Ever since I first started reading on a regular basis I’ve wanted to be a writer.
I can still remember the excitement when I discovered the horror genre in the early 90s – reading explicit novels by the likes of Richard Laymon and Shaun Hutson seemed a forbidden thrill. Slugs the size of a small dog, yee hahh! A teenage boy spending the night in a haunted house with a beautiful girl, yes please! (I had a macho streak back then…) And these worlds were not only an escape for me, it seemed so much fun creating them. I wanted to be able to do what these authors were doing.
As life progressed my tastes changed with me. The gruesome books of my youth gave way to psychological thrillers and the noir of crime fiction, Chandler, Hammett, Ross Macdonald and his namesake John D. It was the language of these writers that sung to me, those wonderful similes (a handrail cold and slimy like a toad’s belly…) and complex stories.
I was dabbling with my own writing at this point, churning out the occasional short story which I wouldn’t show to anyone and the manuscript lying in a box underneath my bed. Sometimes I would take out the pages, read them, and think about seeing if I could find somewhere to publish them. Eventually I got a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook and hunted down a few publishers of short stories, and fired off my manuscripts. All rejected, as you can imagine. I wasn’t too dissatisfied – we all know how many rejections J.K Rowling had for example – and anyway, I had my sights set on something bigger. A novel.
I wanted to emulate those writers I so admired; it didn’t matter at that stage whether the novel would be published or even if it was any good. Just to say I had done it and on some level to be the same as my writing heroes – with a completed novel.
I had had a kernel of an idea in my head for a number of years. I remember daydreaming one day at work and a fully fledged scene popped into my head without warning. You hear writers try to describe that feeling when an idea hits and it is almost like magic. I grabbed a couple of sheets of paper and wrote the scene longhand in a half hour or so.
OK, so I had that scene but I didn’t have a clue what else. No context, nothing. Just three faint sketches of characters. But it was something. And I sat at the computer that night trying to find the voice of these characters, and it happened. From nowhere, the words started to flow. I had no idea where they came from then, and I don’t now. The magic at work again.
The rest of the novel ran itself off in 9 months. And I can honestly say I’ve never been happier than when I was sat at my desk writing. Most of it I think came from the fact that I didn’t really have a clue what was going on. Once the characters found their voice they were off and running and all I was doing was frantically trying to keep up. Not only was I the writer I was also the novels first reader. That crest of a wave feeling is something I’ve never experienced in quite the same way since.
After the novel was finished I did nothing creative for a few months, then did the rewrites and sent the manuscript out again, with the same result. So, to try and prove that it wasn’t a fluke, I decided to try for another novel. I wanted that feeling back.
The second novel took 10 months, and I was and still am immensely proud of it. It was a massive learning experience and the plot was labyrinthine compared to the first. At this stage I was happy to let friends read and critique my work and the response was mostly positive (as it should be, they are my friends after all!) I went to a few publishers once more and whilst the rejections kept coming, there were crumbs of feedback: ‘Good writing’ was written on one rejection slip, and I pinned it above my desk to spur me on. I was happy, excited, and ready to write more.
Since then, I have barely written a word. It’s not writers block, that would imply making an effort to get something down. It’s procrastination on an epic scale.
There are mitigating circumstances to be fair; in the years that have passed I suffered a prolonged and nasty bout of depression that kept me under for a while and still crops up from time to time. I’ve found love and moved across to the other side of the world. But these are only excuses.
So what is keeping me from getting back into it? It’s not rejection, I’ve had enough of those slips over the years. It’s not being unable to find the time – there’s always time to write if you want to. And it’s not a lack of desire. The passion of and for the written word is as strong as ever.
I think that it might be fear. The fear that I don’t have anything worthwhile to say anymore. And the fear that I don’t know anything like enough about, well, anything. The novels that I wrote were about twenty-something student men and their messed-up lives. That was something I knew about. I don’t know anything about how to describe the roof of a building, for example. Or about how to properly set a scene in a fictional place. Or about how to talk about a character’s employment. It sounds ridiculous but if a character ended up being an electrical engineer, what do I know about that stuff? I can barely change a plug! I would have trouble with a female narrative voice too. I’ve never felt confident about being able to portray a woman’s thoughts accurately and with conviction. I know that sounds remarkably stupid, we are all human beings after all, but it still bothers me.
All this is probably just whimpery excuses and laziness. It just seems like an impossible task to fathom. That there is only a finite supply of the magic and I’ve had my share. That it was only luck anyway and I wouldn’t be able to do it again. That, deep down, I know I’m not good enough.
I need to shake out of it. If, when my time on this earth is drawing to a close, I’m still in this state of creative paralysis, I will regret it more than anything. To know that I gave up.
The time has come to try and get back to it, one word at a time. And when the problems come, address them. Research. Seek help and knowledge. Write and re-write.
And hope that the magic returns.