Writing my first book feels both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I can only imagine it’s a bit like going to war in medieval England. You prepare your battle plan, you ready your armies of knights, archers, infantry and siege engines; you pick the best spot to have a bruising battle, and you hope the opposition turn up with less troops and quake in their boots at your mere force of will and charming chivalric manners. You have the latest weapons – the Longbow – and are obviously ready to use it, and your knights are polished and looking mean enough to make even the most earnest of despotic leaders postively terrified.
Writing of course is not much different, except for one fundamental point. The enemy that stands on the opposing end of the battlefield, is also you. You are both the hero and the villain in this, your very own story, and more importantly, of your very own making. As you eye each bit of you up on the other side of the battlefield, it becomes ever more clear that you are both a skilled warrior and also a giant critic. The two combined make for heady and often uncomfortable bedfellows but they must coexist, and so just occasionally, you go to war to beat the hell out of each other and hope beyond hope, that the hero outwits, outmans and outmanoeuvres his fellow critical self.
This has been my battle during the last week. Up until then, the first three weeks of my sabbatical has been great. The research has been self evident from the piles of books, notes and coffee cups that litter my writing desk. Ive forgotten to eat. I’ve forgotten what day of the week it is, and I now sometimes watch the sunrise in the morning because I’ve worked studiously through the night despite planning an early night. For me, this is wonderful and part of the exhilarating life of a writer. It feels like pushing my world to its most creative edge, and it is here where those special moments happen. When it all comes together, the typing does not stop and time truly stands still.
Yet as I push closer and closer to the edge to find that moment of creative nirvana, so to do I find myself playing a dance of death with my critic; staring him in the whites of his eyes as he is all to keen to push me over the precipice. It is in these moments that I wobble, that my heart skips a beat or three and the over mighty weight of a divine judgement feels heavy and cold on my shoulders. Last week was just one such moment.
Out of the many chapters in ‘the book’, there are like all good stories -fiction or non-fiction – moments where the plot is at it’s most critical. Where the key moments make your readers gasp, or cry, or laugh hysterically. They become so emotionally invested by your work that they want something to happen to someone or something in these critical places. These moments also make the whole thing make sense in the broadest terms; they give finesse and carry the reader on the same exhilarating journey as you were on when you typed the words in the first place.
I was at one of those critical chapters. So in due style I reviewed my research, prepared my chapter structure, topped up the coffee and cake and sat in front of my screen and prepared for another creative moment. I waited…And waited…And waited some more! Nothing happened. Nothing. Not one sentence! I was distraught. It was like a demon had come to rob me of my wits and do battle with my confidence, tearing it to shreds with his naked, razor sharp teeth. The battle had commenced and the armies had rushed headlong to join each other in a savage attack on my common sense and self-control. I felt like John Snow facing Ramsey Bolton, being buried under the mounds of flailing flesh and war like horror. I was suffocating.
I know I am not alone. I doubt there is a writer out there who has not in some way or other faced this battle. This conflict of minds I am also sure is not a one-off either. So like all moments of delusion and general hysteria, my best advice is a simple one. Pull back the troops, reform the lines and pause before another assault. Keep the battle plan the same, the weapons at the ready and the enemy very much in your sight. My critic likes to tell me that my work is worthless. That no one out there in the great expanse of the globe could possibly be interested in what I have to say, or in the manner in which I choose to say it. All those naysayers of old with their reasons to give up taunt and cajole for first position, their voices echoing in and around my head. Yet remember this. Ask yourself why it is you want to write in the first place. For me it is a genuine passion to share the life of Edward II with the widest possible audience, dispelling the myths and bringing people closer to the man as well as the king. I know what I have to say, my battle plan is clear. I have the weapons, the men, the numbers and the well chosen battle site. I just need to lead and only I can do it.
So, after a moment’s pause and with the lines reformed, we charged, and of course the hero outwitted the villain. So much so, that I have now completed part two of my manuscript which amounts to 45,000 words of the 100,000 I need. Put another way, that is equivalent to four and a half university dissertations, which I would like to think is many battles won in a much greater war. I’m almost half way. I just need to keep winning and having a clear battle plan will make that happen. The rest is up to me.
The journey of writing is a special one, full of highs and lows. The moments of divine inspiration as you walk along the precipice and find your most creative self are though never the complete picture, despite what people say. Like in good tales of old, the hero was always sent on a quest, and like with all good adventures, the path was full of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. You needed to think on your feet and do battle with the demons because the rewards at the end were only reached through hard work and real hardship. For it is at this moment when we truly discover our nirvana.
If there is one thing I could offer it is this; always keep going. Someone once said, ‘Keep writing until the words surprise you’. They always will.
Featured or ‘Headline’ Image – Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, CCCC MS. 26, f.80v
Battle image – ibid.
Stag & Dragon. ‘Alfonso Psalter’, BL Add. MS 24686. f.12r
Kneeling Knight – Royal 2A XXII f, 220