Writing experiences

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

I suppose the way I write is like this… An idea has to be burning its way out of me for me to want to sit down and dedicate my time and energy to something that may or may not make me any money; may or may not be liked by an audience; may or may not be liked by a future version of me in years to come.

When I tell people I wrote three books this year, they look at me as if there must be something terribly wrong with me. Or as if what I’ve churned out must be utter, utter codswallop. Ha ha. Perhaps it is! No, I don’t think so… A lot of fellow writers tell me they don’t get past the first few chapters of an idea. A lot of scribblers stick to short stories because they find the thought of a novel daunting or impossible – a challenge they are not at one with or fear they would never find time to complete. When I read A Moveable Feast earlier this year on a train journey to Paris, I found it incredible that Ernest Hemingway felt as if he could not attempt a novel without the notion that he was poised and experienced enough to. It was as though he felt it a desecration of his art to attempt something so huge unless he knew he could do it justice. I find that mindset incredibly interesting: that such a huge talent was initially loathe to move from short stories because he was so humble, so bound by his desire to do the best he could, that he did not immediately jump to novels. Maybe my leap from no/little creative writing experience to a full novel as my first work seems insanity… or arrogance, even.

As I sit here right now, this blog is burning its way out of me. It’s why I write. I see an idea in my mind, or something someone says draws a discussion from the recesses of my psyche, and I’m there… needing to explode my words onto the page. I have to have that appetite – no, indeed – that absolute and utter desperation to write for me to know it will be any good. I have to have that yearning – deep in the pit of my gut – for me to know it will be tangible, real or even just a little bit resonant. I’ve often told people that forcing yourself to write is not the way. But secretly, I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Nevertheless, though those “forced writes” have been scrapped on many an occasion, sometimes they have led to bigger and better things.

So, to the matter at hand… this here blog is my AGM with myself. My round-up of my year’s business, if you like. Here I sit, on my own, writing about me and my psyche’s journey. Even though I started The Ravage Trilogy in October 2011, I feel as though I didn’t really knuckle down to the business of creating a novel until January this year, so it really has been a white-knuckle, rollercoaster of a year. Twelve months. Three books. A developing fan base that loves my work and seems to live for the sequels. Oh god, let’s see if I can get this all to sink in after such a frenzied period of creativity…

There have been many nights when I’ve been unable to stop tapping away at the keyboard. Many times when I’ve thought to myself, “Bloody hell, Sarah, you will be up in five hours’ time with the baby…” I’ve sacrificed my formerly routine life to become a creature of abject, inconvenient compulsion! I simply know if I don’t ride the rollercoaster of a scene or an idea or a feeling, I might not be able to regain it in the morning. I said after writing Book One that I would give myself a rest. But I may as well have been trying to teach myself to suck eggs… Book Two was hot on its heels not only in terms of creativity, but also in terms of the sequential plot and a need to bring my characters forward from the previous instalment. I could already see the next journey I was going to take the protagonists on and I simply needed to get it down. Finding that time is and has been very difficult sometimes. Very. I have many commitments, both personally and professionally. But every day, I would look forward to the chance to finally sit down in the evening – with my laptop – and thrash out that idea or two that had been niggling and developing in my mind all day long. I’d sit on that sofa, computer on lap, wine or a cuppa or a beer by my side – happy as a pig in shit. I’d feel as though the day’s toil was done and that I could deservedly gift myself with the chance to write. For it is definitely a gift and something I am very lucky to have. As much as I give, it gives me back tenfold. A bit like a child does, really. I was taking myself off to the world that was living inside my mind. A world where you are never sure what might happen, where anything is possible and where you meet people you would love to meet in life; people just like us who are placed in extraordinary circumstances and because of this are able to demonstrate so many facets of their various personalities within such a small time period. Characters who are somewhat a part of me and who I am, but also parts of my circle of friends and family, and reminiscent of many other characters I have met over the years. They are the thing that makes my books: the people you grow to love and empathise with, the people who you could easily imagine being real and who react and perceive the world just like any of the rest of us.

So, it was during these long night sessions of writing, in those dark hours, that I wasn’t as seemingly alone as I thought. I had my characters driving me on, needed to be voiced and heard. Often the thought would creep into my mind, “This is a ridiculous idea that may seem good to you but won’t to anyone else…” “People will see right through this…” “God I hate this scene…” All these self-doubts are what defines the loneliness of a writer. Of feeling as though what you are doing is rubbish and having a crisis of faith. I would ask everyone to look back and think. Ask yourself, how much time do you spend writing an email to someone, or a letter, or a small article? How many times have you written a poem or a song or a love note and then scribbled it out or binned it the next day because you hate it when you look back? You may then realise that what I have done this year required extreme faith, in both myself, my writing, how it will be perceived and whether it will be enjoyed.

But this is the point:

This year, I discovered a true love. A real, deep, innate love for writing and the way it makes me feel. To complete a novel… god! One is amazing enough. But I did three because I absolutely, one hundred per cent, absolutely and truly love this. I love, love, love it. It’s in my veins, my bones, my DNA. I hear those people saying to me, “Oh, yeah, I’d love to write a novel but I never have the time, or the energy, or the confidence, or the inclination to write so many, many words…” I hear them talking and I think, well, I did it. I did it because to not do it would have made me ill. Keeping these stories internalised would have been criminal to my art, which is specific to me and my life, my personality and particular talents. I am fortunate in that because I have self-published, I can stay true to exactly who I am and what makes my writing mine. I will never regret the way my books have turned out, because they led to something… and life continues to lead to new discoveries, new pastures, new adventures and self-development. I wrote three books in such a relatively short period of time because they were breaking out of me. They had to be written. They have to be read.

In conclusion, as this AGM draws to a close, I would just like to tell myself… this has been a very productive year. I finished Book Three and felt as though I had already peaked. I felt as though I would never write anything as good ever again… for this is a story that beats the first two books hands down, but I had to write them to get to this one – Beneath the Exile. In Book Three, you will see me bring my characters to their lowest, to their basest even, and raise them up again. I took them by the throat, squeezed and choked them, shook them about and fed them to the lions afterward. I did it because I could – because I can write. If you can write, you should never deny yourself that. Never tell yourself that what you churn out is bound to be rubbish, because you never know what you might end up with. You just never know… I discovered a true, unbreakable, unfathomable, indestructible love… One that challenges and excites me, gives me the highest highs and the lowest lows… but one which is so undeniably rewarding and fulfilling. As to the future… or the unknown… watch this space 2013…

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