You may have noticed – or you may not, and indeed, why should you? – that it’s been a while since I posted anything here. And there have been good reasons for that. Perhaps too many. But the summer was hot, and I was quiet. Books were read, stories drafted, thoughts were thought, and mostly not acted upon. Autumn was harder, but with more of the same. And I got older. And I cut my hair. That last thing is a thing I am incredibly happy about. I know it’s only hair, but still… it’s been more than a decade since I last had such short hair, and it makes me feel sassy, and sophisticated, and possibly other things beginning with s (stylish? silly? saucy? serene?).
Around the same time I discovered a little snippet in the wilds of the internet – oh all right, it was Facebook – a quotation from Carl Gustav Jung:
I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.
It isn’t a cure, it isn’t even a complete answer – to a question that is both unaskable and unanswerable – but it HELPS. So I’m choosing. I don’t pretend to have reached any particular destination on my personal voyage in order to begin the return journey. This is just a way station.
In the meantime, there is Christmas to prepare for, and satsumas to eat (the one I’m eating right now is a bit of a disappointment; too watery and not sharp enough. Perhaps the next one will be better), and words to write and edit, and I still haven’t written the Christmas cards. But my hair looks fabulous.
So the second draft is under way; five chapters redrafted, and the sixth about to be embarked upon. Bits of it have simply flowed, and other bits are a struggle – chapter four was particularly sticky. Copious notes for the third draft are being made concurrently, in my super-large bought for that purpose Moleskine. And I’m fairly happy with the progress made so far.
Last night I printed off the first draft of what is about to be the sixth chapter. And I looked at it, and looked at it. I stared at the words on the pages, and they danced before my eyes, but they would not let me in. So I went back to the beginning, to the original short story that six years ago started this narrative chain-reaction in my head. And in the file next to it I found a printed copy of an essay by Neil Gaiman. I re-read it, and when I reached the final paragraph, I realised that I had kept a printed copy for exactly this moment of uncertainty. Here’s why;
You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you’re writing.
I’m going to frame that.
I like knowing where everything goes, where it belongs; ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place’ , is one of my mantras. ( I haven’t counted them.) Not knowing where things should go, bothers me. Especially when I’m in unfamiliar territory. It isn’t, I think, a question of being out of my comfort zone, but is rather more delicate than that. Is it about feeling secure in one’s environment? Or is that the comfort zone thing again? It’s on a par with knowing where the loos are, and where the safe exits are. Do please understand that I am not declaring myself to be a madly tidy person of the anally retentive variety – far from it! I happily inhabit the lived- in look – but I like things to look well, to look right, like they belong there. If someone takes it upon themselves to rearrange my placement, I will most likely, feel rather irked. The irk is only undone upon the things being returned either to their original rightful place, or to a new, even better place.
The same can be said of writing, except that I don’t necessarily know where the right place is. Sometimes perhaps, things fall naturally, rightfully into place, as I’m writing them. But then, weeks or months later, when the time comes to open that particular file and look at it afresh, the doubt creeps in. Is that the right place for that paragraph? That event? That moment? Might it work better if I were to move it elsewhere, or tweak it, or rewrite it, or even delete it? Moving lumping great bits of furniture around is an easier job than editing, and redrafting (although my lumbar region would probably disagree). Editing is satisfying, but it is also at times deeply irksome. There have been times when I have been left doubting my sanity, my judgement, my taste, as a writer. I’m still doing it though.