Sunday 4 November 2018

I couldn't NOT write if I tried, and other cliches!

I've often read the cliches quoted by other authors about how they couldn't NOT write or how their characters speak to them. 

I've always thought such things were nonsense. After all, I have now written six novels, so I can speak with some authority as an author, but I have published all of them since turning forty. The fact that I went for the first forty years of my life without feeling compelled to write has sometimes made me feel like a bit of a fraud. Perhaps only real authors cannot avoid writing. Maybe for real writers the compulsion to put pen to paper is stronger than I had ever felt.

But, as with so many cliches maybe the truth is that you only really understand them when they happen to you. Recently, I wasn't able to write for a couple of weeks and suddenly I got it. I imagine it's like an athlete who suffers an injury and is unable to compete in their chosen sport. As anyone who knows me will attest, I'm no athlete but the frustration at not being able to sit down and write was very real. I didn't hear the voices of my characters whispering to me, and I didn't dream of the stories that I must tell, but I did have the nagging feeling that I should be adding words to my current work in progress.

People occasionally ask me if I enjoy the writing process. This is a very difficult question to answer. It is extremely taxing to write a novel-length piece of prose, particularly one that others are going to want to read. There's the research and planning, and then, of course, the seemingly endless hours of writing page after page of the first draft, followed by yet more hours of editing and polishing. This is then followed by further edits and tweaks that are needed after my editor, copy editor, proofreader and test readers have all had their say. So I think to say that I enjoy the process would be a stretch. But the simple fact is I do enjoy the final product of the creative process and I especially like hearing from people who have enjoyed reading the books.

I recently got an email from a reader that made my day. It was a message thanking me for writing the Bernicia Chronicles. This isn't that unusual, and I always love getting emails like that from readers. What writer (or anyone for that matter) doesn't like receiving praise? But this email in particular stood out from the norm in that the sender seemed to fully understand how difficult it is to actually wring the stories out of my brain. He likened my writing to giving him a time machine, an ability to lose himself in the past as depicted in my stories, taking him away for a brief time from the humdrum day-to-day life of the 21st-century.

What made the email even better was the timing. It came after this extended period when I had been unable to write and I was facing the uphill struggle of getting back into the swing of the writing process. This was a very welcome boost, reminding me that there are many people looking forward to reading my next books. And this email, from someone I do not know and will probably never meet, provided me with a much-needed lift. For although I now understand the writers who say they could not NOT write, because I too feel as though I always have homework that needs to be handed in tomorrow, it doesn't make writing any easier!

So what am I saying with this whole rambling post? Perhaps this is just a way of avoiding carrying on with the writing! I'm sure that is true, but I also think I'm trying to say two things: first, don't dismiss cliches, as usually they are true, at least for someone, and secondly, if you have read and enjoyed a writer's work, don't underestimate the power you have to lift their morale with an email, tweet, Facebook comment or an online review. Writing is by its very nature a solitary pastime, and as the writers are alone for a long time during the gestation period of each book, it is all too easy to lose sight of why we do it.

So thank you to everybody who has taken a moment to contact me either directly or indirectly via reviews, it is really appreciated!

And now I'd better get back to writing my new book, which will be the first novel I have written outside of the Bernicia Chronicles series. I can't put it off any longer, I've got that nagging feeling that I need to get on with it. Those characters are calling to me. I couldn't NOT write it now even if I tried!