Staring At A Page, And Thinking

I’m writing a book.

Or rather, I’ve written a book. It’s finished in its narrative; all the plot points that want to get out have gotten out, most of the words that were aching to burst forth have duly burst, and are now trapped in a Word doc ready to be devoured by (hopefully) a lot of people.

But I haven’t finished a book yet.

I’m in that seemingly infinite stage of the process known as ‘editing’. The part where I go over and over my book, analysing each word like a disapproving parent looking over a report card – and often with the same result.

‘Could do better.’

‘Needs improvement.’

‘If only he applied himself at Home Economics he could be the new Julia Childs.’

Maybe not the last one. But it behooves me to be extremely self-critical when I’m looking over my work; because other people don’t have any loyalty towards my creation and so they can – and will – be as critical as they choose to be. If I’ve already asked myself all the questions that they ask me, I’ll have answers.

That’s the plan, anyway.

There’s nothing like printing out 100+ pages that you’ve written

The challenge comes when I don’t have those answers. Like, for instance, take this excerpt from the book:

(For anyone who is interested in a brief blurb about the book before you read, here you go.

A man wakes up in a burning building with no memory and no idea where he is. The only clue to his identity and his predicament lies in the battered notebook lying beside him when he wakes up. Using the notebook, he must traverse this strange new landscape, searching for answers and maybe, a way to save the world.

Ok. Carry on.)

The room was lit with a brilliant white light, coming from several ceiling lights. I had inadvertently leant against the switch to turn these lights on, not expecting the place to have power. It must run on a separate power system to the building upstairs. This, at least, decided my choice on what to do with exploring the place. It also, I realised, explained the hum below me – clearly the power generator. I wondered what else had power in this place; if the lights were working, it was likely that other things were as well. I would explore that later, however. For now, I set off to look around my newly lit discovery.

The room was indeed large, at least 50 paces across and nearly 30 paces deep. Most of the floor space was taken up with bits of equipment and machinery, none of which I knew anything about. For a second I wondered if I had known their names and uses before the memory loss, then dismissed the thought as redundant. Even if I had, it would not help me here, and I turned my attention back to searching.

Although there was light and as far as I could tell power, this place had not fully escaped destruction. It looked more like a whirlwind had raced through than a fire had raged. Chairs tipped on their sides, desks and machines lying strewn, white boards and cracked screens fallen from the walls. I quickly checked each of the desks but barring paper, pens, and useless trinkets there was nothing worth taking. I turned my attention to the wider room.

From where I stood, I could see three more doors leading out from the room; one for each of the walls in front of me. I decided to start with the door on my left and work around the room. With no windows, I had no idea which direction I was facing, and after a few moment’s thought I scooped up a thick black pen which lay on the floor nearby and scrawled the word ‘Stairs’ on the door behind me. That way, even if I got confused and disoriented during my exploration, I would have a point of reference.

This done, I made my way to the door set in the left wall. It swung open to my touch, but the corridor beyond was dark and unlit. I could just about make out a second set of doors at its far end. With my encounter with the Mad upstairs still fresh in my mind, I was in no hurry to go running into dark rooms and I decided to skip this doorway for now and leave it till last.

After scrawling the word ‘Dark’ across the door, I moved on to the next set of doors; the ones directly opposite to the stairs. These led to a corridor which was bright and lit, and so I walked into it. Two more sets of doors greeted me; one set into the far wall, and another smaller door just a few paces away from me.
This latter door I pushed open.

I know, riveting stuff. This is where the main character stumbles across a fairly important location within the narrative. He has to explore it fully, from top to bottom, and tell you (the reader, eager and bright-eyed) all about it as he does.

Have you ever tried explaining to someone the inside of house in an exciting and dynamic way? I bet you haven’t, cus it’s really fucking difficult. I do not envy estate agents the challenges of their job.

Hmm. Maybe I should find an estate agent and ask them for advice. Hmmmmmmm…

I did a lot of writing practise around this book, getting used to writing in first person and using a personal tone. It’s been a learning process for me, and I’ve loved it. The idea that I can continue to develop styles and practises as I’m writing something so close to me is exhilarating and keeps me passionate about the process. When I come across a passage in the book that I instantly think ‘Oh, now I know a better way to say this’ and I can enact that, improving something that I already think is pretty darn good already, it’s a real boost to the self-esteem.

At the risk of falling over that line between fervent and preachy, I think it’s very easy to distinguish a hobby from a passion.

<start tangent>

When I was growing up, my poor dad would often dispair as he came into the room and found me glued to a computer. Generationally, you see, that wasn’t a thing; not nearly as much, anyway. The idea that time can be whiled away on a laptop is a new one, and for someone who straddled that gap between ‘No Computer’ and ‘So Many Computers’ it’s a concept which is difficult to reconcile with. The idea that being on a computer was a hobby and not a waste of time takes some getting used to. Even now when I sit in my apartment and play a video game, I have a pang of guilt when the sun hits my face.

Nevertheless, the fact is that laptops, phones and computers, for all their potentially mind-numbing ignorance-fueling social-media-run mass hysteria, are also tools of creation that allow people – that have allowed me – to create things that they can really be proud of. And I’m very glad for that.

</end tangent>

I think a major difference between a hobby and a passion is enjoyment. There have been times that I’ve sat and shouted at my laptop screen, ground my teeth in annoyance, stood up and got a cup of tea vowing never to look at another word ever again…. and sat down again five minutes later determined to finish, no matter the dental implications. A passion doesn’t let you leave over such petty things as momentary frustration.

When you’re passionate about something, it becomes equally passionate about you. Like a love affair involving tight black dresses and equipment that wouldn’t look out of place on a riot officer’s utility belt, you’re caught tight and often can’t let go, any more than you want to be let go.

It’s very likely that I’m both over-thinking this, and over-stressing my point. I do both often; the side effects of being a writer is to look very critically at words and thoughts – like an old Scooby Doo villain, usually if you pull back the mask on a thought, you find the true intention behind it. And sometimes, like a Scooby Snack or the vague implication that Shaggy is aware he’s in a cartoon, sometimes things are just for comedic effect.

I guess the main take away of this particular blog post is a fairly simple and straight-forward message after all, even layered as it is under paragraphs of semi-introspective clobber.

Buy my book.


by Toby Williams

in all good bookshops soon

1 thought on “Staring At A Page, And Thinking”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *