I recently stumbled across a draft post, saved over four months ago, entitled “It’s been a dry 7 weeks – Word Count = 89,467 – DON’T PANIC”. I had started the post in November with: “Although the word count has grown since my last post, at the end of September, everything ground to a halt. And halted it has stayed.”
Four months on, you’ll notice that the word count has, in fact, gone backwards and I didn’t actually write for four, whole months. Not a word between the end of September and the first week of January 2017. If you’d asked me what the block felt like, I would have said, “It feels as though Lucy (the protagonist) has stopped sharing her story with me.”
I teetered during those months between moments of panic that Lucy might never speak to me again, condemning me to put the oh-so-nearly-finished manuscript into the infamous bottom drawer and being quietly confident that she’d be back when she (and I) were good and ready.
So, what happened during that quagmire of inactivity?
First, it was a blatant and rather obvious case of self-sabotage. Late in September, I had had a feedback session with Cynthia. She made some solid observations around a couple of the characters that she had felt were less vivid than others I’d written. I accepted the notes, recognising that I had spent less time on character development with those individuals, despite their importance to the story. We discussed where she saw Lucy’s character arc and storyline heading – both of which were directly in line with my outline and plans. She could see the story trajectory, despite my patchwork-quilt approach to writing, assuring me that I wasn’t far off having a very respectable first draft, that would require only minimal re-work. On the whole, her comments were positive and I was reassured that I was still on the right track.
“Finish?” My subconscious obviously started screaming. I say “obviously” because, being my subconscious, I couldn’t actually hear it. Once I’d sussed it, though, conscious thought rationalised it. “Well, of course you’re a bit nervous. If you finish it, you have to DO something with it. Unless you want it to be the next worst thing to the oh-so-nearly-finished manuscript in a bottom drawer, which is the finished-but-STILL-in-the-bottom-drawer manuscript.” Now, here’s the thing. Just because I’d spotted it and called out my fear and self-sabotaging behaviour, it get me writing.
I decided to be patient.
Next, life happened. Some of you may remember I live(d) in Mallorca and, last year, was sharing a flat with my old school friend. That’s a whole other story that will, one day, be written but in a nutshell, having lost touch for over 30 years, we reunited in December 2015. After one long weekend on the Island in March last year, she went home, sold her flat in UK and moved to Mallorca, where we set about being recycled teenagers rather than middle-aged women.
In October, she fell ill. Initially, we thought she had food poisoning from a bad plate of tapas. However, having already conquered bowel cancer – one of the key reasons that had galvanised her into moving overseas – when she started to turn yellow we (she, far more than me, in my ignorance) knew things were serious. I’ll spare you the details of just how serious. Suffice to say, the next few months saw us heading back to the UK, where she spent more time in hospital than out of it. I packed up our flat in Palma, put everything except the essentials into storage and moved back to Brighton so I could keep her company as she embarked on another dreaded journey of chemotherapy.
She made it to her 50th birthday in early December, which we celebrated with a pyjama party for seven but she didn’t see Christmas.
And throughout that time, I didn’t write a word of Lucy’s story.
And still, I tried to be patient.
Then, in the first week of January, as though with the new year came a new phase, I wrote 202 words. Not many, for sure, but it was a start. I also deleted 8,616, a paring back of outlining no longer required and research notes moved to where they belong – the research folder. I was back to 81,054 but I was writing again.
Slowly, slowly, the final, missing block is coming through and I continue to be patient.
Tucked in amongst the unfolding of Lucy’s story, my bewilderment of finding myself back in the UK, an attempt at commission sales and the ebb and flow of grief, a new project also unfolded. I know, dear reader, we’ve been here before – remember the short play last year? This time, it feels less like a distraction and more like a welcome accompaniment. It’s not a novel, so it’s a very different book and I’m finding the freedom of having two distinct projects (OK, OK, three – the original one is still there, too!) quite liberating. When I sit down to write at the moment, one or the other tends to present itself as being most pressing. So, I honour that and remain grateful that anything is showing up!
On this path of discovery of how to be the writer I am, it appears that I might be a multi-consecutive-project writer. Which is fine. As long as I also evolve into a multi-consecutive-projects-who-completes-some-of-them writer.
I’ll be happy with that.
© itshelsbels March 2017