Sunday 19 June 2016

On giving up and giving in

Hard at work with Zola and coffee
Yesterday, at the tea after a memorial service for a talented woman who had packed much into too short a life, I mentioned to an acquaintance that I had gone away to write for a week and during the first few days had given up on a book I'd been working on for a few years and decided to write something different. My co-conversationalist considered this a very brave and decisive action, which surprised me rather as it seemed to me to be an entirely pragmatic and sensible one. There is also the knowledge that giving up on a book is far from irreversible. Unless I were actually to delete all the files and throw away all the books and notes, I can go back to it later.  Leaving a book project is not like leaving a partner or a house. No one else will move into my space while I'm gone, even if I leave it for a few years (as I have done in the past with this particular project).

Spot the fish: some things take
time to identify
It is, of course, hard to give up on something you have been working on for a long time, especially if you still think it is basically a good idea. And to be honest I have not given up hope of one day wanting to get back to it - but it will be a day when I can devote the time to it that it needs, in unbroken chunks, rather than a few hours here and there separated by weeks or months of more urgent work and domestic responsibilities. The week in Sardinia I thought would be enough only showed me one thing - I was restless, less excited by it than I had remembered being, and found it hard to get into. Now, I could throw good time after bad, or cut my losses. If I had been at home, I might have done the first but with only one week to write on something uncommissioned that would have been rash. Being unwilling to write off a substantial investment is one of the worst things we do to ourselves in all areas of life. I remember bemoaning to a wise writer friend (Louise Berridge) that a remark she had made led me to feel that I had wasted ten years of my life on something, and she said that it was better to have wasted the last ten years than the next forty. Which is entirely true.

Finding things in rockpools,
including books and sea urchins
But giving up is not giving in - it is moving on. I'm not going to sit moping about the half-formed novel. Indeed, there is a certain irony that this particular book might never come into being as it's about things that don't come into being. I did not set it aside because I don't like it any more, though I have lived with it for too long. Nor, I think, because it's hard - though perhaps because it's too hard for current circumstances. I set it aside because I realised it's not what I should be doing right now.

This is an exciting time in publishing, particularly in the world children's non-fiction which is my original territory. There will always be fiction publishing. It makes no difference to the world whether I write that novel this year, next year, in 2025 or never. It's not as though the world is short of children's fiction. But there are projects I want to do whose time is ripe. I will regret it if I let that time pass while fiddling with a book that's not going right. Better to have wasted the last three years on a book than the next ten.

Back to work
As soon as I decided I wasn't going to work on it that week, a weight lifted from my shoulders. I found a new pattern to the days - working franctically in the morning on the book I did want to write, then spending the afternoon lying reading in the sun and poking around in rockpools on the beach. And that spawned another book idea. I know what I'm doing now. I have lots of ideas, and I can even prioritise them. All I had to do was give up.

1 comment:

  1. Those sound entirely wise decisions. I think that being in a different place often lets us see the familiar in a new light, and things like that become clear.