My current project is on the shelf behind me (so I can't see it laughing at me) as I scrabble wildly for ideas, plot and characters. I've been trying to write from a very early age with mixed results. I have to say that my current novel-in-progress is the most promising of my ideas: I can tell that because I have written more than in any of my previous projects. In fact, I have written so much that I have felt justified in proudly writing the page numbers at the top right hand corner of each page, so I can say "Yes, I've written nineteen pages of my novel..."
When I was sixteen I helped my school English department in sorting through several boxes of books. There had been a flood or a roof leak or something and the books, most of which were fifty years old and more were waterlogged, many had become moldy. It was my job to sort out which books were salvageable, and which would need to be thrown away. The idea of throwing books away repulsed me: I have never thrown a book away in my life, it's like throwing away a person. What I actually ended up doing was putting the books on a radiator, allowing them to dry, before reading them and placing them in a new cardboard box. I had made quite a job for myself. I came across a volume by Keats, a poet with whom I was relatively unfamiliar, and in running through it I came across these words:
“If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all”
Those words have haunted me ever since. I've tried writing poetry and prose and it definitely does not come naturally. I have to follow a process , gouge the ideas out of my brain and rearrange them on the paper, crossing bits out, adding bits in, tearing out pages which offend me. Those words of Keats' have eaten at me many a day, making me wonder if I am wasting my time in trying to create something original. Many a screwed up poem owes its demise to those smug words and of course it's alright for Keats, poetry probably does come naturally to a genius.
I recently had cause to read "One Day" by David Nicholls, for my book club. I didn't like the book as a whole, but one thing stuck out for me. One of the main characters is an aspiring writer, and at one point she wonders if her desire to write was really an obsession with stationery. That got to me as well, and I thought guiltily of all of the pens I had bought, all of the fancy blank books which were either ruined, untouched or extremely skinny from having large chunks ripped out.
Then there's other people. They ask you what you do when you aren't at work and when you tell them, "I'm writing a novel", they reply "really? What's it about?". You give a rather lame outline and they smile kindly as if they have just realized they are talking to a mental patient, saying "Well, good luck with that".
So where am I going with this? Primarily I am using up a bit of time until my books and I must confront each other once again, and it seems I have done a lot of complaining. The main problem with writing is that it's so subjective. Even now, when I'm relatively happy with my work I'm constantly thinking "but will anyone else like it? Is it any good?"
That of course remains to be seen.