Writing a Novel? The Big Lie

It's time. I sit at my laptop and I have nothing to do but write. The house is clean, all commitments have been met; I am free to write. Steam rises from a cup of tea to my left; I pick it up, sip and stare at the screen...

It's time. I sit at my laptop and I have nothing to do but write. The house is clean, all commitments have been met; I am free to write. Steam rises from a cup of tea to my left; I pick it up, sip and stare at the screen.

I have waited for this moment; strike that, I have created this moment, worked for it, insisted on it, delivered it and now it's time. Nothing's happening. No words in my mind demanding to be sentences; no ideas begging to be compelling scenes. Nothing.

This is the burden that haunts every novice writer; we never have time and when we do, inspiration flickers and dies until the time morphs into an intimidating void, so large, it might just suck us inside out.

I know I'm not alone in this.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who designs clothes and jewelry. She'd finally moved apartment and created a new studio space only to find that once the preparatory work was done, she couldn't sit in the room for more than half an hour.

The same happens to writers. Chatting to classmates since finishing our Masters they tell me they can't get motivated, have lost the thread of the story, have lost the will to write, have moved on to other projects; a long list of reasons to keep the void from the door.

Writing classes are great as they provide a lifeline to the wider literary landscape and outside of them, we're on our own. We're out in the big bad world where we can write about whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want.

Time stretches before us, an endless vortex into which lost days fall. Beyond the classroom, without its cycle of lessons, exercises and deadlines, we are competing with every other writer and story in the world, and the challenge is colossal.

It's easy to be ripped apart by self-doubt but this time I plan to remain intact.

Three years ago Elizabeth Gilbert gave a TED talk. She discussed the creative process and admitted that on any given day she had no idea if she could write. That didn't matter, she said, all that was important, was showing up. That's the task she set herself: show up. That was the only thing she could guarantee.

This kind of simple discipline is perhaps easier for a writer whose book has been turned into an $80 million dollar film but nonetheless, what's interesting about it is the careful balance of responsibility. Show up, that's all she asks.

In another TED talk Ken Robison talks about creativity and what makes children different from adults is a willingness to make mistakes. 'If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original,' he says.

But as adults we're terrified to make mistakes, unwilling to peer into the darkness for fear of what we might find or not find. Without that willingness, all that's left is anxiety. To paraphrase Anis Nin, it's better to embrace the anxiety and get over it because if it's let roam free, it becomes a 'killer.'

In class some months ago, Jeanette Winterson spoke about how she rebels against any formulaic approach to writing, so much so, that if by the end of the day she considers what she's written to be 'rubbish,' she throws it in the fire. The next day she starts fresh.

It's as if she writes with a devil-may-care approach that lets her off the hook if nothing worthwhile emerges. She's totally comfortable with the idea that some of her efforts will be 'rubbish,' but that doesn't stop her from letting them come out. As one of the UK's best contemporary writers, she's clearly doing something right.

This is the challenge for us novice writers I believe; we have to forget the lie that inspiration is a tap, ever poised, waiting to be turned on. We have to learn to accept the void and the possibility that the day's work will be 'rubbish,' worthy of nothing more than burning.

It's time. I'm embracing the void. This is a game, a word riddle, an alphabetic jigsaw puzzle with 100,000 pieces and all I need is time to put it together. That's all I need to do, make time.

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