“Don’t give up” sang Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, well they, my friends, were not three years into a novel that had stalled at 40,000 words. Alas, the big news on planet Gumbi this week is that after many painstakingly unproductive writing sessions I have decided that enough is enough and have shelved my latest opus. So, welcome to a blog piece of introspection as I kick the corpse of my novel and wonder if I can learn anything (or at least salvage one joke).
Let us start at the beginning…
For three years I’ve been thinking about Freddie Mercury. Or to be more precise, a Freddie Mercury impersonator who gets framed for a robbery he didn’t commit and so goes on to clear his name with police chases, roof-top fights, double-crosses and some hilarious dialogue, plus plenty of thrusting his arm in the air and singing ‘Waaaaaaaaaay-ooooo’
Yup, my new novel was shaping up to be a corker.
The problem was the plot became…well…over-plotted. Farcically over-plotted. I spent a year or more hovering around 40,000 words unable to go any further because nothing made sense. On the surface it looked great, lots of gags and some scenes I was really proud of, but underneath, it just didn’t work. The characters had no real goals, and when I gave them some, they were just too complicated to be understood by anyone other than Stephen Hawking, or that guy on Eggheads who always looks moody but knows everything about everything.
So, stuck at 40,000 words, and with the dreaded phrase ‘writer’s block’ circling me like a vulture, I decided to seek help. I spoke with friends and fellow writers. Told them I was 40,000 words in but had hit a wall. Nothing made sense. What should I do? Most people suggested carrying on. Finish the first draft and then edit it. I wanted to agree with them, but my problem was, that if I was beginning to resent the novel it would surely show in my writing, meaning no amount of re-drafting sparkle and glitter would save it. The bottom line is, I write for fun, I answer to nobody (apart from you, whoever and wherever you are, hello). If writing something is no longer fun – why continue?
For me, good writing has always been about being accessible fun. You should be able to feel the author’s sense of enjoyment shining off the page. If an author can’t put that fun into their work, what hope do they have of a reader getting fun out of it? (And I use the term ‘fun’ loosely. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing about serial killers or a comedy about a lethario beach-ball – your enjoyment in writing it should come through. Look at musicians for example. Take a look at the late BB King, or some classical performer at the Proms pulling the strange faces when they play – that’s the enjoyment right there. And that’s what I always want to get into my book).
It’s not as if I didn’t know the subject matter either. I grew up listening to Queen (it was one of the few bands both my parents liked) and I recall as a kid being given a badminton racket and jumping around my bedroom pretending I was Brian May, playing the solo to ‘I want it all’.
Despite writing ‘comedy’ – I took the subject matter seriously. I read lots of biographies on Freddie Mercury, listened to everything Queen and Freddie ever released (and I mean everything), and watched countless documentaries on his life as well as rewatching their concerts. Live Aid, Budapest, Wembley 86. I can’t say the research was hard work, but I wanted to make sure nobody could accuse me of writing about I subject I knew nothing about. And in the process I discovered a deeper appreciation for Queen / Freddie Mercury as I unearthed some of their lesser known tracks that are absolute belters (more on this another time).
And there you have it. 3 years of work, consigned to the digital dustbin. What this means next for me, I don’t know. Despite having nobody to answer to I hoped to be able to put out at least one book a year. A tall order as I work 55+ hours a week (including my commute). I have no shortage of ideas but it’s knowing which one to start on next. At the moment it’s looking likely I’ll start of a book that has something to do with Sega…and…wait for it…it might not be a comedy. I know, shock horror, right? It’s still too early to say. I’m going to take a month off (from writing) and come back and start again. The desire to write is still there, I just need to get the right project moving.
All the best.