I seem to have explored a lot of aspects of the word-related world over the past mptymumble years; I’ve edited, published and sold books; written fiction and factual short pieces. I’ve even ‘taught’ the craft of writing (quote marks are because you can’t teach people to write – see numerous earlier posts), and talked to various groups of people about the process. Through it all, my main motivation has been having a reason to put words on paper in a way which connects with something in a reader. Because fundamentally, I’m a writer. And reason doesn’t really come into it.
As any writer will tell you (we have a successful one on the blog team – ask him) writing is an addiction. It may not make you a fortune; it may not even earn you a living; and it’s possible to step away from it for a while. But always, inevitably, all writers will be drawn back to it. We can’t not do it. We might as well try to give up breathing.
Which probably explains why, after a lifetime spent in a myriad other ways, and more recently in the face of one of the most demanding years of my life in terms of more urgent things moving in on my time, I finally find myself back where I started all those years, decades, aeons ago when people used to ask what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Despite the inference you might draw from my extensive book collection, I don’t write crime fiction. Never have, never will. My brain simply isn’t wired that way; building the complex puzzle isn’t what drives me. Even when I read it, and I do, voraciously, I’m more interested in what makes the characters tick and how they relate to each other than in working how who dun what before the detective does.
But through everything, the short stories, the journalism, the marketing blurbs, the press releases, there has always been a novel simmering away on my back burner. Never a published one; publishers are so shortsighted, of course. But the tally of completed and in-progress (never just unfinished!) manuscripts is in double figures, and, well, you never know...
Sometimes they simmer for years, then some unknown impetus turns the heat up and they begin to bubble. Which is pretty much what happened a few weeks ago, with the result that my current effort has reached a rolling boil.
I like to think those years have taught me something about craft: where to place a hint in order to create tension, how to construct a sentence so it has the impact and nuance I want, how to show, not tell. But they’ve also taught me something far more important. That craft is ten per cent of the job; the rest is a kind of inexplicable intuition. And sometimes you just have to leave your subconscious to get on with it with no interference from conscious thought.
Twenty-four hours ago I was staring at a blank screen. Three hundred-plus pages preceded it, but the page I needed to fill remained resolutely empty. Nothing was happening; I was close to the end, and the end wasn’t behind an impenetrable wall.
It would have been easy to start panicking; to have come this far and be unable to get to the final curtain was enough to make me scream. But I managed to batten it down and keep my cool. Reader, I walked away. Ate supper, did the dishes, watched some TV. Distracted myself with chocolate. (OK, hands in the air, I have an addictive personality, and if I can’t satisfy one craving...)
Then, this morning, the fog lifted. I remembered a piece of advice I used to offer my students: if the end isn’t working, there’s probably a problem somewhere in the middle. And a scenario began to unfold in my head. The shower isn’t the best place for that to happen; great ideas should really be noted down before they disappear down one of those cracks which open up in the memory after a certain age. But I think I’ve managed to hold on to it. The next hour will tell.
Watch this space...