I’ve been putting this off for a couple of weeks now -the start of a new novel. I finished my last one a few months go, left it for a while, did a final edit and sent it off into the ether, where it has remained. Since then, I’ve concentrated on non-fiction for a change, possibly out of emotional laziness. To write an article, I just have to research the facts and write them up in an interesting way. There is no real emotional engagement, and no sitting in front of a blank screen for hours wondering what my characters should do next. And they are quick wins. At the end of a working day I can look back on a completed piece of work. With a novel, there is a substantial investment of time, with no guarantee that anything productive will emerge.
So this morning I switched on my trusty laptop, opened a template and wrote the first actions of my female character. I was surprisingly nervous. With writing nothing but non-fiction lately, I wondered if I’d lost my fiction-writing voice. Would my characters be bland and lifeless on the page? Would my descriptive passages read like something from a DIY manual? I wonder how many other writers who juggle fiction and non-fiction feel the same sense of trepidation when switching disciplines.
After a morning’s work, I only have 500 words to show for my efforts. I wrote, erased, wrote, edited, wrote…to say that the words didn’t flow easily would be something of an understatement. But they did flow, or rather drip, steadily, lines of text marching slowly across one page, then another. In full flow, I can write 4000 words a day – a satisfying number, and something to get my teeth into in the next day’s editing session. But I can’t complain – it’s a start. I’ll probably scrap today’s work when I get into the swing of this particular novel, but that doesn’t matter. When I sit down at my desk tomorrow morning, I won’t have to face the newness of an unformed character. Those first brief words have breathed life into her. She is real now, with a personality that is uniquely hers. She will inform what I write and how I write it. She will be my constant companion until I write ‘The End’, heave a sigh of mixed relief and sadness, and bid her farewell.
But that moment is a long way off. Until then, I have her company, and the excitement of her developing story, with its twists and turns, its frustrations and surprises. Let the journey begin.