It’s been grim few months. Four, five, six months. Maybe a year really, since I passed the self-imposed deadline for finishing this project. I set it arbitrarily during the Kickstarter campaign, thinking I’ve never had six months to do one project before – what luxury! – there’s surely nothing I can’t achieve in a clear six-month stretch. Plus I thought people wouldn’t want to pay for something they couldn’t have until the distant year 2015. And moreover, that’s how long I could afford it to take.
The long, slow slide
By last October the book was written and being edited, but the film was yet to be begun. The worry was already omnipresent. I was sure it could all be done by Christmas. By Christmas the second draft of the book was finished and the film was well underway, but there were still hundreds of things to be done – the proofreading, the maps, the typesetting, the ebook, the cover design, the photo sections… On the film side we filmed extra bits of footage for the intro, bought a drone and took Chico to the coast for the aerials, listened to hundreds of bits of library music, and Skyped the editor in the small hours every few days (that’s how he rolls).
I’d found a well-paid, part-time, from-home ski website content writing job that saved the budget and calmed the money anxiety, but to do it well I had to shelve Seaside Donkey for weeks at a time. I was constantly torn and feeling a bit haunted.
In January and February I calculated and recalculated how all these remaining jobs would fit into a fortnight – I thought I was that close. I bought the ISBN and told the book registration agency that it would be available to buy from March. Even then it didn’t feel daringly soon, but embarrassingly late. And meanwhile the film had got to the point where I needed to be involved, and it was far more intensive than I’d expected. I recorded voiceovers, drew and animated maps, watched the film dozens of times, made changes, held a preview and pored over the feedback. For two months the manuscript gathered e-dust, and the film – in response to the feedback and our perfectionism – was being unravelled again. The mud congealed.
I stopped blogging. Partly because it felt like I had no time – I was too busy each day pushing the many marbles up the hill. If I took my eye off any of them they rolled back down or fell into a crevice. Everything was the most important thing. Dozens of different bits of progress happened every day. I was feeling very shy and ashamed. In my few blogs I mustered enthusiastic apologies, and responses were kind and sympathetic, but I didn’t want to be that perennially remorseful person, I felt boring (I still do), and I just wanted to be able to come up with the sparkling good news. And there was only one news story that would do: It’s FINISHED!
But it wasn’t. Each huge milestone and victory along the way felt briefly bright and beautiful, but faded fast as it the next problems swamped in.
Since March the big jobs have been finished. The bright, beautiful wins were all over, now it was the scraggy tail ends, fiddly and incomprehensibly out of my grasp, and demoralising in that they were all so completely unexpected. I stopped making any suggestion of how long it would take – I’d finally lost faith in myself. Now there was only one problem at a time to sort out, with long hold-ups as I waited for proofs to come back from the printer, or waited for the film grader to have time, or tried to work out why the cover looked like an apocalyptic donkey dystopia instead of a beautiful sunset when the designer said it was the printer’s fault and the printer said it was the designer’s fault. But secretly I thought there was no way it wouldn’t be finished by May. By June. By July.
Good god, it’s September
“No one is waking up every day thinking, ‘where’s my book?’” said people who knew how low I was getting. Possibly they are right, although I have nothing like that sort of healthy perspective from my self-obsessed mud-pit. But even if no-one was waiting for this I’d still feel this way – rather than succeeding every day in making progress, I am failing every day to be finished. It’s eroding my idea of myself as a productive, effective person. As a writer.
For an example of how my days are spent, I will post the saga of the book cover next, with lots of pictures. And meanwhile we’d also gone back to the beginning with the entire soundtrack of the film, keen to change it from the relatively soulless but very cheap and user-friendly library music to a rich, meaningful, significant soundtrack almost entirely by Welsh artists. But music is deeply knitted into the fabric of a film. It emphasises or smooths over, or adds significance or humour. It permeates everything you see with feeling, and every second has to conjugate perfectly or it jars. The pace of shot changes, the specific moment that a footfall lands or Chico glances at me, sunlight brightens or hope turns wistful, every single thing has to sit right. And after months of tiny tweaks, you know it finally works because all of a sudden you cease to notice the music at all.
So months passed.
And always there is the painful contrast with the heady days of the Kickstarter, back in January 2014. The heady memory of being up at 5am because I couldn’t sleep through the adrenaline, working harder than I’ve worked before, being utterly naked and exposed as my daily progress was measured in hard figures on the screen. Refresh, refresh, refresh! It was mindbogglingly tough, but I was on fire. I was really, really alive, and I won – we won, we made it.
In comparison this is like being buried in clay. In those days I’d have written the blurb for the back of the book in half an hour, while giving an interview on the radio and eating lunch out of the fridge with a fork because there was no time for crockery. Now each word is dull and blunt, my arms are soggy, and if I’m this far in debt and out of the deadline, this deep in disrespecting all my promises, well – I might as well just do it tomorrow instead. In any case, I can’t describe for the back blurb, concisely and wittily, why anyone should read this book because I can’t remember what it’s about. And I don’t believe it will ever be done – it’s all like a pretend school exercise by now, dumb in its aimlessness.
Open up the process, even when it feels shameful?
And now it’s September. Yesterday’s bright win (the book cover proof finally printed out right!) has given me the energy to write this post, and I’m sorry it’s not more fun and meaningful, but I’ve started to remember that this novel back-to-front creative process is supposed to be about being open. I guess I felt like all the lovely people who funded this certainly didn’t deserve to get some tale of misery in return – I owed it to them to be very happy about my privileged position, all the time. And I’m supposed to be building a profile too, so I need to look polished, chipper, successful and enviable, a total pro. But that’s not actually as interesting, or potentially comforting, or just plain real-life as the fragile truth. In the last few weeks I’ve given a (possibly slightly too honest) talk about crowdfunding and advised two people on writing books, and remembered that the whole point is to let you know what it’s like from over here, not to hide until the news is good.
So, it’s mostly woe this time. Sorry about that.
And yet, with this book cover relief comes the sniff of the feeling that it will end one day, and when it ends, and is wrapped up in brown paper and posted all over the earth, underneath the sellotape and spreadsheets and debris will be a new stage of life. This isn’t where I live and writhe forever. And that stage of life will be exciting, I’ll break out of the clogged quagmire and have belief in myself again, and – terrifying though this prospect is – I might forget what this has been like and try to write another book. Or even (I saw an inspiring film last night and thought, ooh, filmmaking, what fun!) make another film. Like the faces of friends in their just-given-birth photos, surprised and renewed and exhausted and themselves reborn, I might stand in Aberystwyth post office when the 831 parcels are on the other side of the glass partition, and feel…