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Welcome to my Blog!

Wednesday 7 March 2012

THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL - an Author's Confession!

Every author has his or her own way of coping with the immensely stressful, though potentially rewarding moment they are faced with a blank page or screen.  This moment, alas(!), is even more terrifying if you have previously written a best seller that has been well received and highly recommended, and if added to this horror or horrors you have a tight deadline and a well meaning editor calling you at odd intervals to ask how you are going.

Some of us work well under pressure. Others can become paralysed with fear at the sight of that blank,  endless, horizonless wasteland, one could liken to a blizzard that obscures an otherwise blue sky on the way to Mt Everest. The way up is your career, you have a contract, you have done well, everyone expects you to do it again, you can see the summit, your legs are taut, your head is clear, you are well prepare and then - blizzard! 

If you are a sailor like me, you will liken it to a white squall that comes from out of nowhere and hits you with all your sails out and your sheets flapping - suddenly the boom is headed your way and...you're in the water without a life jacket! 

What comes after the blank page is the dark night of the soul!

Dramatic? Yes! That is what this is all about! Drama!

Why do I call it a dark night? Because for me a new book can only come after a period of deconstruction. I have to kill my darlings! Blot them out! You see, I am so in love with my last book that I want to do it again and again and again, and so I have at least ten beginnings that are like the other book but are not right and it takes a lot of writing and feeling utterly bad about what you are writing to deconstruct! You have to do it until you are quite sick of yourself, until you realise that you can't, or shouldn't, try to build a new house on old foundations. Whether you like it or not you have to bring in the bulldozer and set to work demolishing that beloved construct of your mind to clear the way for something new one to come.

How do I deconstruct?

I spend a lot of time researching.  I tend to eat more than I should. I go for walks without noticing anything at all, talking to myself, asking myself questions - should I connect this with that and that with this and that again with something else? By no means am I a martyr who drowns alone, I have to bring everybody into the water with me. I call my mother annoyingly all through the day to ask her what she thinks, I confuse, mystify and frustrate my poor long suffering husband, I irritate my children, I bemuse my friends, I confound and tax the intelligence of my poor dog! I question my talent, I question my commitment, I question my questions!

Most nights I go to bed fretting, reading, thinking and then I wake up with indefinite ideas that sound terrific, edifying, fantastic and then fizzle out as the day goes by leaving me empty and bereft. I spend too much time on facebook, twitter, my website, rearranging things and making endless videos. I write long blogs about my frustrations (ha ha!) I decide to empty out my kitchen cupboards and rearrange the pots and pans differently, then I put them back where they were before I started. I decide to learn a new programme on my mac or to bleach all the linen in the house. I make sour dough starter and launch into a frenzy of bread making and cake producing that might be the norm in commercial kitchens but is rarely seen in sane households. 

Somehow, this procrastination allows for the deconstruction to take place, so that all the conversations, all the research, all the endless thinking, reading and thinking again can die away into nothing and be born again around an idea. When it comes I feel a strange equanimity, I walk around with a smile on my face, like an overdue pregnant woman who is about to go mad if someone doesn't pull that baby out. I know however, beyond the manic need for action, that if the idea is to become an ideal, if it is to be born healthy, I must not use forceps, or drugs, or epidurals or call for a cesarian section (unless absolutely  necessary). I have to be patient and wait for nature to do its work, naturally.

That is where I am now...I am in my living room, it is raining, the fire is crackling pleasantly in the hearth, the pool is about to overflow and flood the house, the dog is asleep and I'm taken with the wonder of it! I'm watching a group of characters and plots float before my eyes around that idea...which is only a question at this stage:

What if the first world war was meant to start in 1888?

Suddenly it is no longer night and the day has dawned, the sky has cleared. What do I care if outside the sea is pounding and the sky is coming down in a torrent, I have seen the light and can now face that blank page with all the courage I can muster! I have my first labour pains!

More anon...

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