It’s an odd thing writing a novel. I always start off with a vision of the book, that is as exciting and compelling as a medieval vision of an angel hanging in the daylit sky: so profound and brilliant and beautiful that it drives me back into the office, and on to the end of the first sentence, paragraph and page – and then back to the familiar process of produce and edit, and cut and produce.
I have high standards for my first pages: mainly because they have to do my excitement justice. But it gets harder from then on, because now there are story lines and threads to manage, action and pace to balance out with description and beauty. And the doubts, of course. The many doubts.
It is alone that the writer faces their demons, as Beowulf waited in the dark. Who will read this book. Will my editor like it. Will my wife like it. Will someone else write a better book on the same topic and release it just before mine. Will the marketing department like this book. Will it sell. Am I over the hill, have I used up all my talent, is my best already written.
I imagine all writers have these voices in their heads, slowly nibbling at the foundations of their confidence, and this is probably the hardest thing a writer must deal with – agents and editors are small fry when compared to the doubts that come – sometimes singly, sometimes in groups, and inevitably at times – in overwhelming floods. But one of the marks of a published writer is the ability to listen to them, and hear them or ignore them and to push on.
I’m on my third novel at the moment. Not long ago I felt I was near the beginning of the novel, but now, at about 50,000 words I’m into the story and excited about what the characters will do next.
I only ever wanted to be a writer, so writing sentences like ‘I’m on my third novel at the moment’ should bring me a thrill, but I see the reality, that this is only my third time struggling with a story, which makes me a novice, by most calculations. My third time riding a bicycle, my third time driving, my third time making love.
The first novel was like a passionate affair. It was quick and brief and intoxicating, and I went into it with all the naivety and enthusiasm of the novice. The second novel I was wary. I had been out into the desert and I knew that there were periods of drought and hunger and loneliness, and I tried to prepare myself with what I had learnt from before, loaded up my rucksack with all I thought I would need. But this desert was a different place. It was tricksy, there were hollows and detours that led my left and right, and I followed them for thousands of words, tens of thousands at times, before having to back track to the beginning and return to the point I had been a month or two before. The vision I had seen began to feel more and more like a mirage, and there were many times I had that doubt – perhaps the hardest for a writer to ignore – that I had chosen the wrong book.
Other book ideas came to me, glimmering in the noon sun, late at night, or in the supermarket, or on a journey. Like beautiful strangers, they all had the wonder of possibility. At home – familiar and unsurprising – my other novel waited.
It is good to bring these thoughts to mind at this point in my latest novel, because I forget so many aspects of writing. And I suppose, for me, this is what this blog is for, is to remind myself of the many things about writing I do know, and also to force me to confront the problems and joys of writing so next time I will be a little better prepared.
I wrote a note to hang above my desk one morning: I write because I love it.
I even sat one night in bed and wrote that sentence down a sheet of paper. Of course it seemed a little odd, like I was reading a self-help book. But it also made me laugh and smile. Because I dont write books for my editor, or his marketing department, or even, really for my wife. I write for me, I write the kind of books I want to read, and it was good to get back to the reason I write, to get to the essence of my inspiration.
I write because I love it is a shield against many of the worries that come. I love writing and I love reading, and it is a joy to sit down each morning and face those demons down and take your character’s hands – like a child’s hand who wakes in the morning – and to walk with them, again, into the world that you have created.