Sunday, July 24, 2016

Words on writing...

Some years ago, living in rural Thailand I needed a desk, and was introduced to the local carpenter, who was a lonely soul and for the most part incoherent. But then again I wasn’t far behind him.

A desk was needed so I followed him to his workshop. We cracked open a bottle of beer Chang and he ushered me into his domain.

Inside were the most incredibly beautiful pieces of half-finished furniture. Hard wood teak tables rubbed and polished yet missing one leg. Ornate chairs beautifully carved yet to be upholstered and cushioned. Doors, again, hardwood, carved illustrations of peacocks etched into the wood grain.

Sun rays shone into this man’s workshop, reflections danced over his creations.

He may be antisocial, an outcast in the village, but his work, I concluded, was awesome.

I drew the plans for the desk, left the workshop, and waited, and waited, and waited. 

Four or five months the desk arrived. A beautiful piece, huge work surface, piano style legs, drawers lined with green felt. This was without doubt the most perfect piece of furniture I’d ever bought and it was well worth the wait.

The desk had to be perfect as it were to be the desk on which I’d type the novel that I’d been threatening myself to complete.  Once, that is, I’d extracted it from the battered pages of notebooks that I had assembled over two years of traveling around Asia. The novel was Bangkok Express, much of which was written on that desk in Surin, the other portions typed out in the Business Inn, Bangkok, Sukhumvit Road.

So the desk arrived and I sat down at it and began the journey.

I opened word, I opened a file, I began typing. Found a flow, two chapters turned into four, five into ten; then the material inexplicably dried up. 

The notebooks exhausted, the blank screen stared back at me with menacing intent.

What to do now?

The answer was simple. Open another a file. A new idea for a novel. This idea really had wings, hell it was better than the last idea; a boy with magical powers disappears during a game of chequers. Sounds great, yeah? I worked on this one. I worked really hard. Somewhere around chapter twelve I ran out of steam. Again the screen stared back at me like a broke debt collector on a rainy Lewisham afternoon.

No problem. Another file, click, open, this time a story about the population of Bangkok turning into humanoid lizards.

How could this not fly?

It didn’t.

No worries, another file, a cashless society, fight the government for a return of legal tender. This is high concept right here, how can it fail? Tap, tap, tap. This is bloody brilliant. Chapter twenty-three, hmmm. What about that lizard story? Maybe the lizard war is fought at a popular nightlife venue. Let’s get back to that book. Almost finished. Tap, tap tap. Maybe Bangkok Express needs some love. Back to that, back to this, back to that again.

Tap, tap, tap bloody tap.

And of course…

My hard drive on my computer resembled the carpenter’s workshop. Manuscripts in various stages of completion are littered all over the proverbial shop. He had half-chairs, I had half-novels. This is the way I work and it always will be. The best stuff comes when distracted from doing what I should be doing. This article came about because the pub I choose to have lunch in switched off their wireless internet. A neat trick, Kiwi Pub, keeps the customer traffic flowing. But little do they know most of my work is a reaction to what I should be doing. My favorite scenes written while I should have been writing, or doing something else, something important, practical, something that pays the bills.

So don’t feel to pressure to complete that novel, that article, that short story or poem. Let it bake, let it mature, grow.

Because when you force things to happen they appear forced and that’s not a good look. Take a leaf from my carpenter’s book. Keep ‘em waiting and deliver the goods.

Trust the carpenter.



Unknown said...

Dear James...

I know this quandary. It fits like a glove...diving in, writing/editing (images) like mad, it's all going so well, till it's not.
Then give it a rest...could be months.

Great to see more of your writing.



Thai Spectator said...

That's wonderful, James - positive procrastination. If I want to put something off, I'll play another game of Sudoku (or something).

Spanking Pulp Manifesto. said...

Thanks Staton, glad I'm not the only one on this!

Spanking Pulp Manifesto. said...

Thanks David,
Gotta love procrastination.
Beats productivity in my book.

Urban Crazy Man said...

I'm exactly the same James. I always have stuff lurking on hard drives somewhere waiting for my eyes to look again at it. I agree too that slow cooking as a writing process is the best way to produce good writing. I can always get the words on the page but I need time to put them in the right order like a game of literary Tetris.

Only 2 weeks ago, I was looking on my 1TB external drive (where I keep all the good stuff!)for an old file when I came across a folder called "Tom's Stuff". I'd completely forgotten about it which had outlines for short stories, as wll as ones in advanced stages of completion, an incomplete novel, a play, a radio play and various other snippets.

When I'm done with teaching in the Middle East which should be within the next 2 years, like that old carpenter, I'll be sharpening my tools ready to complete a few literary desks of my own :)

Keep on believing!

Tom Tuohy