Been thinking about a bizarre contradiction in the way we writers need to work, throughout our careers.
We have to choose projects which we properly love. Projects which mean something to us and which we connect with in some way, even if we’re not entirely sure how. We need to carefully foster the idea, from that initial brain-spark all the way through to final draft. It’s a long, laborious process, especially in prose: and what keeps us at it is love. That connection to the subject matter, the theme, the characters or even sometimes just the genre. I’ve learned the hard way that when I choose stories solely because they work, the end result lacks va-va-voom. It just works, like some expertly assembled Frankenstein’s Monster without soul. When I properly love a story and feel connected to it, the fruits of those labours are always riper.
So we must love what we write and spend a great deal of our time and effort nurturing it.
And then we must be prepared to ruthlessly drop it like a stone and move on.
We’re surrogate mothers, if you’ll excuse the comparison (frankly, you don’t have much of a choice.) Our progeny grow inside us, then after birthing them we’re often forced to forget about them altogether. We move on, stony-faced, like ships in the night, with a trail of illegitimate stories behind us. Stories which we lost, due to rejection, malfunction, having to sign them over or suddenly realising that the BBC will never buy a series about mechanical microscopic badgers inside Christ’s left nostril.
This is all yet another reason why writing’s a properly mad job. We build mighty towers of narrative with the utmost love and care, only to tear them down and build brand new ones. We love them, but can’t afford to love them too much. How do you do that? Many will fail: they’ll never acknowledge the flaws in their offspring. They’ll never move on.
The need to love and leave our work also exists at an atomic level, right down to lines of dialogue, plot points, our turns of phrase. Ever heard of the expression “Kill your babies”? In case you didn’t know, it means your favourite bits of business are often royally screwing the project as a whole. As you hack them out, you’ll feel like you’re hacking out your own heart, but then you’ll stand back and see how much better the big picture looks.
Love your babies, kill your babies. Again and again, over and over. The writer’s eternal contradiction.
Exhibit Q in the cosmic court case which seeks to prove we’re all insane.
Of course, the way we cope lies in the cracks between love and loss. Because our favourite brainspawn will inevitably return in future work. We’ll write them again and again until they fit, like children repeatedly jamming jigsaw pieces against various puzzle-gaps.
And one day, one glorious day, they will fit.
Oh yes, one day our babies will be reborn.
Because we never really stopped loving them.