Posted by Jessica on Feb 6, 2008
To Blog or not to Blog? That is the question. If the Prince of Denmark had had access to the Internet and had posted his ‘problem’ the poor chap would have been so bewildered by the messages of sympathy, condemnation and advice that he’d never have gotten around to taking revenge on anyone and would have been stuck on the chatline to that grumpy old ghost for the next forty-five years.
Okay, here’s a confession: I have absolutely nothing to say that doesn’t tie into writing. I’ve no cats, no dogs and, much to my sorrow, no adorable grandchildren. I do not live in a castle, ride horses or keep a python in the powder room. I do not play the cello, sing in a choir, or commune with the weeds in my garden. And my trip to the headwaters of the Amazon ground to a premature halt when I was overcome by claustrophobia in the Clyde tunnel on the way to the airport and had to be rescued by a representative of Age Concern.
Of course, I do intend to climb the North wall of the Eiger, elbow my way through the iPods to welcome the dawn above Machu Pichu, visit Granada, Washington, Hollywood, Hong-Kong and Prague. I might even pause to bathe my bunions in the waters of the Fountain of Trevi in passing. I would, indeed, do all these things, and more, if I didn’t have another damned novel to finish.
How disillusioning to the unpublished writer or uninformed reader to discover that us writers do not simply dash off a line or two of deathless prose between lunch at the Savoy and a high-stakes game of Bridge while awaiting a call from George Clooney. The squalid truth is that to put approximately 150,000 words of reasonably intelligible prose on screen, or on paper for that matter, requires even the most glamorous author to park his or her bum on a chair for about as long as it takes to paint the Forth Bridge. It’s you and the night and the keyboard, and unless you’re one of them there whizz kids - there are a few - who can dash off a novel in three weeks, you’re stuck with that same routine until the contract is fulfilled.
So here’s a peek behind the curtain of this writer’s life. I rise, shower, eat, hit the keyboard, work for four hours, maybe five, lunch in, sometimes out. Return to the keyboard to answer e-mails or scan for research material. Nap, dine, watch TV or a movie, set up research for the morning, kiss the computer goodnight and go to bed. Like thrilling, or what? Honesty compels me to admit to an occasional round of golf or a fun-filled evening with a handful of writer friends - whinging raised to a fine art - but for eight or nine months or however long it takes to write, edit and re-edit, the work in progress is the only thing that counts; the rest can be, and often is, distraction.
What are you grousing about? I hear you cry. Try battling for a seat on the 7.48 out of Guildford on a freezing cold morning or hanging about a platform in Birmingham New Street hoping somebody will send you a train to ride home in. True, undeniably true. My travelling time from toast rack to keyboard is something under ten seconds and I don’t have a boss waiting to growl at me if I do happen to be five minutes late. I chose to be writer - and I love what I do. All right, I don’t love it all the time. There are mornings when the mind goes numb, whole days when you begin to wonder if you’ll ever get the plot points to mesh properly and, worst of all, weeks when you can’t switch the book off in your brain and drift around scowling, grunting and being even more of a pain than usual.
Getting ideas? Easy. Developing ideas? Difficult. Working through ‘the wall’ - marathon runners will know what I’m talking about - frustrating. Lassoing runaway characters - be firm with the little beggars. Backstory - get a grip on it before it gets a grip on you. Controlling the viewpoint - sweat it out and don’t be lazy, it’s the only way. Historical detail - boil until it liquidises and use sparingly, a drop at a time. Scenes of passion and sexual encounter - it’s always Monday morning and raining when you square up to those, but do bear in mind that your reader may not be a fan of late night Channel 4 documentaries that teach you how to knit your own perversion, and avoid, at all costs, extravagent metaphors for erotic ecstasy.
Am I finger wagging again? I guess I am. You were warned, you know. In the poor stunted little life I lead everything feeds back into what eventually appears on the printed page. Even blogging (look, Ma, I’m blogging!) will, I imagine, work its way in some mangled form into the next novel or the one after that.
Is the writing life all that poor and stunted? Nah, of course it’s not. It’s tough at times and it’s hard to make a decent living out of scattering words on a page but, oh boy, when it sings, it really sings - and, like the man says, it sure beats working.
If you’ve gotten this far you’re either a born masochist and suffering from terminal boredom, or you’re manacled to the keyboard as a punishment for some unimaginable sin. In either event, dear reader, here’s a grand opportunity, quite free of charge, to suffer a little more with a sample from the opening scenes from a recent Jessica Stirling novel ‘Blessings in Disguise’ to intrigue and entice you or, just possibly, send you quietly off to sleep.
Whatever - enjoy!