I get asked this a lot. It’s one of the common questions directed at writers by well-meaning friends and acquaintances, along with ‘What do you write about?’ and ‘Have you sold enough copies to retire yet?’ I’m sure there are authors who love any opportunity to talk about their esteemed tomes, but I can assure you that I am not one of them. The only time discussing a manuscript is anywhere near bearable is before a single word has been written. That is a magical, care-free time when your book is surely going to be the greatest literary achievement in all history. As soon as words start appearing on the page, there are several clearly defined states as to ‘how the book is coming along’.
This state usually occurs quite early on, when a witty opening paragraph and masterful introduction of the main character has been achieved with seemingly little effort. Words are flowing like whiskey at an Irish wake and writing novels is surely the most natural thing in the world. Anything is possible and plot and characters shine bright and true, the book is coming along brilliantly. This probably lasts until the middle of chapter three.
Relishing The Challenge
Still a fairly upbeat state, writers engaged in the eternal query at this point will merrily tell you of the tussle with sub-plots and may well airily declare that everything would be much more straightforward if their characters didn’t have minds of their own. There will be earnest sighing and knowing shaking of heads, coupled with declarations that writing really is a great labour of love, not for the faint hearted. The book is coming along really well, but it’s an awful lot of hard work.
A very common state for both writers and books, this. In fact, once the state of delusion has been entered, many never leave. The actual writing itself has stalled a bit, but the writer feels that by talking about writing, writing about writing and ostentatiously doing writerly things then the manuscript will somehow miraculously write itself. Whilst keyboard and notebook gather dust, the writer will gladly pontificate about their great art, possibly while smoking suspicious cigarettes and imbibing heavily. The book is coming along, yes it is, but, you know, it’s so much more complicated than that.
Often occurring directly after the state of delusion, once it has been realised that books do not miraculously write themselves. The state of apathy can be fleeting or epic, depending on the writer. It is the most dangerous state and many great works are abandoned at this point. The writer has got bored of either the characters or plot or both, or is perhaps tiring of spending hours on their own writing when they could be down the pub, talking to anyone who will listen about how torturous it is to be a writer. During this state, the book is either coming along ‘alright, but…’ or it isn’t coming along at all.
Fear & Loathing
An intensified version of Relishing The Challenge. The plot is falling apart, the characters are ridiculous and the dialogue reads like a low budget, made-for-TV afternoon film. Suddenly the whole thing doesn’t work at all, the writer cannot believe they could have been so stupid as to think it ever would and they are never picking up a pen again as long as they live. Another dangerous point, but to my mind actually a very positive state. This is a good opportunity to put ego and literary fancy to one side and get down to the gritty business of writing properly. How’s the book coming along? Don’t ask about the book.
Mindless Optimism Part Two
The book is nearly finished, the writer is very pleased with it and riding high on a sense of hard work and personal achievement. They will once again happily babble endlessly about all aspects of their work and how much they are looking forward to a little bit of a break from writing, despite having loved shedding every single drop of blood, sweat and tear on their manuscript. Mind you, they haven’t sent it to the editor yet, so they cling to this brief state of delirium for as long as they possibly can.
No One Understands Me
The manuscript is back from the editor and the slew of red text and side notes have a higher word count than the book itself. This is a travesty. The editor has completely missed the point! Don’t they realise that deftly crafted flashback is essential? Can’t they see how clever and important the mid-point switch to stream of consciousness prose is genius? The writer slips morosely into the guise of Misunderstood Artist. The book is not coming along – it is being butchered alive by the facist conformist publishing industry who just do not understand.
The Book is Actually Finished!
All battles have been fought and the literary guns fall silent, giving way to fanfares of peace and street parties announcing the publication date. Things can go one of two ways, here. The embattled author may very well stagger to the fore with heroic exhaustion, breathlessly telling the tale of the struggles and hardships they have faced to reach this exalted pinnacle. The book is clearly a triumph, representing not only a shining example of its genre, but also the trials and tribulations of writing itself. Crowds are invited to gather to hear just how incredible the story is, of how the book is coming along.
The other alternative, (very much my approach) is to stick a few posts on social media that the book is out, please buy it, I need the money to spend on wine, now don’t ask me any more questions about that bloody book.
For those of you interested in the progress of the third PorterGirl novel, Sinister Dexter, I am currently embracing Fear & Loathing. I expect only a brief foray into this particular state and am very much looking forward to Mindless Optimism Part Two.