Distractions: Cheating On Your Novel

Last night. Bethnal Green.

I’m standing on a sorry excuse for a stage in a beer-stained venue. I’ve got an acoustic guitar hanging off my shoulders and I’m trying to remember the words to a bunch of songs I haven’t played since 2007.

I look at the audience. Some friendly faces, some not so friendly.

The last time I was in Bethnal Green, a friend was mugged in Dixy Chicken. Broad daylight. Would you like fries with that, sir? It was that same friend who convinced me to come out of musical retirement and play this one-off solo show. He caught me in a moment of weakness.

It doesn’t take much to remind me why I quit playing live.

I’ve already had a fight (verbal, not physical) with the promoter. He’s refusing to pay any of the acts, yet he’s charging £5 on the door.

‘We don’t really make a profit on these things,’ he says. He’s reeled that line out before, swatting me away like a fly on a hot day. But I am not that fame-hungry 24 year old kid in picture above anymore, so I go for him.

After lurching through my first song – an ode to a Russian spy Yevgeny Ivanov – I attempt banter with the crowd.

‘Hi, I’m Jake Bugg,’ I say.

They laugh. The promoter remains sour-faced. The room hushes.

‘At least that cunt gets paid,’ I say. My voice has attained a certain authoritative gravel after 15 years of smoking cheap cigarettes. (I’ve quit now, in my respectable, boring middle age.)

More laughter. More sourness. The C-word into the microphone. Shit, I hope nobody’s filming this and if they are, I hope my mother doesn’t see it.

The show ends and I feel dirty. Slutty. And not just because I’m in East London. I’ve been cheating on my novel. The evening and the preceding prep could have been spent editing. I tot up the wasted hours in my head. Around 10. I am livid. Mainly at myself for getting distracted, but also at the promoter because…well, I have a hang-up with promoters taking advantage of artists for financial gain.

I’m 35. I have no Tom Odell aspirations and I don’t need the cash. It’s the dubious ethics that grate on me.

And I’m sure there are good promoters somewhere, just like there are good estate agents and good ticket inspectors.

I get home at 1am, unfulfilled.

This morning, with a mild hangover, I edit.

Editing! Christ. I have found my new love. I get more pleasure from 3 minutes of editing than I do from 30 minutes of fumbling my way through a set of my old band’s non-hits.

The First Draft is strange, jarring and weird, but it’s far better than I thought it would be. After leaving the manuscript to sit for a month, it seems to have come to life. No longer are these vague 2D concepts, spewed onto paper with no order; they’re real, flawed and beautiful. The narrator – the guy I thought I’d have the most trouble with – has his own voice. The settings create an image in my head when I read it. Sounds, smells, light. It may be rough right now, but it’s got buckets of atmosphere. Just like a real novel.

So no more distractions. No more patchy, nostalgic acoustic shows. If I am going to refer to myself as a ‘writer’, I need to write. And not just on this fucking blog.

21 comments

  1. You are the bomb. I’m editing, too. Like birthing a third child, or at least living with it while it’s projectile vomiting all over you >:/ I think I’m too harsh on myself.

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    1. I write music all the time and I still play music. I just don’t do it live. Fuck live. There are many things I want to accomplish and only a finite number of hours in the day, so something has to get the chop. And I really don’t enjoy it enough to justify the hassle and the time it takes away from better things.

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  2. Ya know what’s weird . . . I also used to play a song about a Russian Spy – one of my own – and too came to the realization about two years back that playing live is simply fucking dreadful. It’s stressful, nauseating, and sometimes a whole load of extreme fun, but not enough to balance the bad.

    On the topic of calling yourself a writer: I heard it suggested the other day that only once you have accepted the title of writer does your work begin to read like it was written by one. Interesting thought, no?

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    1. We have a new sub-genre of music! But yes, playing live is the pits.
      Nice theory re: calling yourself a writer. I think I have just taken it on and perhaps this is the best post I’ve written so far. Possibly related? I certainly approached it differently. Took more care with the prose. Cut out the bullshit.

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      1. Yeah, it’s almost like you start to take yourself more seriously.

        I enjoyed the post; it was nice and tidy, easy to read, entertaining.

        But christ: ‘start a blog’ they said, ‘it’ll help you write more’ they said. And here I still am . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You hit on something I’ve been trying to tell my writer friends for years. If you’re going to be a writer, you’ve gotta write. It drives me nuts when my pals talk and talk and talk about their ideas and then never actually put a pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were). There’s good stuff in the heads of so many people, that never sees the light of day…

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    1. Trouble is writing is hard work. You don’t write a chapter or a scene right first time. You’ve got to edit, deal with narrative, characterisation and all that other crap. A good idea is one thing, but it’s making it coherent and enjoyable that is the real art.

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      1. Absolutely. It’s very rarely easy to get things right the first time, or even the second or third or fourth times.

        But if you don’t write it the first time, you never get the chance to get it right later. Just gotta stick with it!

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  4. Jack, good luck with your first novel! It’s a road full of ups, downs and lots of frustration. In the end, however, if you can slug your way through, you have a finished product that can give you great joy. My first novel will probably never see the light of day, partly because I will probably never finish it. However, my first finished novel (also first published) is something that I am very proud of. Good luck in your journey!

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