This week I started writing my seventh novel for my publishers, Lake Union Publishing. . . and I would describe my current professional state as anxious.
You would think that I’d have got the hang of this by now. After all, this will be the fourteenth book that I have penned in the last ten years, and whilst I would never describe myself as a novel-writing expert, I do have some experience. I certainly understand the basics: how to write a character, how to tell a story in a way that will keep the reader turning the pages, which words to use when.
And I love it! This part, the first draft, is my absolute favourite bit. If I could write first drafts all day every day then I would be a happy camper.
So why am I anxious?
Those people that know me will probably tell you that I am a planner. There is virtually no eventuality that might befall myself or my family that I have not, at some point, considered and made a contingency plan for. If there’s even the tiniest of outside chances that something might occur then I’m on it. I know exactly where everyone will ( or at least should ) be at any moment, how they will get there, what they need with them, what they will eat and how they will be getting home, myself included. It is fair to say that going with the flow is an alien concept to me.
Except when I’m writing a book . . . .
I can’t tell you why but it seems that in this one regard alone I am incapable of coming up with a plan. And I have tried. And failed. A lot.
Before I was published . . .
and I was just writing for myself, then this wasn’t an issue because no one had any expectations. I would set off and follow my characters where they took me, letting the story be unveiled to us all at the same time.
For me, writing a novel is a bit like doing a puzzle.
When I begin, I have the people I’m going to write about and where their current dilemma. I also have a vague idea of where I’m going, and the challenge is to get my characters ( and hopefully my readers ) to the final destination in a way that is plausible, exciting and ultimately satisfying. The game for me is to come up with new ways of arriving at The End. And I love it. You have no idea how exciting it is when I put a piece of the jigsaw down without really know where it fits only to discover several chapters later that I have created the rest of the image around it. It’s like alchemy.
But these days things are slightly different. Not only has my publisher paid me for the book as yet unwritten ( or even outlined ), thus demonstrating a faith in me that can be daunting, but I also have quite a lot of people who have enjoyed one of my books and might want to read another. If what I produce doesn’t match their expectations then you can bet your very last pound coin that they will tell me ( and the rest of the world ) in a review.
But don’t go thinking THAT this is bad.
It’s not! As I said, this is my favourite part. But it’s also super-scary. And this new book is the scariest of all. The idea I have in my head is more complicated than anything I’ve tried before and as I write this blog post I truly have no idea how it’s all going to get from where I am now to an ending.
It was Iris Murdoch who said ‘Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea’ and she was so right. And at the moment, when I’ve barely started, I can still let myself believe that I can do it, that my idea has legs and will be able to carry itself all the way to the finishing line. But the further I get into to it, the less fabulous my idea can begin to look.
This is how it feels. Imagine that you are in a dark forest at night, or swimming in a vast ocean. You have a torch or some armbands and so the little part of the forest or sea that you are in is perfectly safe. And you are happy and having fun. But what if you let your mind stray? What if you start to wonder what might be out there, beyond your little puddle of light, hiding behind a tree, watching you. Or if you looked down though the deep blue water, what might be swimming beneath you, just looking up at your vulnerable little body.
Well, that’s what it feels like. The chapter I’m in is great and going well . . . but if I let myself look beyond where I currently am then the vast, dark unknown- ness of it might frighten me to death.
Yet Fear not!
This mega-scary bit doesn’t last forever. Once I get a little further into the book then the unknown parts start to look far less terrifying and eventually, I will be completely in control of my new world. I know this. Experience has shown me it time and time again. All I have to do is trust my process. And not look down!