Mm, well I’m no virgin but I have just written my first novel. And God, was it painful! Well, it still is.
The highs, the lows, the doubt, and the pleasure. Damn that dream I had twelve years ago that gave me the plot and the title, the subsequent life changes that gave me the requisite material, and blast that psychic who told me I had a book to write that would take me to places I couldn’t imagine I’d ever go. And no, she didn’t know me from Adam. What kind of existential dilemma have I been Vaselined and shoe-horned into?
Yep, I could have ignored all of it but it has been jabbing at me in the ribs for so long that I no longer flinch. It has been like one of those itches you cannot scratch, that lurks just below your skin, and moves every time your fingernails get anywhere near it. I had to write that story. It has taken me well over ten years and, as I edit the first draft of the first chapters I wrote way back then I realise how much it scares me, firstly because I’m so different now, and secondly because I don’t know how to face what comes next.
It is frightening. I’d love to meet other authors who can tell me this is normal because it’s a bit daunting to think that I am likely to be the only writer afraid of how to face those next steps. Those difficult steps of realising that your story, your syntax, your language, your characters could all be crap. Conversely they could be marvellous. Who will help you learn which way or other and who will do so without flaying you alive.
Even though I’ve always been a gobby git I now realise that putting words onto paper and hoping to be published is something else entirely. It is a bit like having a baby and moulding him into everything you think is right in a human being only to find out years down the line you screwed up, big time, and no-one likes what he has become (but you still love him because he’s yours). Is it too late, then, to remould him hastily into something that is more acceptable to the norm or do you let him just run wild and free and hope someone, somewhere will like him? And, if someone should tell you your child is a mess somewhere down the line how do you deal with that? Because writing a story that has been nurtured and coddled through all your life’s bitter and fascinating experiences will undoubtedly be seen as a spoilt and ruined child by many.
At what point do you relinquish the story to one or more desultory other to be as nice as possible about it in the never-ending process of refining and editing? What do you ask that reader (or readers, if you are lucky enough to have friends and relatives willing to be nice to you) to say? Critique it nicely? Be honest and tell me it’s crap? Correct my grammar (who can do that these days?)? Find the holes? At what point do you let your baby go while you hastily develop the skin of a rhino and shore up your morale?
I know I’ve got a long, long way to go before I’d let anyone loose on my baby. It’s not because I’m super defensive and scared of criticism. Hang on; let’s be honest, it’s precisely that. I want to write for the rest of my life. I want to be able to write things that will move people, interest people and inspire people. But I know that that doesn’t mean to say that I will. What makes me think I can do that? I don’t know. It worries me that you need to be someone who has supreme confidence in their words. I know I can create a picture with paint that accurately portrays the subject but even then I don’t feel I’ve done a good job until I know I have captured the subject’s spirit. At what point will I know I’ve captured the spirit of my story. Some folk don’t look for the spirit in anything at all. They just look for the satisfaction of a story told simply and I’d be happy to do just that, if I knew that was all that was required. But I don’t believe that.
So, yes, in my virginal approach to novel writing I am keeping my knees firmly together, my hands protecting my vitals, and my heart wrapped in cotton wool. My head, conversely, is yelling at me, ‘go for it – you know you want it. It will hurt and it will be messy but everyone else does it and lives to tell the tale’. But it’s the angst of knowing that I’ll struggle to find the confidence that my story could ever be good enough for me, let alone the rest of the world. Am I the only cowardly author out there?