It's hard to believe that it's been three months since I last blogged. Not hard to believe in a "wow, I'm normally so regular with my blogging!" kind of way because, as regular readers of this page will be all-too-familiar with now, I'm forever apologising for the amount of time I take between blogs. No, it's hard to believe because the past three months seems to have gone so quickly. Part of that, I'm sure, is the fact that time – and I'm pretty sure this is backed up by science – passes at double the speed once you hit your mid-thirties, while the rest of it I can lay at the door of the final, final, final read-through of Never Coming Back and the tricky, as-yet-untitled Book 5.
It's always a slightly weird time when you're 'between' books. I guess, technically, an author is always 'between books' in the sense that one book is done and being edited while the other is being planned, started and shaped, but at least when I'm finished with this final read-through of my fourth book, it won't be hovering there, in the background, not quite edited, and not quite complete. I was going to add that, once the read-through is done, I don't have to worry about it anymore, but that would be a lie: I wouldn't consider myself much of a worrier – except when it comes to my books. With Never Coming Back, as with all the others, doubt is my passenger.
The consequence of having to juggle a 97% done version of my almost-released book alongside a 20% done version of my yet-to-even-have-a-title new one, is that I find it quite hard to get going on the new one. It's not that I'm particularly unclear on where it's headed (although, I'll admit, the original plan for Book 5 has already hit some teething problems), more that, in reading the final proofs for Never Coming Back, it kind of brings home what a massive gulf there is between the two books: one's just about as polished as it can be, has characters that make sense and have the right motivation, storylines that tie up, and dialogue that feels right; the other is a mess of yet-to-be-realised ideas, characters that may not even end up in the final version, and set pieces that looked good in the plan but don't necessarily stack up once you get them onto the page.
But one book is almost done, and the other has barely been started, you're probably thinking – and, of course, if I could apply any kind of logic to the situation, you'd be absolutely right. But writing isn't like filling in a spreadsheet. Or, at least, it isn't for me. Books aren't maths. They aren't some kind of unbreakable, inarguable equation that remains the same, infinitely. For me, writing is about feel. It's about intangible things coming together, at the right time, in the right place; basically, a lot of the time, it's about luck. So, when I compare Never Coming Back to the 28,000 words I've done on Book 5, I see one book that makes sense, that's come together in the way I'd hoped, and I see another that's full of holes with great swathes of it yet to have even been decided upon. That worry I mentioned earlier? This is where it comes in. Is the story as good as the last one? Are the characters as compelling? Have I got it in me to finish another book?
The reassuring thing is that I get this every single time I write a book. The first 20,000 words or so are fantastic: it's new, exciting, a chance to do new things with a new set of rules. In a way, although I feel a responsibility to readers, all bets are off. But then, once you're north of those 20,000 – like clockwork – the mood starts to change. As things don't come together in the way you expected, or characters aren't fitting in as well as they did in the plan, the doubts start to creep in. From there, you really only have two choices: you scrap everything and start again – or you power through. I've done both, but I've found that, while starting again can help, it will still bring that same doubt at the same stage and, in the end, if you want to be published, you have to finish the book. So, ultimately, it becomes about knuckling down and getting it done.
Thankfully, once the final read-through of the last book is over, it means you won't see it again to edit, ever (in my case, it's quite literally Never Coming Back), so that automatically narrows your focus, and means you can zero in on the new one without fear you'll be flipping back and forth between books and stories and characters (which can be slightly disorientating in itself). In my experience, the next 3-4 months are the most crucial of the entire, year-long process: I have the building blocks of a novel – now it's time to get into it, tear it apart, push it on, and finish it. And who knows, next time I blog, Book 5 might be most of the way to complete. Or it might not.
It's not a spreadsheet, after all.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
11.22.63 by Stephen King
Proof of Heaven by Dr Eben Alexander
World War Z by Max Brooks
The Fear Index by Robert Harris
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Author of the David Raker novels