I can’t count the number of classes, workshops and inspirational talks I’ve attended over the years, about the writing process. I’ve learnt about plotting, becoming an ideas factory, mind mapping and overcoming writers block. I’ve gratefully received tips on how to deal with my saggy middle. I’ve been advised about pacing, how to involve all the senses in my scene building and to create my characters using enneagrams or astrology. After scribbling pages of notes, or scooping up the hand-outs, I emerge from each session believing that this time I have the Holy Grail. Metaphorically I’m punching the air. YES!
I certainly wasn’t the first to say this (it was probably some journalist), but I don’t know what I think till I write it down. This is not just true of my opinions, it is also true - slightly paraphrased - of anything I commit to paper. I don’t know what I'm going to say, how I'm going to say it, or where a story is going, until I start writing.
I envy other writers who are like bubbling geysers, with new stories and plot ideas forever gushing forth from the fermenting cauldron of their imaginations. When I grumble about the excruciatingly slow process of evaluation and eventual rejection, after sending off the precious manuscript, the chirpy advice coming back from these lucky people is: “Start writing your next book!”
If only it was that easy. What new book? This may be unfair, and perhaps I’m over-dramatising, but it’s like telling a woman who has just suffered a miscarriage to: “Have another baby.” It may be a good thing to do in the long run, but it’s not necessarily something you can face, physically, emotionally or psychologically straight away. Or even next week or next month. There’s a process to be gone through which is akin to mourning, to getting that book, in which you invested so much time and thought and emotion and hope, out of your system.
Also - and here my analogy stumbles a little - there are the false dawns, the conviction that if only you tweaked this and cut that, it might yet revive and be acceptable to the world of hard-bitten agents and faceless monolithic publishing houses.
There comes a time, yes, of course, I’ll admit defeat, square my shoulders, lift my head and (after self-publishing to Kindle!) sally forth again. I always know the starting scenario of the next book, I’ll know where the characters have come from in their life journey, but where the story will take them....? Ah, there’s the rub. Who knows? I’ve just got to begin ... and hope.
In the past I’ve described the process as like carving a rock of granite with a teaspoon. In fact it is more like channelling porridge. The story will unfold, slowly, stickily, hiccupping along, until that magic day when it catches fire (apologies for the mixed metaphors!). Then I’m all right. The ideas turn from porridge to a hot, fast-flowing liquid.
And when, eventually, I type ‘The End’, what of those wise and wonderful words of advice that I’ve lapped up greedily over the years? Oh! (Clutches hand to head) .........I forgot!
But don't listen to me on the subject, go to http://www.sarahduncansblog.blogspot.com/