Small ‘walls’

It’s (reasonably) well-established in running marathons that there’s a period when you psychologically don’t think you can run anymore; I think it happens around the eighteen to twenty-mile mark. You’re exhausted, you’ve come a long way and you’ve still got a fair way to go – it’s understandable.

I’m not sure if the metaphor really holds, but I find myself hitting very small, similar walls when I write. I’ll get a few hundred words done and then want a break. I’ll feel reluctant to carry on, wanting to do something else – and that’s ridiculous and impractical; it’d take forever to write a book doing just a few hundred words at a time.

And often I can overcome this by just persisting, but I do find myself wondering about the cause. Have I frazzled my brain so much with social media and switching between tasks so much that I can’t focus on doing something for a long time? Maybe … although I’m certainly happy to read for a long period of time at once. But then a part of me thinks that my attention span is shorter than it used to be; in the first few days of the Christmas holidays, I really had to fight to watch an entire film at once (a crazy time-luxury) rather than watching some and then pausing.

It’s not a great state for an author to occupy, and I’m certainly going to think about cutting back on non-essential attention-switching tasks and how I structure my life at work. Unfortunately, my job does require me to hop from project to project within each day (and each hour) but I’d like to avoid any further deterioration if I can…

I’m curious as to whether other authors or readers have experienced something similar, or whether it strikes you at certain times or places? It’s odd that I can read for a long period at a time, but when something actually needs proper concentration, it can be more difficult, but without being a cognitive psychologist, it’s hard to dissect. 

A ‘thank you’ to writers everywhere

Unless you’ve somehow come into a lot of money, or started writing when you were a student or on a career break, there’s no way around the first challenge of writing: everybody starts part-time.

And that leads rather neatly onto the second challenge of writing – and no, I’m not taking about ‘having an idea’: writing is hard.

I’m lucky enough to have a full-time job that’s reasonably well-paid, and have few other commitments; my partner also works, and the cat doesn’t require a lot. But still, coming home from the daily grind on London transport, and motivating myself to write a few hundred words … well, sometimes it’s tough.

Admittedly, sometimes it’s also joyous. I love my characters and my settings. Spending time with them, developing them can be a fantastic escape from regular life in the same way as reading or watching a good film / tv series can be, and sometimes I’ll get a second wind and just get sucked into creating. Once, when I was on the train from London to Edinburgh, I wrote just shy of six thousand words in a feverish haze, sadly missing most of the spectacular scenery.

But sometimes I’ll have to make a note that a particular chapter will DEFINITELY need more attention. I’ve got a small notepad file in the same folder as most of my WIPs with review notes. Those files tend to have sequel ideas in them, as well as points to come back to, but there’s a note in my file for Small Places that simply reads “I was in a weird place when I wrote chapter five – it might read a little flat”. I think I wrote most of it when I’d had a particularly hard day in the office!

So I wanted to just spend a moment congratulating all writers / authors for their WIPs and works, because it’s not easy. In fact, it’s spectacularly hard – to not only push your thoughts and ideas into a coherent creation with realistic, lovable (or detestable!) characters, but to do it when you’ve worked an eight (or more) hour day, when you’ve cooked dinner for your loved ones, when you’ve loaded the dishwasher, cleaned up, fed the cat (or your children) and you’d like nothing more than to slump in front of the TV and put on The Witcher.

But you don’t. You write. And on behalf of all readers, I’d like to thank you for that.

Which authors do people best?

I wanted to spend more time on authors, because something struck me the other day and I wanted to explore it a little. There are clearly some writers that I love, others that create immersive worlds. But one thing that strikes me is that a lot of us create idealistic worlds, with flawed villains and great (often flawed) heroes … but some writers are especially gifted at creating very realistic people and I wanted to call out a few specifically.

  1. Arthur C Clarke: I’m always struck by how well Clarke gets people – or more importantly, societies, even in fantastical settings. I remember reading the Rama series for the first time and being downcast by how everything goes to hell and back again, the importance of understanding and compassion. Somehow, despite the fact that it’s set on a giant space station with crazy aliens, Clarke manages to portray an amazingly human science fiction story.
  2. Julian May: May has huge skill in constructing an array of very human characters. Statesmen, gutsy students, precocious geniuses – no-one is flat or two dimensional in May’s world. It obviously helps that she has a lot of time and many, many words to do it in (Intervention is huge) but I absolutely love the depth of her people.
  3. Becky Chambers: I’m not quite sure that Chambers exactly fits the bill here, but Chambers certainly has the view of humanity that I want to exist. Her characters are always kind, do the right thing and I’ve been left with a big warm and fuzzy feeling after reading her first two books.
  4. Adrian Tchaikovsky: I’ve ‘only’ read the Shadows of the Apt series, but I was blown away by how Tchaikovsky constructs very nuanced, very human characters. They do have a lot of time to develop – which makes it more impressive that he manages it so effectively – and they don’t always develop in positive ways, but over the course of the series, you slowly realise that there’s a master at work.