All afternoon, while I’ve been setting up systems and responding to emails, the back of my mind has been mulling over what to write this evening. I’ve got into the habit of standing by the door to the balcony, looking out over the water, and letting the day wash over me. It’s my way of creating distance between the me at home and the me at work. Ever since I read Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, I’ve wanted to live by Copenhagen harbour. Now that I do, it saddens me that this winter has been so mild that I have not been able to see the ice form on the water. If you haven’t read it yet, do. But it’s definitely a book to read in winter, so don’t leave it too long.
Just after dinner, I came across this great post on The Nerdy Lion about finding your unique writing voice. I was sitting at the dining table, looking out over the water (as you can see, I’m big on that), with my coffee and a large slice of Poison Smurf Cake. Reading that post made me think about my voice. About what I want to write and what I don’t About why you should say no to things that don’t feel right. Thinking that reminded me of something…
About eighteen months ago I was offered a writing project by someone I vaguely knew. A really fun guy who invited a bunch of us to his housewarming and then forgot to give us the address. The project was going to tie in with Aarhus being the European Capital of Culture 2017. Personally, I have issues with Aarhus. I know it’s the second largest town in Denmark but I’m from Copenhagen and to me it will always be just a little provincial hole in Jutland. It’s hard to take a place seriously when you spent all your childhood slumber parties telling jokes about its inhabitants.
Why do people from Aarhus go to sleep standing up?
Because they’ve been told you’re suppose to fall asleep.
You get the idea.
This project was going to be modern dance mixed with art and music and an accompanying book. He wanted me to write the book. The plot was about a young boy from Mexico who sneaks across the border to the US, becomes friends with an old fisherman and a bunch of rich kids. The fisherman dies and all his friends turn their backs on the kid as grief spirals him into depression. Then somehow he ends up solving the tsunamis and saves the world, but drowns in a surfing accident shortly afterwards.
I turned it down because I didn’t have the time and wasn’t really able to find a place in myself that – to put it bluntly – gave a damn about the little boy and his fisherman friend. But not long afterwards I started wondering if I’d made the right decision. The little bit of extra income really would have been nice. So when he came back and told me that the other writer had fallen through and please please would I take over, I said yes.
Boy was that hard.
I struggled with it for weeks, finding excuse after excuse not to work on it. We had several Skype calls where we went through the plot as he saw it – that made it easier – but my heart just wasn’t in it. What was getting down onto the page was not good. When I eventually finished the first draft I was berated for not including the scenes that one of the artists had already illustrated. Great, I thought, why didn’t those scenes get discussed during any of those Skype calls? You told me the plot you want and that’s what I gave you. Clients!
I spent an hour on Skype listening to comments about the first draft, mainly from this friend he had who read everything and had lots of suggestions. Fantastic, I thought, let him write it. The more I listened, the more I felt the weight of this project crushing any desire I had to write, extinguishing any spark of inspiration that would let me work on my own novels. Then he told me that his friend’s idea was to include a passionate affair with a gang leaders girlfriend, something à la 50 Shades of Gray.
Not in this lifetime!
That was when I had to say no. That just isn’t me. Nothing against S&M Erotica, but I have no interest in writing it.
I just didn’t care. So I said thanks very much for the opportunity, but I have to admit that my heart just isn’t in this. It will never be finished because I don’t care about it enough. I’m sorry. He said it didn’t matter, forget the Aarhus deadline, just take your time. I still said no.
Have I regretted it?
I will always remember how that project felt. I dreaded every email, made every excuse not to talk about it. Now I’m well out of it, my advice would be to follow your own voice. Be the writer you are meant to be. Don’t write something that you really just don’t care about.
It just doesn’t work when you do.