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‘What if I don’t think about the books’ Fear and finishing project book.

In the spirit of blogging this whole writing experience, it seems apt to mark this moment of sending off the first draft to the publishers. And while that is no doubt a moment of victory. I feel a little like I’m being judged in my celebration of that from academia with a sort of hair toss and a ‘Yeah and?’ because obviously in academia, everyone has a book, and like probably a better one than you. 

That’s what it feels like sometimes, all the time actually, this bitchy playground where the mean girls are looking over going ‘she’s writing what?’ and ‘oh my god she’s like blogging and tweeting about it, bless.’ 

Because I get that I’m not a ‘proper’ academic. And I get that my blogging my way through the book is probably met with snobbish disdain and yes, yes I frequently think about when it doesn’t survive peer review and I fail at it, how foolish all this will look. 

But also what if, what if it does actually make it the whole way. And what if my being honest about all this, all the way through helps someone else who doesn’t quite belong with the cool kids of academia (yes I’m aware that’s an oxymoron) 

And also I refuse to accept that this isn’t a big deal. I get that in academia you all churn out books like nobody’s business. But for normal people like me. (normal is a relative term here) it’s a pretty fucking big deal. 

Because here’s the thing. As much as on one hand I’ve never known ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ there’s one thing I did always want to be: a writer. And I think in many many respects I can now actually tick that off a list. But a pretty biggie in that dream is a book. 

So excuse me if I’m going to do my best to step back from that academic noise and say: but I wrote a book. That’s a pretty fucking big deal. 

And how was finishing it? 

I’d love to say anticlimactic, but I’m nothing if not extra, and I actually managed to end writing it on one of my favourite parts. And then I sent it to the publishers listening to one of the songs I’ve used on a loop to get the fucking thing done. What I can’t be extra about my book about the most extra play ever written? 

Thinking of which, there were a number of things I learned about writing in the process. The first being linked to just how…extra this play is. I realised, this morning actually so a little too late, that the reason I got so bogged down in the book, is because when you spend so long writing about Kushner you start thinking like Kushner. That you have to include all the things, every last thing he includes you feel like you have to include. This is the point at which I remind you all that the play is 7 hours long. There is no book on earth that can encompass all that and still be readable. That’s why in one respect it’ll always feel ‘not enough.’

I still had that fear. I kept hearing Ted Mosbey ‘What if I don’t think about the books’ In How I Met Your Mother (yes, sitcom wisdom, deal with it) Ted recounts the story of an architect who made a perfect library, but forgot to account for the weight of the books. So it sank into the ground. Ted tells the story as he’s putting off taking the leap to starting his own architecture firm.

Because he’s scared of taking that leap. For a long time I couldn’t write this thing because I was too scared of it failing. I’m still very scared of it failing but at least I did the thing. It also reminds me of one of the songs I listened to on a loop while writing it, which maybe just maybe seeped into my brain enough to get it done too; 

Cause I will say I don’t wanna play if I am gonna lose

I don’t wanna lose cause I didn’t play

And that’s sort of it too right. It’s easy to sit there and forever regret not doing it. And I asked myself, as the world seems to burn around me and whatever career strides I might have made look doubtful again, what’s the thing you’ll regret not doing? and it’s always this.

And what else about writing it? I enjoyed it. Sorry, I know that you’re not supposed to enjoy writing apparently, and think it’s the worst thing in the world. But to me it’s always been the very best thing. Did I love a week of going around in circles for one key bit of argument? No, not at all (did I give myself a ‘self five’ when I worked it out, hell yes) Did I enjoy trying to make the structure fit that felt at times like trying to make the play itself 2 hours no interval? Also not so much. Will I cry a lot when I get feedback that my dyslexic writing style is apparently not suited to academic writing? Yes. 

But did I read the final copy and think ‘Yes, yes this is what I wanted to say’ and did I fall in love with the play all over again in doing it? Yes. As above I didn’t say all the interesting things I could say, but I said a lot of theme. And I said them my way. 

And I know nobody wants to hear the ‘silver linings’ of 2020, but I couldn’t have done it without that. Given the choice, I think I’d rather not have lost my job, been locked in my house for months all that. But also, maybe, just maybe in the long term this is what I needed. Maybe this was more important than the job that never was, and it really was a blessing in disguise. 

Or maybe it at least gave me something to do in 2020. 

I learned a lot about how I write. Or more accurately accepting how I write. I look enviously at people who have extensive planners and white boards and they have a process down to the last hour as to how they’re going to draft it. 

With all the will in the world that is not me. I am a messy messy writer. There’s not really any plan. There never is. I realised that the only way to write this was to do it like I write fiction; let it tell me the story. When I write fiction there’s never a plan until ¾ of the way through when I wrangle what the characters  have ‘told’ me into something resembling a plot. And ultimately that’s what I did here- what’s the list of things I want to write about? Great, how do they fit together. And I wrote what I wanted, when I wanted to write it rather than trying to fit into an artificial plan of ‘write chapter 2 here, then 1’ etc etc. Which is probably why I ended up writing what was for me the thing I most wanted to say last. And editing the thing I like best last. It might not be the way they teach you to do it, but surely getting it done is what counts? 

And that’s what I rested on to finish too. I wrote on a notecard above my desk ‘80% is good enough’ I can hear the screams of horror at that. Surely nothing less than 110% is good enough right? Well maybe, but also done is better than perfect. And I’d rather have done. 

That was a tough 7 weeks, from when I really went all out on this. And tougher again in the last 2 weeks. I’m mentally exhausted. So, so tired. Paranoid about the judgement from people at my ‘self indulgence’ at doing this. Worried about time I’ve ‘wasted’ not job hunting. Doing this against the backdrop of a pandemic and all that hasn’t helped either. But it’s done. I got further than I ever thought I would get. And it’s ok to say I’m proud of that. No matter what happens next, I finished it. And that’s something. 

By Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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