Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Why Starting Out is Hard To Do

Courtesy of
You know what it’s like when you are tinkering with an almost completed writing project. You are putting the finishing touches to something that you are pleased with. You know all the characters as if they were old friends – slightly creepy friends who have got right inside your head. There is still work to do, but you can sit down at the computer and spend a stretch of time in creative flow, producing solid, satisfying writing.

It’s just not the same when you’re starting out. There is a lot of staring into space. There is no palpable task to take up when you sit down to write – just a nebulous project that needs enormous amounts of ill-defined work. Your most productive moments come when you’re in the shower or miles from your computer. These flashes of inspiration result in notes stuffed in a folder, rather than pages of text you can be proud of. It feels as though you’re getting nothing done. You tell people you’re ‘working on a new project’, but a little voice in your head pipes up, ‘Yeah right. You’re a fraud.’

This is where I am at the moment. My first novel Unspeakable Things is off at a competition, waiting to be judged. Three short stories are waiting to be rejected – sorry, considered – by a magazine. So I am working on my second novel, Spite. This one is about a soap actress, so I have been reading autobiographies – Patsy Palmer’s All of Me (very good) and Danniella Westbrook’s Faith, Hope and Clarity (much less good). I can justify this as ‘research’, and it has been useful and inspiring in ways I hadn’t anticipated – I pretty much wanted to know what the dressing rooms are like on Eastenders, but there is a lot about fame, success and insecurity that feeds the themes of this novel.

But it’s not the same as the lovely tweaking and perfecting process that I so enjoyed with Unspeakable Things. I am giving up work to go freelance in a few weeks to spend more time writing. It would be great to have a discernible task to sit down and accomplish every day.

Then this morning, a little breakthrough. I had begun to think about how the novel would start. I had enormous trouble writing the beginning of Unspeakable Things, and I’m still not sure that it grabs the reader as it should. Most of the new novel will be from the point of view of the heroine aged 26, interspersed with a first person commentary from when she was 13. One of the themes is bullying, and I sat down to write a first paragraph by the young heroine about how she met her new best friend when they were 9 and her group of friends at school were leaving her out.

As I read back over this tentative first paragraph, tears came to my eyes – but in a good way. I thought, if I picked this up as a reader, I’d want to read on.

Hold tight. I think we’re underway.