My friend and fellow Allen and Unwin stablemate, Michael Trant, joins me in the attic today. Mike’s one of the most likeable, funny and down-to-earth people I know, and all of that comes across in his piece today. I love what he has to say about just getting the job done, writing what you know and trying a different tack.
I hope you all enjoy this piece as much as I do.
Michael Trant is a WA country boy now residing in Perth after a variety of careers ranging from farmer, marine draftsman, pastoralist and FIFO worker. His debut novel, RidgeviewStation, was published by Allen & Unwin in June 2017.
Michael writes with an authentic voice, drawing on his experiences to open readers to places and lifestyles foreign to many. His style has been described by readers as ‘fresh and breezy,’ ‘beautiful,’ with one reviewer saying ‘The reader can almost imagine some old timer telling the story of Ridgeview Station over a beer and a fag on the back veranda of the local pub.’
Just Do It
‘Stop fiddle-farting about and just bloody do it!’
As far as advice goes, it’s not bad. The first time I heard this (and I heard it a lot) would’ve been as a day-dreaming, scatter-brained kid lost in thought about whatever book it was I’d been reading instead of focusing on the job at hand. Jobs like pushing sheep up the draft race, or into the crutching cradle, or any number of other mundane repetitive tasks that lend themselves to mind wandering. And my mind has a tendency to wander. A lot.
‘Do it once, do it right.’
Also good advice, although it can clash somewhat with the first bit. Get it done and move onto the next job, or do it right the first time and save coming back?
When I wrote Ridgeview Station I’d never heard of a pantser, and a plotter was something we had in the Tech Drawing classroom at school. When feedback came in on the manuscript, one of the notes was I’d missed many prepositions. I had to look up what one was. Er… is. Still not sure to this day.
And despite being part of a none-too-small farming/feedlot/pastoral station operation at the time, I just bloody did it. Sat down at night and wrote, with the only guide being these words – windmill, backpacker, worker, muster, fire, dogs, Ned. Shortest synopsis (another word I’ve come to know, and dread) ever.
But I had one advantage: this was the stuff I was living and breathing, stuff I’d done and lived through. I didn’t have to imagine the stress of watching your place burn, because I’d watched exactly that with smoke-stung eyes.
And so it was with my next manuscript. Stunned at having Ridgeview accepted, and that even after a thorough reading and edit my publishers were still willing to proceed, I sat down to write another book.
Again, I just bloody did it, treating it as a job and grinding out two thousand words a day until it was done. Same with the third.
Again I didn’t have to think too much, as both stories were based on experience. The most planning I did was a fake roster for my FIFO worker to ensure he was away for all the big events. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, as so many often are.
Then I got stuck. It seemed I’d done things in reverse. Most writers pump out manuscript after manuscript until they hit on the one that gets accepted, whereas mine got picked up after only a couple of rejections, and it was the first novel I’d ever written.
That wasn’t too hard, I thought. Oh my sweet summer child…
So, my next crack went down a wildly different path. Outback adventure filled with all manner of shenanigans. Stranded refugees, grog running, car chases, corpse disposals. Real Wilbur Smith stuff. Problem was I had no idea of any of it, and so began my research, the result of which has led to a browser history ASIO would be very concerned about.
It was hard. Ridgeview had been out for over a year by then, and I had nothing to back it up. Stop fiddle-farting about and just bloody do it. Which is all very well, but what about ‘Do it once, do it right?’ Authenticity had never been a concern the first three times because I knew the details were right, or at least close enough to right.
I hit a wall. With only a rough idea of the plot, I wrote myself into a corner and the whole thing became unwieldy. By this time, I’d firmly confirmed myself as a pantser and, as usual, my mind had wandered to other ideas. So I set that manuscript aside and began working on something else wildly different, the key difference being it was all make believe. The result was a 19,000 word novella smashed out in roughly two weeks, followed by a second one of 12,000 words.
Suddenly the wall had crumbled to dust. I finished the two novellas and then went back and got myself out of the corner in the abandoned manuscript.
So, here I am now, with that finished novel sitting on an agent’s desk, two more novellas written with a fifth underway, and the first novella being readied to pitch.
Whether the other two manuscripts come to anything only time will tell, but both helped me get to where I am today with my writing technique, which can be loosely described as intense procrastination interspersed with moments of furious typing.
So getting back to the original question, get it done or get it right, as well as those other bits of advice we all see bandied about – write every day, write when you can, plot, make it up as you go, write what you know, write what you don’t know, all these. Which one should we follow?
And my answer is simply ‘Yes. Do it.’