Writing the Great Office Novel
There is only so much procrastinating one can do. After a long hiatus, this weekend I finally got back to writing a little fiction. Right now the focus is on a (very ironically named) Great Office Novel. It really is nothing of the sort (certainly not the Great part), but is a means of me channelling some of my recent experiences, assimilating some others, and generally having fun with our 9-to-5 lives. Write what you know and all that. It’s been done before, it certainly has been done better, but I figure it is a good way to ease myself back into this fiction-writing lark.
I very much doubt I’ll let it see the light of day, and I’m not entirely sure why I’m trumpeting the news of “Yay! Look at me! I managed to string a few sentences together!” Perhaps ‘going public’ is a means of encouraging me, or shaming me, into actually writing some more.
I have no idea why it took so long to put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard, as the process seems to generally be a very enjoyable one. I guess there are a lot of distractions in the world, from the worthy (real life, friends and family, reading good books) to the less worthy (trashy TV, sport, games on my phone, beef jerky etc etc etc).
However, I do think about writing and possible tales to tell quite a lot. It seems like a fun game to play when stuck on a train, or heading to the shops. Maybe this is lazy, or self-indulgent. Maybe I should just roll my sleeves up and get on with it. But, at least someone is on my side.
The ever useful/interesting Mark Athitakis recently linked to a particular take on the writing process (the whole thing is worth a read, not just this quote):
“The biggest quirk to who I am as a writer is that I don’t like sitting at the computer until the life is full in my imagination. I call this “hitting critical mass”—the point where the character (in the situation, in the place) is so alive in my imagination that it’s clawing at the backside of my eyes to get out. About 80% of my process is spent not putting words of a blank page, but doing anything I can/need to do to reach critical mass.”
I don’t think I could be so eloquent about the process, but I can certainly relate to this. When I did actually sit down to write, I’d thought about it enough, and made enough notes, that the actual writing was pretty straightforward. I was able to dive into it. Maybe I was just lucky that day. Or maybe all that daydreaming and scrappy note-taking was worth it.
The writing became a discreet part of the process as I had already done a lot of the work while the page itself sat blank. I didn’t have to start from stratch, the writing wasn’t bound up in worrying about characters or action or whatever, and that obviously helped. I knew who I was writing about, I had an idea what they might do, and so could concentrate on getting that down in the best way possible.
This may, in fact, be just an apologia for my lack of activity. If I don’t follow up my first, productive, bout of writing with some more, then this is definitely just a weak excuse. But right now it makes me feel a little better about my own process (or lack of it). It doesn’t mean I think I’m on the road to creating a bestseller. Far from it. I’m strictly in the boundaries of hobby-dom right now. I write, but I’m not a writer.
But if I do write some more, I may give you an update on how it goes. In the meantime, any comments on your writing (or non-writing) habits would be most welcome!
Excellent quote from Athitakis and one I feel I need to bear in mnd as I often sit down with little idea of what I want to write and expect words to flood out. Good luck with your GON, whether it turns out to be truly great or simply another stepping stone on towards future works.
Thanks Steven – those words certainly made me feel a little better. I guess it shows the value in preparation, but’s that’s often easier said than done. I know my most dispiriting attempts at writing have been when I’ve looked at a blank page with little idea what to do, and then have gone on to write a load of rubbish. At least now I’m writing well-prepared rubbish!
Congrats on the start. Other than the editing process, it’s the hardest part.
In re writing habits, I’m great at coming up with excuses not to write. My current excuse is a doozy: I’ve decided I’m a misanthrope, and humanity doesn’t deserve to hear anything I have to say.
That is a fine excuse. I’m guessing the next stage is that you actually write something, but forbid its publication, and instruct your relatives to burn it upon your death.
Kafka asked his relatives to do the same thing, and look how that turned out.
The responsibility for burning Kafka’s work was left in his will to his best friend Max Brod. If Brod had not defied the will we’d never have heard of Kafka (he onyl published one short story in his lifetime as far as I remember). I feel torn by this. On the one hand he should have honoured his friend’s wishes. But on the other Brod was aware that Kafka had a distortedly negative opinion about his own work and felt that the stories were worth publication. Incidetnally, Brod’s biography of Kafka, based as it is on his own friendship with the man and enriched by personal letters as well as the fictional work of the man, is still the best.
I think I may have had Kafka lingering somewhere in the back of my mind when I wrote that comment. Thanks for the background info, Steven.
Now, I do like Mark Twain’s insistence on a 100 year wait after his death before the publication of his autobiography. A great way to build up anticipation, a great way to prolong interest in him and his work and a great way to ensure that anyone you might offend will be dead too. Clever chap!
Saw this in my RSS reader and thought of your novel idea. Edited by your boy Richard Ford to boot. Not bad.
Looks good – thanks for sharing. Ford seems to pop up in all manner of places. He seems to be the ‘go to’ guy if you need an editor for your collection, or someone to write your introduction. I’m glad I’m no completist, I’d never keep up.
[…] But I do realise that I now can’t just wash my hands of any problems. I can’t just blame the bosses, or the system, or the structure, or the circumstances. They are my problems now, and it not easy to solve them well. And it is not easy to avoid becoming a figure of fun or disdain. But I suppose being any sort of manager isn’t a popularity contest. I’m not after any sympathy. This sort of stuff goes with the territory. And there’s a long way to go yet. If nothing else it should offer some added material and insight to the never-to-be-seen Great Office Novel. […]