After several years of always being with me, it is time to say farewell to the most faithful of companions. My writing notebook is filled up, and as it has been with me for several years now I feel it deserves a little tribute. And by that I mean I am going to embarrass myself with excerpts, highlights, and lowlights of the last few years of writing.
I can’t quite pinpoint when I started this notebook but it was in the last two months of 2012. I started it with a short story entitled The Sideshow. My handwriting was the neatest it has ever been, but the writing itself was somewhat less remarkable. Here’s the first two sentences for you.
Roland’s stomach shuddered as he walked towards the podium, just as it always had. Megaphone held loosely in his swinging hand, the mere touch of it making him queasy, it was all he could do to curl a single finger around it to stop it from falling.
I get the feeling I had not quite grasped proper sentence structure at that point. Maybe if I had, it would have been a better story, and I wouldn’t have abandoned it after three pages (a trend you will see a lot in this post I suspect).
A few pages later we have me having a stream of consciousness consideration of the protagonist’s emotions in my YA novel which I have been working on on-and-off for seven or eight years now. That isn’t because I take ages to write by the way, it is because the subject matter is very sensitive so I struggle to write it for long periods of time as I worry I’m trivialising it. I quite like how I worked it out over the next half dozen pages. I took a lot from that stream of consciousness and put it into the second draft last year when I took that up again.
Above those pages there are a myriad of sketches I made in the last few weeks of building a Dalek. My friend and I had a few minute details to work out in that time, so as I was already attached to my notebook I did a lot of my planning for it at the top of each page. Though it isn’t exactly relevant to the notebook, it is a fond reminder of a great time and an amazing project.
Photo by Sarah Campbell, author inside Dalek
Soon after that, in what I assume is March of 2013 I find a spurring motivational monologue of things I wanted to complete that year. A novel, a cosplay, several short stories, and a hand inked map. And I can say with a strange amount of pride in my lack of self-discipline that none of those things happened that year.
2013 was the year that the blog that a friend and I started was born, and so this notebook is littered with the drafts of blog posts that were charmingly ill-conceived. I had no idea what I was doing but I certainly went into it with a lot of gusto. I have pages of plans and drafts and very little of it is in any way good. All of that, by the way, was interspersed with savings plans and griping about my savings plans as I was planning a month long trip at the same time. To be perfectly honest I can’t even read most of what I wrote because it was often so frantic and mostly done on trains so I was shaking from the motions as I worked. Though from what I can discern, I really can’t stand most of what was written.
It takes far too long to get past the awful blog post drafts, and I feel it was several months before I next picked up the notebook. When I returned, it was to rewrite the first two scenes of Judge, Jury, Executioner. The first scene did not make it into the novella draft, but the second is a less eloquent version of the opening of JJE as it is now.
Screams echoed through the house, begging and pleading- a voice searching for help anywhere it could be found. Angie stilled at the sound, muscles clenching in shock until they ached. The shouts grew louder, a deep voice broken in terror. The basement drew her focus, instinctively knowing that this was the source of the screams she bolted down the stairs, half tripping as she went, ungainly in her agitation.
I am torn between cringing and fond affection transcribing that paragraph. The sentence structure was baffling, and incredibly flowery prose fills it, but to be re-reading the story as it first began is kind of sweet to me. And to know I have vastly improved in my writing skills makes me feel a lot better about the whole thing.
Soon after that, the notebook is filled with construction notes again as I started work on designing the set for a uni production of Robert Shearman’s Fool To Yourself. I clearly had a very bad writing year for 2014. Five pages span from January till November of 2014 and that breaks my heart. Then December rolled around, and we have my return to writing. A short story called Cursing the Night Wind, now known as Shaun’s Wake and the story that marked the moment I began sharing my writing with the world again for the first time in several years. Only one paragraph stayed the same between the drafts. As it is currently under submission I am reluctant to add that section to the excerpts of this post.
Soon after we find an absolute treat. My first draft of the blog post that marked the beginning of this blog. Not Good Enough. I stand by that post, and I think writing it really helped me move forward in my writing over the course of 2015. That post also marks the middle of my notebook. I have been using this notebook for several years but it was only in the last one that most of the notebook was filled, and realising that is devastating.
