War Stories

August 10, 2010 at 11:16 pm (Uncategorized)

After finishing reading Making Stories on Monday, I made the first tentative inroads back into the MS yesterday. Not so much on the MS itself at this stage, more in notes about what I need to do, and where, and with which character/s. Slowly, carefully, gently does it. I have none of my usual ‘freak storm’ energy about attacking the MS full-force. In fact, I mainly feel very circumspect. I’m not unduly worried about this sense of caution, because I think it’s probably quite useful to me at this point – I’ve tried the gun-toting cowgirl approach, and it’s been productive up to a point, but now I think something else is required, something slightly more forensic. I’m donning the plastic gloves and protective headgear; I don’t want to screw this up, and I want to emerge from the science lab in one piece.

Making Stories was great in both expected and unexpected ways. It’s hugely reassuring to know writers like Kate Grenville, Helen Garner and Peter Carey have also struggled with terrible uncertainty and technical difficulties while completing their novels. His inclusion here is incomplete, the editors acknowledging the extract as unreliable, but I know from reading Patrick White: Letters that the great man was not exempt from these professional debilitations either. He felt them keenly, every single time. So I am heartened; I start back on my MS with the renewed sense that this is simply what is required, and that it’s hard, and that, like anything worthwhile, it should be.

I think the book also extends permission, or at least that’s part of what I’m getting out of it: permission for writers to keep trying, but also permission to screw up. I just constantly feel such a monumental failure in my fiction writing, and it really takes it out of you, doesn’t it, this constant whipping, and when your skin is shredded and your heart crushed, it’s rather hard to keep on telling yourself to buck up. Cheer up, Charlie! Oh really? And why don’t you just fuck off, perky cheerleading voice? What would you know about anything? And in those times when I succeed in quieting the inner optimist, I’m left with a fairly sour series of foul-breathed whispers that fundamentally calls into question what the hell I think I am doing, and how long I can possibly afford to keep doing it. This is a very different voice, and it’s nasty. So what Making Stories offers is a kind of olive branch to both the happy cheerleader and the hunchbacked troll – they have permission to coexist. They are both part of the picture.

I was interested and amused to discover that even in a writing resource like Making Stories, my own tastes as a reader bubbled right to the surface. There was one author whose chapter I just Could. Not. Read. I couldn’t get through the interview, and I certainly couldn’t get through the novel extract. I tried. This particular author just did not speak my language, as though I’d picked up a book while browsing and then hastily replaced it: this one’s not for me. There was another very well known author whose work I’ve never read, and I found I just wasn’t captured by the style of the novel extract – no hard feelings (whereas my feelings about the other one were quite strongly unfavourable) – just not my cup of tea. Then there was the surprise of another writer, whom I’ve been off ever since a literary dinner at which the author’s ego wiped out the room like a particularly virulent strain of Swine Flu. I’ve never been able to think the same way about this writer since, and it utterly coloured my ability to enjoy the novel I had earlier purchased that night. There’s been one since, and I haven’t bought it, though the reviews were excellent. But reading the interview in Making Stories, I discovered someone with very real – and familiar – insecurities and fears about their work, and it’s made me warm to the author again, which is very nice.

Finally, the book has introduced me to a couple of Australian authors about whom I knew nothing beforehand, and given me samples of their work. My curiosity has been piqued, my nose twitched, my senses sharpened, my funny bone tickled, and my Must Read list lengthened. All up, a very good result. Thanks for sending me this book, Shuckin’, because the cavalry arrived and took charge. My battlements thus fortified, I finally feel I can face the field once more.



  1. Lilian Nattel said,

    It sounds like a wonderful, energizing book. I’m glad the cheerleader and the troll are allowed to live side by side (since they will anyway)–and maybe they can learn from each other. I remember the most annoyingly cheerful girl from my teen years. It wasn’t a pleasure to be around her unremitting good cheer. As for the troll, they usually are hungry and afraid of being tricked again by those goats. A little good food and some positive experiences can go a long way.

    • doctordi said,

      That’s it, I think, Lilian: they will anyway. They’re both permanently shacked up inside me, and so I’ll have to make the best of it. ‘Accept the things one cannot change’ – this is one of those platitudes that actually resonates with me more and more. Ah, good food – always a good negotiation tool!!!

  2. Grad said,

    Troll. That’s what I secretly called an old battleax I worked with whose main purpose in life was to see if she could make me miserable. At times she succeeded, just like your troll. Only you have a little more control over your troll. I think you should smack it across the nose with a rolled up newspaper and then throw it a piece of raw meat. Happy you found a book to restore your equilibrium.

    • doctordi said,

      Trolls are tricky that way, aren’t they – they know exactly how to burrow beneath the skin. You make me laugh, Graddikins – I can just *see* it snarling and sniffing while I dangle a raw steak over the bridge…

  3. litlove said,

    Oh god, bitching and moaning is the only way through. When I finished the book I’ve been writing a few weeks ago, all I could think was, well, that was unpleasant. I’ll think twice before doing THAT again. I probably won’t, of course, a lack of caution gets us every time. But I generally feel better recognising that writing is a craft, and much as products come out of that process, the craft is all that counts, and practising it is an endless endeavour. Making Stories sounds great – I’ll have to look out for it over here.

    • doctordi said,

      I really enjoyed it – maybe it’s because writing is such an isolated endeavour, but these points of solidarity are always massively reassuring to me, like when I used to spill out of an exam and discover that *everyone* thought question #6 had a glaring error in it, when only moments before I was despairing, convinced the only mistake was mine.

  4. Pete said,

    Very interesting to see the process with your MS. Those troll comments can be debilitating though (as much as I chuckled at the description) so I’m glad you’ve found a way to work with them.

    • doctordi said,

      Well, Pete, let’s see what happens the next time the troll takes hold! I don’t think knowing it’s there actually neutralises its nastiness, but at least now I can shout, “I KNOW YOU! YOU DON’T SCARE ME!” – it might help… I hope it does!

  5. Norwichrocks said,

    Ever since reading (and re-reading umpteen times) the Ladybird Classic Three Billy Goats Gruff as a small child I have felt oddly sympathetic towards trolls. They’re mostly just scared and afraid of being laughed at (not to mention sleep-deprived, what with all those ruddy goats trit-trotting overhead all day long). So, perhaps your cheerleader might like to give your troll a kiss and then the three of you can work together as a balanced team. You can bowl, the troll can hit balls for 6 and the cheerleader can, well, cheer. 🙂

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, Truce, I can understand that. I do have a similar soft spot for them for the same reason. The cheerleader won’t deign to give my troll a smooch, though – she’s a notorious fucking tease.

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