My good friend Nick Ollivère once told me the greatest piece of advice a writer can ever hear: “If it’s boring to write, it will be boring to read.”
I have tried to live by that ever since. You want to keep yourself interested in your own project. But at the same time there are several competing aspects. Some things in your writing are, by their nature harder to do than others. I love writing dialogue. I could write dialogue until the cows come home. But I’m writing a novel, not a play. It’s supposed to be difficult. It is supposed to be challenging. And luckily it is. That’s the good news. But sometimes you get to a bit which is hard. It isn’t boring, it’s hard. I was faced with this yesterday afternoon. In the morning I had written 6 pages and while writing at all was starting to hurt my brain after this intensity it came reasonably easily. I didn’t feel any big desire to get away from the computer. After lunch I came back to it and almost immediately I hit a scene that was difficult.
The thing is that it wasn’t boring, I wanted to know what was going to happen to my hero as much as I hope you do. I wanted to know how they deal with the situation. It’s easy with boring because of Nick’s rule. I think to myself, “Well lets just try without the scene”. It invariably works. It’s a kind of magic golden rule. If you don’t obey it when you’re writing you’ll as sure as hell obey it when you come to editing.
But with difficult it’s quite different. I have thought about skipping scenes like this for a bit. Coming back to them later, but I’m really not sure. I read the magazine Private Eye and I really love it. Some other people I know love it but only read the cartoons. They get the magazine and then they read all the cartoons and then after that they never quite have time to read the content. I have a rule, I only turn the page when I’ve read the content. And that means that I save the cartoons until I get to that page. I read them first in one big sweep across the page. But before I can have more I have to read the content. It’s crazy really because I love the content. But I know that I’m lazy. If I didn’t have the rule then it wouldn’t happen. I’d read the cartoons and pretend I’d read the content.
So I can’t really skip forward. If I skip forward. then I’ll have a period at some point where I don’t want to face going back to the novel because all I have is the hard bits. The problem was that I had the hard bits on an afternoon when I didn’t have much time. I was going out too see a friend so I needed to get on with it.
Time is the most crucial thing it would seem. On Wednesday when I started I was constrained because I had to travel up to London and back, and I had to have dinner at a certain time and so on. Thursday was a horrible day for writing I felt, but it was easier because I could move everything around. I had no constraint. I wrote the last two pages in the last hour before midnight. But yesterday (Friday) was harder. I had to stop at five thirty in the afternoon. At quarter to five I had written 9 pages. Now of course writing 10 pages didn’t seem enough. I felt that I needed to write 13. I wanted to beat a full day of writing on a part day.
At five thirty I hadn’t quite finished, I pushed on, knowing that I would be late for my friend. By six o’clock I knew I had to start getting ready to leave. I had written 12 and three quarter pages. Close but no cigar.
I left the house and I could feel that my mind was mush. I spent the evening feeling very confused and strange. My brain was just exhausted.
On my way home I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get home and finish that page. It was hanging over me. I arrived home at ten minutes past eleven and sat down at the computer. Only a quarter of a page to write.
And it was done. 13 pages. But I have no idea if I’ll be able to do anything today.