I’ve started on the First Draft of my latest novel. I had a couple of days off after finishing the Pre-Draft but I kept feeling like I’d lost something important. So I quickly realised that I had to get back to work.
My whole relationship to writing is love/hate. I don’t actually physically enjoy sitting down at the computer all day and cranking out the words. It’s tiring. And I’ve got a degree of repetitive strain injury in my right hand which is getting worse as I get older. But if I’m not writing, that feeling of loss grows into an existential pain.
I always find that beginning is the hardest thing. Beginning a draft, beginning a chapter, beginning the day’s writing. Over the years I’ve changed the way I go about it. At one time I used to approach a day’s writing like a man who falls down an elevator shaft. I’d plunge straight in without thinking. Then, at the end of the day, I’d go back and automatically delete the first two or three hundred words because they always turned out to be no more than a series of stretching exercises before the real physical confrontation,
Nowadays I try to do the warming up mentally rather than physically because I want to make the writing count from the very first word. But it means that I sit in front of the computer or pace about the room at the beginning of every new section as alternative sentences dance about inside my head, each one loudly insisting that it is the best, the only possible way to start.
Sometimes the problem is not vocabulary or phrasing, it’s sequencing. There are always so many different ways you can tell a story and even when you’ve gone to the trouble of writing a detailed Pre-Draft, each chapter can be organised in any number of ways, all of which have their implications for the rest of the story.
After a lot of delay and several cups of tea I finally make an instinctive choice and go with it. Once I’ve started, the words come very easily. The faster I go, the more exhilarating I find it. After a thousand words, I stop and read what I’ve written.
If it limps, the sense of worthlessness that haunted my adolescence immediately threatens to engulf me. I have to act quickly; my fingers move like lightning over the keys while I frantically try to put things right. But if the writing sings off the page at the first reading, I feel validated and I’m in love with being a writer all over again.