Taking advantage of the holiday period of catch up (or attempt to catch up) with all sorts of edits on old pieces of work: wrestling word counts to manageable lengths, or tailoring a story for a different medium. There are a couple of playwriting events / short story competitions coming up that I (probably) have stuff ready for. And while it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s keeping me busy, there is the disquieting sense of it all not being ‘real’ writing.
There are, of course, many ways for writers to avoid the actual work of writing. You can chat at parties about the upcoming seven-books-in-progress that are all about an alien bounty hunter that you’ve named after a Croydon landmark (it’s been at least twenty years, and I still remember that guy. As far as I’m aware, he was not successful with either his book or the object of his affections that he spent most of that evening attempting to chat up). Or perhaps you can write the thrilling opening pages to the BEST IDEA YOU’VE EVER HAD before getting slightly too bored with the middle section and then finally getting distracted by a SHINY NEW IDEA which is almost certainly the BEST IDEA YOU’VE EVER HAD and has a much better middle section anyway (probably), and start writing that idea instead until SHINY NEW IDEA/repeat til fade. Another way to delay actual writing is to, uh, hack out a blog every so often. And then of course, there’s this: to edit / rewrite stuff you’ve actually already done.
I do do this. And I’m mindful of it: if there’s one thing worse, or at least on a level, with never actually finishing your damn words, it’s to never let your damn words go, and to be continually going over them, like a child carefully tracing a crayon over an already finished sentence. You (probably) know that what you’ve already finished is pretty good (hell, it was a piece of work that you actually finished, rather than being distracted by a SHINY NEW IDEA), and at my level, it’s fair to point out that the actual numbers of people who have seen my work is – well, let’s be honest, it’s in the low numbers. I mean, my writing for stage has certainly been seen by hundreds of different people, probably in the low thousands: but that, in real terms, is a vanishingly small number of punters. And if you believe in your work, you’re entitled to also believe that it deserves a longer shelf life than perhaps it will get from your initial production.
So while I’m reluctant to get too suffocated in the sweet seduction of continually rewriting / reproducing old material while not quite taking the plunge of rolling up my sleeves and starting on something entirely new (I LIKE my trifle I TRUST my trifle, I will always EAT my trifle, what’s this CABBAGE shit you’re trying to pull), it doesn’t mean that old work should just be kicked to the dust as soon as it has (or has failed to) serve its purpose. At some point of course, you have to be able to leave the hell alone: otherwise, you’ll end up like George Lucas, or worse, John Godber, updating Shakers (a time-locked play set in an eighties cocktail bar) to Shakers Restirred (uh, a time-locked play set in an eighties cocktail bar).
The last two pieces of successful writing I’ve produced (for the purposes of this blog, I’m defining ‘successful’ as a piece of writing that was accepted / produced / published by a person or company that has no connection – and therefore no obligation – to me), were both pieces that had previously existed in some other form. They had served their purpose, and been enjoyed in some small way. But the opportunity arose to take them out of the bottom drawer (not actually a bottom drawer) and send them out into the world. This, as much as anything, is the end of the chapter for them: they now exist without my interference.
And now on to the next story ..
(You can still pick up a copy of the January issue of Writers Magazine – with my story in it – in shops like WHSmith)