Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Doubting Stage

There comes a point during the writing of each of my books when I start to doubt the worth of what I'm doing, and The Reapers has reached that point recently. I should be used to it by now, I suppose. It is, I think, the writing equivalent of the marathon runner's 'wall', where it seems easier to give up than to go on.

Even now, on my tenth book, I can't quite understand where this doubt comes from. Neither does it get any easier to deal with, although at least I am familiar enough with it at this point to realise that it's a natural, if difficult and debilitating, part of what I do. Progress slows, and it's hard to force myself to sit at my desk and work for hours when my confidence in what I am doing has been shaken. I look for ways to trick myself into persisting: this column, for example, or a travel piece on Taiwan that I've written for The Irish Times. I write something easier in the hope of dissipating some of the fog that hangs over the larger project to hand when I turn to work on it.

To be fair, despite the difficulties of the last few weeks (not all of them related to writing) I've kept to the schedule I set myself after I finished touring. I took a few days off to try to get my house in order and ensure that all of my bills had been paid, then returned to the book on August 1st. Each day, I decided that I would work on a chapter, revising and rewriting, sometimes adding in a whole new chapter if there was a gap in the narrative. My plan is that by the start of September I will have a start-to-finish draft and can then set about fine-tuning it. In theory, I should be on Chapter 21. I'm actually on Chapter 18, but given the fact that I spent Sunday watching Man Utd being beaten by Man City (yay!) followed by Liverpool being robbed of two points by a referee who should have been wearing a mask and holding a gun (boo!) I can account for at least one of those lost chapters.

Today, somebody posted a 'Discuss The Reapers' thread on my website, from which I'll stay away. I don't want to know what people expect from it, or even what they'd like to see, mainly because I suspect the book will not be quite what readers might be anticipating. (It goes back to a piece of advice James Lee Burke gave me, one that I've quoted here before: "You have to learn to ignore both the catcalls and the applause.") There is no supernatural element, and most of it is seen through the eyes of a minor character from the earlier books, the mechanic Willie Brew. It's a less tortured novel than those in the Parker sequence, frequently lighter in tone, and the prose is less elaborate. When Parker does appear, we seem him as others, and Willie in particular, see him: a distant, slightly unnerving man in whom goodness and a violence born of grief struggle for supremacy. In that sense, although it is primarily an Angel and Louis novel, it serves as a companion piece to the Parker novels, and is set after The Unquiet. Structurally, meanwhile, it juxtaposes Louis's past and his present situation, which means that I've been writing twin narratives at times and trying to find the places in the story where they can overlap.

And that's probably as much as I'm going to say about it for the time being. Now, having tricked myself into writing a few hundred words, I'm going to move on to Chapter 19. Slow, steady progress: it has worked before and, God willing, it will work again . . .

This week John read

Don't You Know Who I Am by Piers Morgan
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

and listened to

The Reminder
by Feist
Of Stars and Other Somebodies by The Silent League
Life Embarrasses Me on Planet Earth by Seventeen Evergreen


Anthony said...

Hi John

Only met you the once so far, you signed my first edition of 'Every Dead Thing'(did not ebay it by the way.
Also can't believe it's ten books down the line now, I've reread them so many times yet they still keep me turning pages every time.
Good luck with The Reapers hopefully it will be another first edition you will sign for me.Any updates on the movie adaption of The Book Of Lost Things? Can't wait to see how it appears.


John said...

Thanks, Anthony. We are both a decade older! As far as I'm aware, John Moore, the director, is probably approaching the script stage now, or at least considering the details of adaptation. Tentatively, it has a release date of 2010, so it's some way off yet . . .

Ali Karim said...

Bollocks to the doubt - THE UNQUIET proved to me that your writing ability is supreme, bloody story still haunts my mind - so as to doubt, ignore it and keep writing


thomashyland said...

A mark of character is to stay the course, despite distraction or difficulty or pain. The discipline you display with your craft is always admirable and ever honorable. And the results you display always mirror the integrity of it all.

fran said...

Fantastic a whole book about Louis and Angel! I'm so looking forward to reading it as there is so much more I want to know about them.

fran said...

Its fantastic that the new book will have more about Louis and Angel.I have really enjoyed their development throughout all the "Parker" books and look forward to understanding them even more. Fran