On turning off the sponge

I’m coming towards the end of the first draft of my third book, and I’ve noticed a dangerous tendency – I’m so embedded in it, most of the time, that pretty much anything I see, hear or read becomes possible material.

This is dangerous.

It’s not helped by what I find myself listening to and reading at the moment. In my ears I’ve got In Our Time, RadioLab and This American Life. Thankfully, IoT is taking a summer break, but not before it’s chucked in all sorts of interesting stuff which could, if I smashed it around a bit, fit into the book.

Even more deadly has been my new fave podcast, A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, which starts with the Pre Socratics and then covers a different philosopher, or school, every week in only 20 minutes. I’m up to Democritus, and every time I listen there’s a new idea to get in.

The trouble is, you don’t just have to smash the idea about to get it in, you have to smash the draft about, too. On this book I’ve tried writing an outline before starting, something I haven’t done before, and if the outline is a map then it’s one I departed from a long time ago and I’m now, frequently, lost. I’m the kind of motorist who says “oooh, look, shiny!” and heads off down a back lane and then can’t find his way back.

A lot of this meandering will be fixed in the redrafting (I hope). Because I’m still pretty new to all this, I find myself asking if this is just how I do things, or whether I should try and change. It seems to me I’ve picked up some cool stuff while acting like a magpie. But I’ve picked up some rubbish too. And I’ll never know how the book?would have read if I’d ignored all that other stuff.

I suppose that like other things – a craving for cake, an unquenchable taste for heavy metal, a preference for dogs over cats – I yam what I yam.

It does sometimes feel like a bloody inefficient way of working, though. And the maddest thing of all is worrying that I’ve forgotten something really cool I heard when I wasn’t listening or saw when I wasn’t looking.

A stove pipe sponge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

PS: Classic case. In finding links for this post, I just discovered the History of Philosophy website, which has a page for each episode with comments at the bottom which are almost as revealing and interesting as the podcasts themselves. Turn it off! Turn it all off!

2 thoughts on “On turning off the sponge

  1. just wanted to say i loved your book – really exciting [EDITED FOR PLOT SPOILER!]… seriously love and am in awe of your writing… totally new and refreshing… will be recommending to my book club… congrats and well done.


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