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It's a mood
In the last seven days I’ve completed NaNoWriMo (though not a book); turned 50 and had a great party; and managed after nearly two years to clear out my parents’ house for sale today. It’s been a huge investment of energy and focus and as night follows day now here I am in The Dip.
There’s a universe in which I care enough about meta-writing to do a whole book on the Writer’s Arc - not the shape of the stories we tell, but the shape of the life that goes with them and how writing and its industrial aspects inevitably affect mood. You could call it a User’s Manual for writers (and their families - and even their professional stablemates).
Roughly speaking: there’s the slightly scattered period of ideation, where an idea is surfacing. This is characterised by abstracted staring, forgetting things, sudden bursts of sunlight and frantic note-making, and then more silence. This is a comparatively good time to get a writer to do stuff, because they will agree fairly readily so long as you don’t actually interrupt one of the weird holy brain spasms which are the muses placing their first tentative kiss on the forehead of an idea.
Then there’s the first drive, which is frantic to the point of manic, excited and very upbeat, though depending on the narrative it can also be emotionally draining. The content of a story can be upsetting, even traumatic, and this obviously affects the mood of the person telling it. Then there are irrational highs from fight scenes, revelations, positive twists and sex scenes, each of which also plays into the person moving the levers. It can be hard to attract a writer’s attention during this phase. They will actively resent time-consuming activities to which they have previously committed with enthusiasm. (Note: this is, by the nature of the universe, almost always the moment at which they are required to do events. The suspension of the writing frenzy is unlikely to hurt the creative process in any substantive way, but they absolutely believe that it will and besides, they are enjoying themselves and you’re making them stop to do dumb stuff like eat.)
Next, inevitably, there’s the place I am now: the regathering, where critical faculties need to be brought to bear on the story before it can become what it needs to be. Rinse and repeat this triptych however many times, depending on the complexity of the story. One of the reasons I loved writing The Price You Pay was that there was barely any of this at all. The plot is quite linear: the seven worst people on earth are hired to kill one basically inoffensive cocaine dealer, who recognises that this represents a change in the basic rules of engagement and adapts with alarming enthusiasm. BOOM. That’s it. Done. Gnomon, by contrast, was five (or arguably more) separate stories each contingent on the others for plot advancement and backstory, so a change to one had a ripple effect which could restart the entire flow, triggering more changes… etc. Writers will do other things during this phase, but they will be somewhat grim.
Then there’s completion, and the come-down, then a kind of grinding restart to create a deliverable draft (punctuated again by the highs and lows within the narrative) and finally a long drawn out editing period and the weird absence of anything to do on publication day…
But back to The Dip. Basically this is the resting state. I need a break but I don’t feel able to take one. I want to watch TV and devour junk food for two days. I should probably do an exercise class and dine exclusively on fruit. I have a bunch of admin tasks requiring my attention, and yet there’s still a bunch of book to write and a re-engagement with my own product to mastermind…
Hence right now, today, I sit like a marble that’s fallen into the crack between two cushions. Every direction feels hard.
Sooooo I’m gonna go buy some kombucha, maybe some sushi for lunch, and pick one thing off the top of the list that needs to happen. Once I do that, the next thing will happen easier, and then the next and the next and before you know it, this little marble will be up the side of the cushion and rolling around wherever the hell I want to roll.
Managing my own emotional and cognitive puzzle box is something I’m very used to. I treat the brain as the machine that does me, and I expect to have to tweak its direction, fuels etc to get what I need out of it. I’m a process, and that process is a little bit (maybe more than a little bit) Teramac. I’m good with it.
Have you ever stood in front of the mirror and said your own name until the sound became unfamiliar? Welcome to Fragmentary, a totally not-disturbing occasional newsletter.