Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Amazing what can be achieved when necessary

Two years ago I was writing a novel called Nikolai Dante: The Strangelove Gambit, based on the popular swashbuckling rogue from weekly British comic 2000 AD. Publisher Black Flame was expecting a 70,000 word manuscript, I had ten days left until my deadline and only 35,000 words already written. So, what did I do? Went south to visit the in-laws for the weekend, staying in a very nice B&B at Pangbourne. It's a lovely village and came in handy when I was plotting a Sarah Jane Smith audio drama the following year, but that's not entirely relevant. Or, indeed, at all.

So, come Monday morning I had seven days left and a minimum of 35,000 words to write. IIRC, I was endeavouring to lose three stone in weight that summer [successfully, to my surprise], so I stopped working at four every afternoon to exercise for half an hour and take a bath. I like to start work at the top of the hour, so had to begin at 9am or risk losing an hour to my stupid, irrational superstition. In total that left me with seven working hours a day, with lunch to be squeezed into that time. I try to keep office hours and not work at weekends - working from home makes it all too easy for your profession to seep outwards and consume your personal life. Being disciplined about keeping office hours [and getting work done in that time] stops me feeling guilty for not working the rest of the time when I'm at home.

So, seven hours a day and five days to produce at least 35,000 words - not to mention giving them a good cut and polish at some point during the following Monday. Not easy, but theoretically possible, I thought. In the past I'd produced 7000 words of fiction in a day, usually when thrashing my way to the end of a novel and the momentum of my story was carrying me forwards like a wave tossing a toddler towards a beach. But there were a couple of other factors in play...

It was July and - unusually for Scotland - summer had arrived. That week was a scorcher: blistering sunshine, searing heat, hot, hot, hot, hot and hot. No problems, you say. Put on a pair of shorts, open a few windows, drink plenty of liquids. Of course, that's what I did. But then I couldn't shut the windows, because the outside of the house was being painted by two men in a cherry picker, its engine chugging away noisily outside my office all bloody day. Get some earplugs, you say, put on some music, block them out. Of course, that's what I tried to do.

But the ambient noise of the cherry picker's chugging engine was already being overwhelmed by the fact a dozen men from the local council had chosen that week to dig up the pavement outside the house. Now, I live in a rural town, not much bigger than a village [but larger than both a hamlet and a break basket]. A car drives past about once every ten minutes. I can tell when a tactor's going by thirty seconds before it does, so slight is the amount of noise round here. Visitors from London complain the dawn chorus of birds is too noisy - but they've never heard the dawn chorus before, due to the quiet cacophony that is like in London.

So, blistering heat, chugging cherry picker engine, jackhammers and a road crew, all conspiring to dissuade me from trying to meet my deadline. Despite all of that, I wrote seven thousand words a day for five days in a row. I took Saturday off, came up with another few thousand words on Sunday morning and then sub-edited the whole novel by 4 on Monday afternoon. The book was delivered on time and is probably one of my better efforts. [Honour Be Damned is my favourite of the Dante novels, because I'd gotten a good handle on the charcters. Plus, how can you go wrong writing a story that effectively retells The 39 Steps with Han Solo and Emma Peel in the lead roles? You can't, it's that simple.]

You know that bit in Back to the Future where Doc Brown keeps saying you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it? He's right. It can be bloody hard work and requires a lot of teeth-gritting determination, but you can do it. And the moral of that anecdote? It's time to knuckle down and do some work. Onwards!

No comments: