The Plateau (and other problems)
Ah, right. Hello there. Come in, sit down; make yourselves comfortable whilst I try to figure out what I want to write about. In all honesty, I’m struggling to find a topic. I’m sorry, I know that’s not very professional. I rejected every idea I came up with this week. I’ve spent today waiting for the something to come along and, well, here I am: still waiting. I guess that’ll teach me. It appears blogging beggars can’t be blogging choosers.
The worst of it is that I always knew this day was coming. Ever since I started the blog. I knew, one day, I would hit the wall. The barrier. I’ve reached the blog plateau. I’ve got nothing to say and an allotted time I set myself to say it in.
What’s the proper etiquette here? Do I walk away and hope no one notices we went a week blog free? That feels very much against the aim of whatever this is. I want to keep a dialogue open with you. Because, you know, I’m Mr Needy.
I’ve been writing a blog a week since around mid January. Which, when you consider I spent most of last year barely finishing anything, is pretty good for me. Some weeks, the idea for the next blog started to percolate as I was finishing the last one. Others took a little longer to wrestle into shape, but they always arrived in time. They were at least punctual.
This week, for some reason, inertia has crept in. Then again, the whole week has felt like that. Tuesday night I unofficially (very much unofficially) finished the first draft of my new novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means finished. Still, the fact I’ve completed it in just over a month feels like a good sign.
The strange thing was, on Wednesday morning, I switched my computer on ready to crack on with draft two but found myself checking my emails instead. I surfed Facebook for a while, tweeted and retweeted a little. It was the behaviour of a man avoiding work, but I had work to do. Work I am rather desperate to get finished.
Since then, that inertia has remained with me. So, why the hesitation? Is it possible my own expectations are putting me off again? I feel like I’ve tripped over that terrible line that lies between creating something and selling something. It’s a topic that’s been bugging me for a while and I’m sure every writer goes through this. It’s the age old question. Am I writing for me or am I writing for you? Even worse, am I writing this to make money? You can apply it to this blog. Or my novel. To my time on social to media. To pretty much anything I’ve ever pulled out my head. The last idea I was working on, the one that nearly ate 2016, got out of hand because of thinking like this. I kept changing it because I wasn’t sure who I was writing for. Some drafts were full of existential dread. They were trying to be challenging, trying to push me to raise my own bar. Other drafts tried to use more recognisable plot traits. They wanted to be page turners and there’s no harm in that. We want people to turn our pages, right?
A good indicator of how this gets under my skin is in the poetry I write for this site. I used to write poetry all the time, back when I was a teenager. Although, it was very teenage poetry. A lot of heartbreak and loneliness when I’d never experienced either really. It was more the threat of them made me want to talk about them, I guess. These days it’s a little darker, but more fictional. More smoke and mirrors that I try to steer towards something lyrical and worthy. I try to use it to record moments and feelings that won’t fit as easily into my prose stories and I think it’s working.
I enjoy writing poems. I’ll normally scuff up a quick little practice run, then I’ll go back and start to toy with it. I’ll bend it, sharpen it; get it just where I want it. Then, because I’m prone to go on a bit, I’ll do my best to shorten it.
When I’m going through that process, I really enjoy it. Then I put it online and that satisfaction will change. It will mutate. Hour by hour, day by day. It’s as if the purpose of the poem changes through no fault of its own. The words are how I want them. The structure and intention are fine. The change is only in my head. The moment the poem is out there, it’s no longer anything to do with the experience of writing it. I’m waiting for people to read it and, hopefully, tell me about reading it.
God, that sounds tragic.
Reviews have always terrified for me. I’ve gone through the experience of knowing someone is reading something to review it. That has always left me a shaking, babbling shambles. A few other times, I’ve found a review for one of my books and felt like I’ve stumbled across a conspiracy. As of yet, because of some universal Karma glitch, I’ve never had a bad review; but, either way, should I be reading them? Am I really only writing stories so that I can get a little praise and attention? It doesn’t feel like I am, but maybe that’s just the surface. Maybe, deep down, I want justification. I want positive reinforcement. No, I want people to say, you are good at this.
(Yep, we’re reached pathetic now. Don’t worry, people, I’ll get us across the plateau.)
In the past couple of years, I’ve put reviews up on the high shelf; along with retweets and likes. Those things can throw me right off the deep end for no good reason at all. I have days when I might get two or three retweets and feel pretty good about myself. Until I see someone getting 80 or 90. That’s when I feel like picking up my toys and heading home. Which is pathetic, right? It has no bearing on anything I’m doing. It’s all just distractions and rabbit holes for someone like me.
Okay, so this is what happens when you have a stage but no script. You end up opening old wounds. I’ll tell you what, let’s try and build on this top of the rubble. I’ll do it by saying two things before I finish.
One, I will do my best to get out of my head more. I know reviews probably help sell a book and they also, if I’m brave enough to read them, tell me where I’m going right and where I’m going wrong. They are not why I write, though. I write to tell stories, not to collect gold stars. In the same vein, any attention from people you’ve never met on social media is a win. No matter the high scores of the other players. I didn’t set out to become Twitter royalty. I’m there to keep in touch with the collective conscious, to see what other people are doing and to support them where I can. I have to remember that, sometimes, the only child in my head can scream louder than my more sincere intentions. That’s my bad and no one else’s.
The other thing I’ll say is that ideas are not finite. These past four weeks have taught me that. This website has taught me that. Ideas don’t run out. Some will lie to you. Others will run out of steam before you’re reached the end. There will always be more, though. There are parts of existence that look infinite to us from where we stand and I think the ideas in our heads reflect that.
Next week I am going to keep working on my second draft and I’m going to work on it like it’s just for me. I’ll share with the rest of you if it’s good enough (which I’m pretty sure it is). Never mind how well it might be reviewed. Never mind how many times a social media advert for it might get a like or a share. Never mind if anyone reads it or not. If I start writing stories just to please those cravings then they are going to postcards from the far margins of mediocrity and nothing more.
There. I think we made it across the plateau.