Once again I find myself in that twilight world between books or as someone who occasionally mixes his metaphors just to annoy: in that no-man’s land. It is an odd place, a place you have looked forward to arriving at for several months if not years; a place where you thought you would feel the shackles of the project you have been encased in quickly fall away. And yet, in that lightness of spirit as your final draft is batted back and forward between you and your editor, something else arrives. Instead of the nagging guilt you get when you stop working deep in the process of either creating – sometimes before you have even delivered your last book – an odd malaise begins to descend. This uneasiness comes quietly. At first, whispering in your ear like a lover waking you from slumber but soon it begins to hector you, politely at first, until before you know it, it is screaming across a room full of people at you: What Now!? You need to write, get writing, if you don’t start writing soon then you are no longer a writer, you are in danger of becoming that midwife of a million good intentions and still born books: a Procrastinator.
Don’t I deserve a break? Now I have stopped teasing and tweaking my last story like a plate-spinner, who has kept a few dozen plates spinning precariously aloft for years – am I not entitled to a rest? Am I not entitled to that final thrill of stopping and letting the crockery smash all around me? A reasonable answer, when the sun is streaming through my window and the last of my pomegranates are waiting in the garden to be picked is: yes of course you are. But at 4am, that annoying time that drags me from sleep far too often nowadays, the answer is less forgiving, less accommodating, less reasonable. You could stop but: You may forget that other story – you know the one you promised to consider; or, you could stop but, you might lose that drive and never write again; or, you could stop but… Welcome to the duel world of the fiction writer.
In the end it’s about trust of course, trusting yourself. Although the infuriating voice, that subconscious noise that declares it knows you better than you know yourself may be entitled to worry – it is after all the voice of the epic struggle that got you off your ass and into writing in the first place – it is not always right. In its over compensation of not allowing you a moments peace to slip out of the hard built habit of telling a story, it can also become a hindrance or even a danger. For where do the new ideas come from if you are always immersed in a story? Yes ideas do come but they have little chance to take root, as more often than not they are jotted down and put in your own little slush-pile to sift through at a later date, a later date that all too often never comes if you immediately flick from one project to the next.
Reality and the now is something that needs a little time, a little respect if we are once again to become the truly blank canvas we need to become in order to start building our new story, our tale from nothing upon. A Blood Red Moon has taken me almost 4 years to write and in that time many things have happened: friends have come and gone or more sadly died, wars have started and ended but all too often everything was subservient to the story that filled my head every morning. Although I love the story I’ve created (and hope you will to!) the fact it was set a century ago, meant my own reality has been skewed beyond what writing something more contemporary may have done. I took breakfast and walked every morning then spent the next 4 or 5 hours in an unfolding drama from a hundred years ago. Then I would have lunch and try and switch back to the present although not always successfully. Sometimes, perhaps in company or at the pub, the talk may be of politics or football or the tittle-tattle of a small village but my thoughts far too often drifted back to half forgotten wars and the family drama’s of my long dead characters, who were just as alive for me as if they were sitting beside me. Such is the schizophrenic lot of a writer.
The answer, my answer perhaps not yours, is to ignore that guilt inducing voice and to just get right away from myself and any familiar surroundings. Then, and only then can something new be conceived, something new and exciting can be born. I say exciting because whatever you decide upon must not only sustain you in those first exciting weeks of creativity, when the story rushes onto the page but it must also be still worth persevering with many months or even years later, when you’re quite sick of hearing the story and the voices of even your most interesting characters. My last story was born during a grand tour of South America. I am hopeful my next one can be born in the sunshine of my approaching winter trip to south east Asia. If not then perhaps my hectoring conscience will have be proven right all along. Perhaps my writing days are at an end. Then what? Back to sculpting or painting… possibly. Maybe living in one reality, instead of two would be nice for a change. But do writers ever really retire? Yes we can stop writing but what happens when your nagging voice turns up one day with another fresh and exciting idea? As the late Maya Angelou once said:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Happy Holidays and good luck to you all in 2016. I hope those of you who are still looking finally do find your muse.