Sunday, 18 September 2011

The God Complex a.k.a. A Day in the Life of a Writer

So I watched Doctor Who: The God Complex last night with two terrified children on the sofa beside me. (Thank goodness they slept last night or I wouldn't have heard the end of it from their mum!) Much as a love Mark Gatiss's* writing, Toby Whithouse's contribution was better than Night Terrors but not up there with Let's Kill Hitler. Anyway, moving on to the point of this post...

Even if an episode of Doctor Who hasn't thrilled and delighted me*** I still enjoy watching Doctor Who Confidential. Most weeks it's a fascinating insight into how the show is made and the minutiae of the creative process. This week I was delighted to see that the 'A Day in the Life' segment was about the writer. Only it wasn't actually the day in the life of a writer writing; it was all about his day off when he got to take his kids for a tour of the set and production offices. This made me laugh, but I can completely understand why the production team took this approach.

In the Green household, at the end of the day while we're all having supper as a family, Young Son likes to ask about everybody's day. However, the other night he started off with the usual, "So, Mum, how was your day?" My wife proceeded to tell him what she'd done at school that day, the lessons she'd taught, the funny things that had happened, the meetings she'd had to attend. Then it was Small Daughter's turn. She's just started in Year 1 and was excitedly talking about Swimming lessons and Art, her new teacher and her new friends. Young Son then told everybody about the amusing things that had happened to him, regaled us with the fascinating facts he'd learnt that day and the tales of what he and his friends had got up to when the teachers weren't looking at playtime. And that was where the conversation ended.

My wife dutifully asked, "And what about Dad's day?" To which Young Son replied, "There's no point asking what Dad does all day because it's always the same. He just sits at his desk writing all day****."

Writing is a lonely profession, for most of the time, and not really what you would call a spectator sport. I can see how the 'A Day in a Life' segment could have gone. Cue The Writer...

"Well I get up, get the kids up, give them breakfast, grab a piece of toast myself, get the kids dressed, get them off to school, then get home and make a cup of coffee. I then sit at my desk, to just quickly check my emails, promising myself that I'll start work properly by 9am. By 9.25 I've well and truly missed that deadline so set about updating by blog. I tell myself I'll start 'writing' at 10. 11.30 I finish my blog then open whatever project it is I'm working on. Only now I'm feeling a bit peckish and get up to make myself a drink and dig out a couple of biscuits from the biscuit tin. Then it's back to my desk. But it's almost 12 now, which is almost lunchtime, but I'll tell myself I'd do a solid hour before I eat anything else. 12.30 I give up and get myself some lunch. After lunch I check my emails again. By 2 I'm writing. Then at 3 I realise I've got to pick the kids up from school in half an hour and so stop to get ready. By 4 the kids are home and..."

Anyway, you get the idea.

Accept the actual 'writing' is something else altogether. Young Son is right that I spend my day writing***** but that's only the start of it. When I'm in the zone, the magic's happening and the words are flowing, I'm not just writing; I'm creating worlds, imagineering characters, setting them against all sorts of conflicts and hideous monsters. Sometimes I create whole worlds or solar systems. Sometimes I create entire histories that might span thousands of years. And at the end of the day, within the stories I write, I decide who lives and who dies.

And they say doctors have bad god complexes! Just like the monster in last night's episode of Doctor Who, us writers require the sustenance of other people's conviction for survival. Without our readers' belief in us and our abilities, their faith - their adoration even - our existence becomes pointless and we are nothing.

* Apart from when he's writing Doctor Who**. Sherlock - brilliant. Crooked House - fabulous, especially the last part. The Lucifer Box novels - I'm a life-long fan. And his A History of Horror for BBC 4 - simply sublime!

** That said, I loved Nightshade (the Doctor Who New Adventure) and The Unquiet Dead was good. I found The Idiot's Lantern disappointing and Victory of the Daleks...? Well there were just too many plot holes, even for me! But those may not have been entirely Mr Gatiss' fault.

*** I should put this comment in context. I love Doctor Who, no matter what, and would much rather watch the weakest Ecclestone story or 42, for that matter, over any soap or reality TV show... or Torchwood.

**** If only that were true! ;-)

***** Parts of it anyway.

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