Here’s your shovel. Start digging.


Sorry for the massive GIF. I just love it.

Have you all signed up for Maggie Koerth-Baker’s Fellowship of Three Things? You should: it is excellent. A very brief weekly email shot of interesting facts or observations from her year-long Fellowship at Harvard. It’s how newsletter content should be – whenever it turns up in my inbox, I am pleased to see it, and genuinely interested in the content.

So this week’s one had an interesting quote contained within it. It’s taken from Ava DuVernay’s Keynote Address at the 2013 Film Independent Forum (you can watch the entire thing here, if you like *cough* Alasdair I know you will *cough*).

All of the time you’re spending trying to get someone to mentor you, trying to have a coffee, all of the things we try to do to move ahead in the industry is time that you’re not spending time working on your screenplay, strengthening your character arcs, setting up a table reading to hear the words, thinking about your rehearsal techniques, thinking about symbolism in your production design, your color pallet.  All the time you’re focusing on trying to grab, you’re being desperate and you’re not doing.  You have to be doing something.  Because all of the so-called action that you’re doing is hinging on someone doing something for you.  

I love this quote. Last year was a tough year for writing (hell, every year is) and not insignificant amount of my time was spent navel-gazing in the most unproductive manner possible. For several reasonably long stretches, I just stopped altogether, because every time I sat down at the keyboard all I could think – all I could hear – was, “not good enough.” More insidious was the follow up thought, “what will people think of me when they discover I’m not good enough?

Weird thing to think, but that’s the human brain and a lifetime of social conditioning for you.

And I was wrong to do that. Yes, I got rejections. Yes, I felt incredibly disappointed. But maybe I could have wasted a little less time staring into the depths of my belly button wishing for validation, and a HELL of a lot less time worrying about what people think of me. I mean, we could even take stock now: my brother gave me a Goddamn kidney. You could not ask for a more direct and concrete proof of your value to another person when they spit out one of their internal organs on your behalf.

I don’t think there’s a resolution to be drawn from this, but I have been thinking more closely on how I react to my failures, my triumphs, and about what I actually want to do.

I want to write amazing things. I want to be better.

So now I’ve got to go and do it.

The babe with the power.

Around April last year, I kind of lost my mojo for doing anything other than work.  I didn’t burn out exactly, but I was feeling the pressure quite badly with all my spare time devoted to writing things up so that I would be prepared for the next working day.

As a result, a lot of things suffered.  My fitness nose-dived precipitously, and my writing ground to a sputtering halt.  The novel I was working on at the time still sits unfinished, partially because every time I go back to it I remember the experience of sitting looking at it and just not wanting to write anything.

Towards the latter half of 2011, I changed tack and started writing shorts, which worked a bit better for me…and was paradoxically worse because my short stories don’t turn out quite as strong as I hope.  Quit e a lot of attempts get binned off because they are chapters of much longer pieces than self-contained stories when I go back to them and look.  Still, I was getting stuff done again which was a step up from nothing at all.

it took NaNoWriMo to get me back onto the novel path.  My NaNo novel was, sadly, absolute guff after the first ten thousand words, an almost stream-of-consciousness mash of conflicts that went from back-street stabbings in one chapter to a bake-off challenge in the next. It was fun – I was actually quite proud of the bake-off –  but also very very hard going because every shred of common sense wanted to bin off the larger part of it and start again.  Only the goal of buying Scrivener for Windows (with the winner’s discount) kept me going.*

Now, I’m working on a new novel. I’ve got a couple of stories in the works, but mostly I’m focussing on the big project, chosen from a conflicting list of four similar-stage projects simply because I like the title (working) the best.

We’ll see how it goes. Lisa has noted that sometimes my writing is like her knitting – she gets new-project-itis and has no corresponding cases of get-it-finished-itis.  Hopefully in 2012 I can buck that trend.


*I’m not that much of a cheapskate, by the way.  I made a reasonable donation to the Office of Letters and Light to redress the balance