideas I have shamelessly plundered.

And I can tell you this much: it’s not a mistake I’ll be making again.

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London therapy…

The rewrites have started in earnest this week. So far (4 days in) they’re going well. I’m motivated, super excited, bouncing off the walls with energy… Or I would be if I didn’t have a cold. And for that I blame the London Underground.

That was the other exciting element of the past week, hot footing it up to London to mingle at a drinks event hosted by Diane Banks Associates

There’s nothing quite like talking with other writers for getting the creative juices flowing. And for the reassuring knowledge that, in writing terms, I am quite normal. I am not, for example, the only one who sometimes writes with earplugs in (real life is just too damn noisy). Nor I am alone in my love of writing in hotel rooms or exploring meditation mind palaces. Plus, I also got to put a few faces to names and (more exciting for me) writers to books.

What’s more, I got to see real people in all their weird, oblivious, wonderfully unique glory. For a woman who has tendencies towards the misanthropic, it was brilliant. Some of them even smiled. One person hummed a little tune whilst waiting for the tube. I only got jabbed in the ribs twice during rush hour.

Living out in the sticks has huge benefits, especially for writers. Solitude, peace, very little light pollution (we can see the stars beautifully on a clear night. Vital for writing novels, of course). But there is something to be said for the vibrancy of the city, especially in giving you a motivational kick up the rear.

So I may have a miserable, snotty cold but it was worth it for this new lease of creativity.

 

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Suck it up…

There is a lot of advice out there about how to take, erm … advice. I like to sum this up in the following mantra: “Take it on the chin and don’t be a dick.”

This week said mantra was put to the test, as I received the first fully edited version of my MS from my agent, Kate.

Oh, the cuts. THE CUTS!!!!! The changes I have to make, the suggestions I need to bring on board. The spoilt little artist in me wanted to take my laptop, hide in a cave and live off roasted bat for the rest of my life, writing what I want and not having to take any criticism.

Thankfully, the rational, mercenary beast within soon woke up. “Stop being a dick,” the beast said, “and listen.”

So, I went for a walk, ate some cake, played with my children and, when I re-read the edits, I locked away the bratty little artist who thinks she knows it all and plugged my ears in. Well, my eyes in, as I was reading the edits, but you know what I mean. Unsurprisingly, the suggested edits were all spot on.

Cuts are hard. They always will be. But, once you can see past the black lines and comment boxes, and begin paying attention to the comments themselves, you will soon see that they are nothing to be afraid of. They are to be welcomed, embraced, because they are necessary. And the more the new ideas sink in, the better I can already see the work becoming. Different, absolutely, but better by far.