I know my novels tend to have a fair degree of carnage but, despite the fairly misleading title, this is not that kind of a post.
What I want to talk about is abandoning your writing, effectively killing a project or restarting it when something goes very wrong. Hopefully that now explains the title – if you, like me, think of your projects as children that you nuture until they can be released into the world, where they’ll hopefully fend for themselves without coming to you for a handout!
The second Stanton Brothers novel/novella The Glasgow Grin is now moving at a fair old clip, writing itself, so to speak, after a very tortured beginning. I’ve knocked out 7,000 words (about 6 chapters) in about the same amount of time it took me to write 1,000 of the original first chapter.
The original first chapter began in one room, with three men talking, basically explaining everything that had gone down in The Hunters. Some of the dialogue was serviceable, but it was otherwise inert. I tried to convince myself that it was necessary, that it would re-establish a connection for previous readers with the Stanton brothers and introduce them to those who haven’t met them before. Actually, what it did was bore me rigid.
Once you realise that you’re writing at the kind of speed usually reserved for blind illiterates then you should know that your book has real problems. When you realise that you actually dread opening the Word doc in order to stare at the lines you’ve had to drag out of your subconscious, kicking-and-screaming like Guantanamo Bay torture victims, then you should know that you need to kill the chapter, possibly the project.
In my usual slow-witted fashion I failed to initially realise any of the above. But once I knew the book wasn’t going anywhere in its current format I killed the project, ruminated for a week, and then started again.
The first book now begins with the Stantons following one of the characters from the previous novel to his love pad, where he is entertaining a woman who is not his wife. It’s all action. The action leads to revelation, which leads to more action, which leads to more… yeah, you get the idea. The Stantons are men of action, not philosophers; even the older, intelligent brother uses his brain on-the-fly. Moments of reflection, pauses for the reader to draw breath, should be just that – moments, and nothing more. Now the project is moving again, I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you, just in case you’re tempted to keep a project going even though you know it’s moving down a cul-de-sac. I hope I remember them when the third and fourth Stanton installments come around (hint, I already have started them).
Never begin a crime novel with three men in a room talking unless it’s actually about three men in a room talking. And if it’s not – kill it!
If you’re 1,000 words into a chapter and you still have no idea where the hell you’re going, and the threat of yet another 1,000 words of this torture is hanging over you – kill it!
If you’re far enough into a project to know it’s not working – kill it! Or, at the very least, put it in a coma and come back after writing something else for a while.
Don’t get too emotionally attached at the beginning of your project, because sometimes emotion clouds your better judgement. If in doubt – kill it!
Hopefully, you might get something from this. The Glasgow Grin is about five weeks behind schedule because I didn’t listen to my inner voice – you know, the one that tells you you’ve fucked up even when you’re busy congratulating yourself on a job well done.
In future, I think I’ll pay him a bit more attention!
Let me know if you’ve had similar problems, and what you did to dig yourself out. I’d love to hear from you.