Friday, January 10, 2014

Mission Control, we have a manuscript!

Sometime back in May last year, I started work on a new manuscript.  It’s a story that may well have been brewing for most of my life.  It also happens to be the first story I’ve set in my own country.  Mindful of writing to an international market, and equally mindful of the dysfunctionality of South African society, I wasn’t sure I could pull off something with international appeal set locally.

I’m usually a panster, but this time I tried to at least outline some semblance of a plot before I started. That, it turned out, together with an utterly horrible annus horribilis (yes, it was horrible enough to require two horribles!), was not a smart plan.

I normally toss off a first draft in one to two months.  But not this time.  The ongoing drama with the house, rows with the project manager, length meetings with the attorney, people walking off the job and my own health issues, all saw to it that I was very seldom in the right head space to write.  Depression, like I’ve not known it for many years, set in with a vengeance.  The Black Dog, let me assure you, is not conducive to either writing or clear-thinking.

I submitted a few chapters to my lovely critique group and there were many concerns that there was too much violence in the piece.  This had always been one of my worries.  South Africa is a violent country – years of apartheid did nothing to make us a harmonious Rainbow Nation.  Incompetent leadership and overt corruption have done nothing to deal with the very harsh realities of crime.  It is extremely difficult for people who don’t live here, or only visit on holidays, to truly get how bad it can be – and equally, how South Africans somehow manage to just get on with their lives and live with it.  Someone once said to me that we all suffer from a kind of ongoing traumatic stress disorder – we know no other way of coping.

To be honest, I found some of the critiques downright disheartening.  And given I wasn’t in a good space as it was, there were several times when I nearly tossed the manuscript and my computer away and figured I needed to find something else to do with my life.  I have to thank Vanessa Harbour, critique partner and very dear friend, for her constant encouragement.  “Stop subbing it to the group until it’s finished,” she advised.  “Write when you can and don’t let anyone see it.  Accept that maybe not everyone is going to ‘get’ this story.”  Pat Walsh, children's author and another special friend, offered equal encouragement.  "The words will come back when you're ready.  Just give it time."
And so I hobbled on.  It was a kind of broken leg way of writing. Limp, limp, limp.  Stop, rest, pause.  Give up.  Write a few pages.  Give up.  The muse deserted me for months.  Frankly, I don’t blame her, I wouldn’t have wanted to hang around me much either.

But the muse is a cunning creature – she never quite goes away – she just stays far enough out of reach not to be injured by bleak moods and despair, and keeps dropping little hints into one’s subconscious.  I’d wake up to find myself scribbling notes – not to pick up and work on the next morning, but to put away, store up for “one day”.

Several things happened as 2013 drew to a close and re-awoke as 2014 – among which were the  decision and determination to not let the lingering house drama get me down, and actually finding someone willing to fix up the project manager’s messes and get the house finished. As these things were happening, the muse appeared with a vengeance and at three one morning, I scribbled down the climax of the story.

This week, the festive season holidays over, I sat down to write.  Between Monday and today, I have written 14700 words.  They may not all be brilliant words, and there will inevitably be plenty of rewriting to be done, but this afternoon, I finally typed “The End”!

Yay!  I’m back – and so is the muse!  Wine and chocolate, if you please!

This last week has looked a lot like this, and I have to thank Inky Girl, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, for really getting what it's like!
Image nicked from Debbie's tumblr page.
Copyright Debbie Ridpath Ohi.


Jenny Woolf said...

Congratulations! It sounds like a really exciting manuscript. there are so few books (over here anyway) that deal with modern South Africa.

I'm sorry that things have been so rough for so long, and hope that 2014 is a much better year for you.

Keep us posted on the story!

Jan said...

Nicky, that's brilliant - you must feel great, congratulations!
And I4700 in 5 days - blimey!

Krysten said...

That is wonderful news! Inspiring!

Sue Hyams said...

That's brilliant news, Nicky! Here to words and to a much better year! xx

Nicky Schmidt said...

Thanks Jenny, Jan, Krysten and Sue! x

Jo Treggiari said...

Congratulations Nicky! I hope that 2014 is a wonderful year for you.
I do think that the difficult stories are the ones we should be writing. Whether it's the subject or the grind of getting it down, there's something there that needs to get out. It sounds like you had it both ways so you should give yourself a hearty clap on the back, say 'well done Nicky', and now treat yourself to lots of wine and chocolates.