You: When is the book coming out? Are you writing your next one yet? What are you doing for Christmas?
Me: Sometime in 2018; sort of; flip, how can it be the middle of November already?
This is how my conversation rolls at the moment. I’m twitchy to say the least.
Sort of. What kind of answer is that? I’m sort of writing my next novel. You’d have thought it was a binary question. Are you writing your novel or not? It depends, I guess, on what you count as writing.
At the moment I’m filling notebooks with ideas scribbled in almost illegible handwriting, half scenes and snatches of conversation, backstories of my characters, notes to myself that range from ‘No, don’t be so fucking ridiculous’ to ‘Hahaha, this is a brilliant idea’, from ‘Not this, obvs’ to ‘Oh no, that means I’ll have to do some research on Phil Collins.’ Pages and pages of the stuff. I shove all the nonsense down as quickly as I can before I forget it. Ideas thought through consciously or those that spring subconsciously when my brain is turned off.
As the theme tune leaves me cresting that metaphorical Summer Bay wave, I reinstall my rested brain and resume normal life.
This is where I admit, seemingly out of the blue, that I have a Home and Away habit. Bear with me. It’s (kind of) relevant. Every weekday evening, I stop work, turn on the TV, take out my brain and give it a nice gentle massage it before I sit it on the sofa beside me while I watch one of the trashiest soaps on the telly whose plot lines are as preposterous as the characters are muscle-bound, as limited as the number of sets and which repeat with a regularity that suggests excessively low expectations of audience longevity (interpret that as you will).
Later, as the theme tune leaves me cresting that metaphorical Summer Bay wave, I reinstall my rested brain and resume normal life.
I’d argue that this down time is important for any writer. Perhaps Home and Away won’t be everyone’s trash of choice but something that distracts you without stressing you out seems to me the ideal way of letting your subconscious frolic away unabashed.
This differs slightly from the half-directed, semiconscious phase which is also a critical part of this development process for me. A kind of freeform thinking where I try out different ideas (sometimes in my head when I’m running, sometimes on paper at my desk) and see where they lead me. Those ‘but why would so-and-so do that?’ type of questions. And the ‘what ifs?’
Which is why I have so many pages of gibberish in my notebooks. I find there is something about the process of writing with pen and paper that seems to help my ideas flow too. Certain studies have suggested there are psychological, cognitive and neurological differences in learning when comparing writing by hand with writing directly on a digital medium. It wouldn’t take much to convince me that there are similar differences for imaginative skills.
All this is months of work, on and off. Even so, I don’t feel like I’ve properly started writing novel 2. I had a rough structural plan and I even wrote chapter one, but a few days ago I scrubbed that chapter because the tone wasn’t right, and this morning I had a complete rethink about my time-lines and ditched the structural plan too.
But even if there are no chapters written yet, nothing on the computer other than an almost empty file waiting to be filled, there is a hint of a coherent story trying to fight through the nonsense in my notebooks. In the next day or two, I’ll have to conquer my white page fear and start somewhere, even if it isn’t at the beginning.
In the meantime, would you excuse me? I must rush off. I have an important date with Channel 5.
Author’s notebooks by HMT
Brain by Sanger Brown M.D. – Popular Science Monthly Volume 46, Public Domain, Wikimedia