Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Of graphs and serendipity ...

This graph depicting the writing process (via Sandra Gulland and Sarah Eve Kelly on Twitter) gave me a much needed chuckle this week (click on the graph to see an enlarged version):

I’m three quarters of the way through re-plotting my first draft. I have a thick chunk of new index cards to show for it and several blisters on my fingers, because the only way I seem to be able to plot is by writing reams and reams of brainstorming notes by hand.

So, I’ve been busy cutting extraneous padding, tucking in loose ends, finding ways to increase tension – until Monday, when according to the above graph, I hit the “Dark Night of the Soul”.

Oh boy, was it dark. I came to a fairly major tangle, plot-wise; one that totally stumped me. And the more I tried to unravel it, the more confused I became. So I did what any normal writer does in this situation - became totally convinced it was pointless to continue with revisions, with the book, with the whole writing caper. For how could I continue to write anything when I'd managed to produce such a stupid, plotless book, without even noticing? Without any inkling? How could I have been so dumb? And as the day progressed, and with me no closer to a solution to my plot snarl, I became firmly convinced that in setting out to see whether I could write a book, all I had in fact done was prove, unequivocally, that I could not.


Told you it was dark.

So, I wallowed on the couch most of Monday, with these types of thoughts running through my brain. Then even I became bored with that, so I picked up the book I’m currently reading (a Lee Child), to drown my misery… and a funny thing happened. Sure, as I read, the “I suck” thoughts morphed into bitter “my book TOTALLY sucks compared to this awesome book” thoughts, but then gradually, gradually, all the negativity began to fade into the background and I felt a flicker of … something else. Hope? I’m not sure; but I do know that the simple act of reading a damn good book inspired me to tell my inner critic to shaddup, get off the couch and get back to work.

I want to write a great book. I think I might be able to do so; maybe not this book, but eventually … and the only way to get there is to keep learning, keep revising, keep going.

So, as of today, I’m at the “It will be good to finish it because I will learn for the next novel” point on that graph. Hopefully this upward trend will continue. And thanks to that dark little moment, I now know I have to look outside myself if I’m going to maintain a positive attitude towards writing. I need something independent of me to make me go, “yeah, I want to do that!” so I don’t slip in to the abyss. And I need to get that fix NOW.

And this is where the serendipity kicks in.

I live in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. It’s not a huge city – a runt, in fact, when compared to Sydney or Melbourne – but we do punch above our weight when it comes to our biennial “Adelaide Festival of Arts”, which includes a kick-ass “Writers’ Week”. Starting 28th of February, three huge tents will spring up in the city parklands to house the sixty-two writers and poets who will come from all over the globe to speak and hold discussion panels … all for FREE! This year’s list of presenters is awesome. Let me name-drop a few:

Audrey Niffenegger (THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE)

Markus Zusak (THE BOOK THIEF)

Tom Keneally (SCHINDLER’S ARK)

Sarah Dunant (author of the brilliant historical novels THE BIRTH OF VENUS and IN THE COMPAY OF THE COURTESAN)


Needless to say I’ve already earmarked seven talks I’m definitely going to, and three others if I can get someone to watch the kids.

I always come away from hearing writers speak with a huge infusion of energy and enthusiasm for my own work. I guess it’s seeing someone doing what I would love to do, hearing how they got there, and thinking “maybe, just maybe …”

So there it is – inspiration and motivation by the bucket load, delivered to my doorstep free of charge and right on time.

And my question for you - what does it for you, when you're looking to remain positive whilst in the midst of the inevitable writing doldrums?


  1. Bwhahaha! Oh girl, I hear you. Mine is more like a dark YEAR of the soul. (g)

    And I am SO jealous of your getting the chance to meet all of those fabulous authors -- especially Markus Zusak!!!! You're gonna have so much fun!

  2. Soo jealous! Irvine Welsh, Marcus Zusak AND Tom Keneally? Do you know, he was scheduled to come to Motnreal but then the event was cancelled! You'll have to take lots of notes for us :-)
    Loved the graph! I sent it around to quite a few people. I think I'm at the "this is going to take some work" stage, which is scary, cos my dark night of the soul is YET TO COME! Aaaa!!!

  3. I'm jealous! Wish I could get some time off work and be there.

    Have an awesome time, Rachel! *s*