Unwise writer, week 4: Amélie, worrying less and Neil Gaiman

Firstly, on a non-writing topic, the French film Amélie has been on my mind over the past few days. I probably don’t need to explain why. I’ve found myself watching clips on YouTube, and digging out my DVD copy to rewatch over the weekend to remind myself of a city that is generally far removed from terrorist threats.

It easily has a place on my 10 ten film list, and I’ve been trying to describe why in a blog post and failing – I’m as much a fan of quirky gnome adventures as the next person, but that’s not what I was clumsily trying to express. What’s relevant at the moment is that, while a far cry from the gritty reality of a city that has as many problems as plus points, the film nonetheless captures some essence of Paris’s unique charm and magic and POSITIVITY. And those qualities are important to keep hold of now, given recent events.

I’ve been getting a bit stressed about writing this week. I’m at the notoriously difficult mid-section of my book, and could see a straight, empty stretch ahead, waiting to be filled with more plot and character development than my inexperience could manage. It was starting to feel like a chore, not a route I want to go down with something that should be enjoyable. So I gave myself a stern talking to.

“Self,” I said, “you’re taking this way too seriously.”

“Are you ever going to get tired of that old joke?” I replied, arguing back quite heatedly and with some appalling language. But in the end, I won.

Yes, you have to be disciplined and not let yourself off the hook every time you want to avoid writing because then you’ll always be too busy matching socks and itemising the Odd Stuff drawer. But you have to be zen about it. See where the story takes you if you don’t have a clear plan for the day’s work. One piece of sound writing advice I keep hearing is that if you get stuck (and even if you don’t) you should constantly ask of your plot and characters, ‘What if?’ Along with the obvious question ‘Why?’, it continuously pushes you in fresh and better directions.

So my mantra at the moment is, worry less. It’s something that can probably be applied across the board.

At exactly the moment I needed it, I read a great NaNoWriMo pep talk by Neil Gaiman. In it, he describes how he always goes through a terrible crisis when he’s in the middle of a novel, wondering why on earth he’s inflicting it on himself and potential readers. With all the chirpy writing advice out there, it’s a relief to hear someone so successful honestly expressing this kind of self-doubt. That perhaps when you feel what you’re writing is dull and clunky and cliched, you might just be wrong. It’s something to hold on to in order to keep plugging away, page after page. Because that’s what you have to do, write page after page. To use the analogy that Gaiman does, in order to build a dry-stone wall you have to keep picking up rocks and slotting them together, one at a time. He distills the magic and mystique of writing down even further:

“Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat” – Neil Gaiman

This week’s word count: a very respectable 11,853 in the last seven days, despite one day where I was unable to write at all. It’s now exactly halfway through the NaNoWriMo challenge, and I’ve written 26,886 words of the 50,000 words required.

Read Week 5: novel writing 101 here


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