Posted on December 9, 2008 - by MG
Something you don’t often get from me today…a post about how I write.
I don’t write about this much because my agent strictly forbade me to tell people ‘how I write’. “Do not cast light upon the magic”, were his words.
Ha! But he doesn’t look at my blog often and he’s away on holiday right now so I reckon we’re probably safe.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about this recently because believe it or not, I never quite believe that I know what I’m doing. That’s with four sold manuscripts under my belt; I still wonder if one day I’ll wake up and realise I have no clue how to write a novel.
About ten years ago I tried my hand at writing, using fan fiction as my literary gym. And at that time I thought that I couldn’t imagine anything scarier than looking at the blank screen and knowing that unless I could reliably produce hundreds of words of quality creative writing, day after day – I wouldn’t earn.
Well truthfully, that feeling hasn’t entirely left me.
But I suspect that a certain amount of fear and anxiety make for good fiction writing. You don’t want to be paralyzed but a state of emotional ambiguity, in my experience, is a good place from which to write.
It could be the types of stories I write. In most things I’ve written so far the protagonist is under extreme emotional and often physical pressure. They aren’t happy. They are troubled, anxious, scared.
I’ve been anxious lately and I’m not entirely sure why. The signs are there…waking up in the middle of the night feeling tearful, remembering things I’d rather not remember. Disturbing dreams that I can’t quite recall on waking. Wandering around and seeing the ‘what if’? (it’s like having a Dead Zone-type ability – you keep getting flashes of what-if, giving a momentary peek into an alternative future based on a slightly different outcome of apparently trivial things. Very useful for a writer!)
If I weren’t a writer I would deal with this anxiety in other ways. Talk to people. Go salsa dancing more. Work harder so as not to think about it.
But being a writer, there’s a detached part of my brain. It logs my hypersensitive state and metaphorically rubs its hands. Time to write; it says. Use this.
I could refer to this as my inner writing bitch but it doesn’t feel very female. It’s cold and ruthless and will happily watch me suffer the dredging up of memories and feelings in order to get the result.
I blame my agent for unleashing this scary and until-now-dormant part of my psyche. It’s like some evil dragon that he awakened after a very long sleep. It’s quite merciless and I’m afraid there are times when I’m prone to fall into its power. Right now there’s no shutting it up.
If you’re an aspiring fiction writer reading this and smiling…it’s no joke. To become a full-time fiction author is to enter a world from which I fear there is no return. You inhabit a landscape that is only partly real. The fictions you create slowly lead you away from reality. You may think that the real world is horrible enough but it can at least be quotidien and trivial and diverting. The fictional world where a writer increasingly spends their time cannot be any of those things. It must be deep and troubling and full of emotional resonance.
I wasn’t warned; I had no idea. I thought I could write purely frothy adventures that came nowhere close to troubling me. I knew that many authors are crazy but I assumed that was vanity, poverty, ego.
It simply never occurred to me that it was a consequence of living between two worlds.