something is squeaking

Something is squeaking in my room, and no no NO it is not my small bewhiskered friend Alphonse, he of the beret and the Gauloise and the stinky cheese. (I upset him by stuffing all the mouse holes with wire wool and peppermint-soaked cotton, and haven’t seen him since.) Maybe there is always something squeaking in my room at half past three in the morning. I wouldn’t really know because as a rule I am asleep at that time, with earplugs squeezed in my lugholes on account of all the outside noises I still haven’t gotten used to.

Maybe it’s my brain that’s squeaking. This book I’m writing has been kicking my arse lately, and insisting on getting me up in the middle of the absolute night if I want to achieve plenty wordage, which I do. Writing books is hard. It’s so hard it amazes me that anyone has ever actually managed to do it. It’s so supremely difficult that I can see now why some people will do anything but anything to avoid writing books, no matter how much they insist that’s what they really really want more than anything. I know plenty of ‘writers’ who don’t write. Edinburgh is seething with them. There’s a whole literature ‘scene’ in Edinburgh that pretty much seems like one big long excuse for not actually writing very much. (I put ‘scene’ in scarequotes because I wouldn’t want you to confuse it with an actual scene that’s like, you know, happening and groovy.)

You’d think there would be some kind of balance, a happy medium between poncing around on the ‘scene’ being a ‘writer’, and being awake at three-thirty in the morning fighting with your story-brain so hard that you are seriously considering attempting to persuade a mouse to write that tricky third act of your novel.

But that is not the squeak of a mouse. Perhaps it is the moon that is squeaking. Perhaps this is how the moon sounds: sharp and squeaky like a broken chair. A broken chair… Oh.

Oh, I see.

how to write stuff and that

I have a confession to make. Actually, it’s kind of embarrassing. I’m making light of it, but it’s serious. I’m addicted to these:

Not just books in general, but books in particular. Books about writing, to be precise.

Last night, I counted. I have 37 books about writing, plus assorted reference books and works of criticism and theory. That’s a lot, right? That’s a crazy amount.

There are books on craft – plot, structure, character, point of view, genre… All these books say the exact same things, over and over until you basically want to kill yourself. Three and five act structure. Get to know your characters. Set the scene. Don’t overdo the exposition… blah blah blah let’s all die.

Then there are the big hitters: Story, by Robert McKee; Syd Field’s Screenwriting. Actually useful if you’re writing a film, although I do suggest getting the hardback edition of Story so that you can use it to beat yourself around the head when you finally watch Adaptation, and realise that some unspeakable genius has already processed the whole thing, turned it inside out, and written a film about it. And got Robert McKee to play himself in it, which is surely the icing on the cake of genius, and a good point at which to start beating yourself around the head.

There are books like Writing Down the Bones, which is perhaps the least helpful but most poetic book about writing ever written; books that polemicise and politicise the act of writing, like Carol Bly’s The Passionate, Accurate Story; and writers’ memoirs, such as Stephen King’s On Writing, which is full of great practical advice and is highly entertaining and readable, too.

The Queen of books about writing has to be The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. This is the book that shames, bullies and goads writers into actually sitting down and working – and laughs in the face of those who think buying/reading books about writing is anything other than procrastination and avoidance of work. I recommend it. It’s worked for me, you know?*

*I’ve totally given them up, honest I have. Well, except that Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook is coming out soon, and I have to see the story fish. But that’s completely different. Completely!