Sunday, 6 September 2009

Cult of the Done


  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you're done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

I found this manifesto via a tweet from which these images come, respectively by James Provost and Joshua Rothaas . True it sounds like the commandments for a dubious religious group and the language is a little clunky; then it was executed in twenty minutes. That said, I do like some of the embedded thoughts.

It is in the doing that things get done: in the writing that books get writ. And though we are exhorted at every turn by every agent and publisher not to submit until it is perfect, it is necessary to understand what is meant by that.

There is no such thing as perfection. If there were all that could be done would have all been done years ago, and human beings would be sitting peacefully together making daisy chains. Indeed, there would be nothing for us writers to write about because that is what we constantly write about – the imperfection of man and woman.
What agents and publishers want is prose that is perfect as possible in its structure, grammar, and punctuation; plot, theme and expression. Not the perfect novel, as if there was such etched in iron, monitored by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures and stored, alongside the standard metre, in Sèvres. However, they do want your fingerprints all over the novel; your idyosyncratic eye, your quirky descriptions, your individual perspective. There will only ever be one Dostoyevsky, one Hemingway, one Flaubert, one King… name your favourite author, just as there will only ever be one you.
Pretending you know what your are doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing…
It is a truism to say mankind is constantly trying make sense of the world around, to impose form on the shapeless, find logic in the illogical, and I believe this to be more true of writers than anyone else (apart from politicians but who would want to be a politician?). So I like the reverse of this thought: when you are floundering, out of your depth and panicing, relax – this is reality. You, as writer, live in an unreal world of dreams where you impose your order on chaos through the power of your imagination. You have just woken up for a moment. Have a bath. Pour yourself a glass of wine. In due course your dreams will take a different shape and, suddenly, all will make sense again.
If it doesn’t, Failure Counts as Done. As Do Mistakes.

This I like even more. It is the fear of failure that most inhibits the writer. So many new writers produce manuscripts that are, in marketing parlance, me too books, i.e. works that are so similar to the mainstream of the genre there is no reason why anyone should pick them up to read.

Producing a book that dares to wave a page over the parapet of books lining the shelf, and shout ‘Yahoo! Read me I’m different” is risky. It may fail. However, if it does you will learn.

Did you write a book that was different for the sake of being different. In other words, something that is contrived and awkward. Not a good idea. Difference that is valid comes about through a unique insight or perspective; a point of view that is true to itself and not imposed.

We all know how difficult it is to write, Stephen Fry elegantly elaborates this very point in his latest post, so the dread that, after all the pain, the object produced is unreadable is a serverly restricting bridle. However, if you submit tamely, you will never discover what it is like to run free.

3 comments:

ChrisH said...

I liked this manifesto and found it full of wisdomosity. It's always the plunging into writing that I find the hardest - once you've actually got something down, you've got something to work with... and that's the bit I'm struggling with at the moment!

DOT said...

Thanks, Chris, - thought you were my brother for a mo; he too is a Chris and has a beard until I realised your photo was from the back.

Interestingly, now I am over the hurdle of writing my first book, yet to be published, I feel less pressure with my second. Now I know I can write a full manuscript I am enjoying the process more.

ChrisH said...

Just popped back - no, no beard (yet) ... give it time! That's so true about getting the first novel done and dusted. As for being published.. still haven't cracked it in fiction! Good luck with yours.