The Perennial Question: What Next? (part 2)

It was a little over two months ago I wrote the first version of the post below. Given the books I was working on were finally published today – Published Today! – the questions posed below become even more relevant. I’m heading into the bulk of 2020 without a firm plan.

I have been through the start of the notebook process, shortlisting four possible projects, and rereading the beginnings of things that are already written. The result? Well, fog…

I may have settled on my next poetry collection: something with a consistent ‘theme’ throughout. But as far as prose is concerned, my next novel? I haven’t a scooby-do…

The danger is, of course, that I end up ‘settling’ for something rather than land on something I actually believe in. I’ve come to realise that there are two key components which need to be in place in order for me to see a project through to the end: the first is that I have to be writing about characters I am personally invested and interested in (I need to care what happens to them); the second is that there needs to be a story I want to tell. With the three pieces where the potential beginning is already written, I have to say none of them qualify quite well enough… Could they? I guess so. But right now, I’m not feeling the love.

This uncertainty is, I have to say, a strange feeling.

Watch this space…

It’s that time of year again. As seems to have been the case for – what? – the last two or three years now, I arrive into December putting the finishing touches to the final drafts for new books that will see the light of day in February; all that remains is the generation and checking of the physical proof copies. One book is a novel, “The Opposite of Remembering”; the second is a collection of poetry, “The Myths of Native Trees”. [I’m also working on a three-handed collection of verse – “Triple Measures” – with some very old friends, and this too should be out in the New Year].

If this pattern is to repeat itself in twelve months time, I need to be deciding what comes next. Custom and practice demands that I should be thinking about my next fiction project in the coming few weeks and then putting ‘pen to paper’ as 2020 dawns.

Probably like many writers I keep a notebook (read notebooks) in which I occasionally jot down thoughts and ideas. Not only are these entries remarkably sporadic – they tend to only occur when I have a creative decision to make – but they are also spread across numerous notebooks. Numerous notebooks!

With the (highly unoriginal) notion of harvesting old ideas, I have just spent a few minutes skimming through the (was it six?!) volumes that contain these somewhat nomadic musings. In one the first entry goes back to the nineties; in another, 2013 can be followed by 2017 because thoughts from the in-between years have been lodged in another one or two. The whole process is, I confess, disorganised and somewhat fickle; I think I choose which notebook to write in based on the mood I’m in, the kind of paper I feel like writing on (i.e. lined, plain or squared), and which of the various covers takes my fancy at that precise moment.

Hardly a scientific process!

Many of the ideas I remember well. Some have even been mapped out in enough detail as to contain a list of all the chapters, or excerpts of draft text, or comments on character traits. For some I confess to now wonder what I could have possibly been thinking!

There is something cathartic and necessary in all of this. It seems to me to be an essential part of ‘The Process’; a kind of ‘navel-gazing’ that – probably more often than not – throws up something to run with. If I am honest with myself, it is also one I enjoy and find profoundly satisfying. Maybe I like to think it proves something about me.

I have a small number of things started that could end up being ‘The Thing’; seven thousand words here, ten thousand words there. But I’d like to be doing something different next year, to take on a new challenge stylistically. Just thinking about the opportunity is truly exciting…

Time to pick a pen and choose a notebook!