I’ve just spoken to a friend who is half way through re-writing a 5,000-word piece. ‘Every five minutes I need cake,’ she complained. The puritan in me told her: ‘You shouldn’t have cake until after you’ve done some of it. As a reward.’ She said she just needed cake to get through a paragraph.
Haven’t we all been there? In the middle of that awful messy re-draft when we can no longer see the wood for the trees or the syntax for the sentences; when we don’t even know what the story is about, or why we’re writing it. Fear not. This is part of the process. It’s rare for me to write anything that’s worth writing without going into the scary bit in the middle. The longer the piece of work, the more likely it will happen. And Ben Okri wrote some very sane words about it.
A true story-teller suffers the chaos and the madness, the nightmare—resolves it all, sees clearly, and guides you surely through the fragmentation and shifting world.
I had these words up in my office when I was writing Last Seen in Lhasa. Sometimes entire weeks felt like I was drowning in the chaos. But eventually I swam out the other side.
You have options. You can procrastinate (more on that next week), you can drink umpteen cups of strong black or vacuum the house. But really, you have to keep chipping away, paragraph by paragraph, line by line.
A few other tips to help you through:
Take regular walks to air the brain.
Break the piece of writing into sections. With a tricky part, copy and paste it into a new document, and just focus on getting that into shape. Simple, but effective!
If you’re stuck on the beginning, tackle the middle.
Unless you have a deadline, put it aside for a couple of days and then print out a double-spaced hard copy. This helps get distance from your writing, especially if you always work on the screen. Read it slowly with a red pen in hand. Edit as you go.
Then, make a new draft on the computer and type in your changes.
And then, eat cake.