Right after that is the traditional goals monologue for the year. I won’t go into it, but let’s leave it at acknowledging that of the 4 plans I listed only one actually happened. Which to be fair is an improvement from the 2013 one. Looking back at those goals though, none of the others really were plausible.
Then after a while we have the moment I realised JJE was inevitably going to be a novella. The moment I realised I was going to write a world where cancer has become a plague, and a full spiral of political intrigue blended with gruesome medical details emerges to make the horror novella I have become so proud of. Characters were created, ideas were hashed out and crossed out. Even a few chapters were detailed.
On the next page comes the planning for what I consider to be the worst piece of writing I have ever done. I had to write a short script, and the attempt I made was frankly ghastly. I’m glad none of the actual script is in the notebook because I would loathe to share that with anyone. Nobody needs that in their life.
Then we stumble upon another story I abandoned after three pages, I think written in October. I was displeased with it, so decided not to continue it in favour of other work. It opens like so:
His albino form, malnourished but tough, rippled with the repetitive motion. He swung both arms over his head and down with a force that shuddered through him, the pickaxe splitting the rock smoothly. He crouched, a mess of pointy limbs, and prodded the pieces with a finger and a sigh.
That is only about a quarter of the first paragraph, and looking back at it I think it does have potential in terms of the quality, but the story itself was less than engaging. Maybe in a year or two I will find it again and rework it. That has been my method so far with Judge, Jury, Executioner and Shaun’s Wake so why not this untitled story?
It isn’t long after that where we find the one page that I used to plan my current novel The Eternal’s War. That’s right, I have been working from a single A5 page of notes to write my novel. No wonder every time I reach the end of a scene I spend an hour trying to work out what the next scene will entail. I promise though, it reads a lot smoother than I’m making it sound. Those notes are about one third plot and two thirds planned jokes and puns.
Turn the page and we have the final scene of Judge, Jury, Executioner. I wrote it before work one day, unable to wait till the next day to get it done. I get really emotional looking at it in this handwritten form. JJE officially started in the notebook before this one, and to know that it ended in this notebook makes me so happy. Having it typed just isn’t the same as seeing it in my own writing. I think this was perhaps the moment of my writing life so far that I can honestly say I look back upon with pride. Despite years of inability to write, I got a wonderful piece of work finished and it is better than I ever thought it would be.
We then find a short story that I am still working on, albeit infrequently. It follows an immortal who is watching time pass by with a focus on a single person growing up. This part is not quite the beginning, there are a few paragraphs before it, but I do quite like this segment.
A mother pushes a toddler around the grass on a wheeled toy, whilst the father watches on. Short of breath, the mother gestures to her husband to take over. He does a comical lumber towards the waiting daughter, who giggles openly. I haven’t seen a laugh in so long, I can feel the smile on my face before I feel the happiness. She reaches out to her father, and he picks her up and spins her as they embrace. Her orange hair flies out behind her, straight and thin in wisps and tangling strands. I can just spy a brown patch on her arm, a large birthmark of some kind spanning from shoulder to elbow.
He places her back on the toy and pushes her along, feigning strained effort in every moment, which gives the child no end of glee.
I’ve been working on this story whenever not doing novel work, and once it is done I’ll be editing it thoroughly and sending it off as I have done for Shaun’s Wake. It’s been a strange piece to write, I don’t often do work with a drawn out emotional impact. I prefer my emotional pieces to be short and punchy.
Inevitably, we reach the 2016 goals page. I’ve been ambitious for this one, and I can’t say for sure what will be completed, if anything. Some of the goals I’ve already talked about on the blog, but I can tell you that there are about ten more that I haven’t put up here. Hopefully it goes better than the previous goal pages of this notebook.
I still have a few pages left to this notebook, and though they’ll mostly be filled with JJE editing notes and a detailed outline of my next novel, I look forward to packing the pages with some extraordinary things, and starting the next notebook on a high note. Within a week this notebook will take a place of honour on my shelf, next to the one that came before it. It has had a good life. The battered spine and tattered pages can rest easy in a job well done.