It occurred to me, while watching Pamela dance her Viennese Waltz on Strictly last night, that writing is a lot like dancing. I used to do ballroom and Latin as a kid and met my husband salsa dancing and more recently got into lindyhop. When you’re dancing, especially with a partner, and you’re really in the moment and in harmony with the music and reading each other’s moves, there’s a wonderful sense of flow and of being at one with the world. I get that same feeling when I’m writing, when I’m inside my story and my characters. There comes a point when the story writes itself. It’s that same exhilaration. It’s spiritual in a way.
But it can be painful starting a new book. I’m having a real problem this time as I’ve been ‘blocked’ for the past year. So on top of the usual force of will needed to get my shoulder to the wheel of a new project and heave it into motion, there’s doubt and fear to contend with. Will I ever get going again? Maybe I’m not really a writer, after all? (Yes, we all think that.) What if I write another book I can’t sell because ‘the market’s difficult’? And as soon as I start thinking about what the market wants, it blocks me. Yet it has to be considered if I want to get published.
Wordism: You have to find a happy halfway house between writing for yourself and for the market. For me, writing for myself comes first, but if you want to be published, you have to have the market in the back of your mind.
I’m trying not to think of myself as ‘blocked’ but ‘recovering’ after my last book The Smuggler’s Daughter didn’t get off the ground. I’ve spent eight years honing my craft. I’ve done an MA in Creative writing which helped me understand plot and structure and write a cracking good read in Smugglers. I had nine agents wanting to read more and three or four wanting to represent me. It was exciting, it was overwhelming, it was all about to happen…
And then it didn’t. ‘Kids aren’t interested in historical fiction at the moment’, was the feedback from the ten publishers it went out to. ‘The market’s difficult’. ‘Not right for our list’. A couple of editors loved it but couldn’t get their sales teams on board. Crash. I fell back to earth. But my book hadn’t left it.
So I have been recovering, nursing my bruised ego, building up my reserves for the next book.
Wordism: The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is perseverance.
I have been reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (well worth a read), which suggests doing ‘morning pages’ – falling out of bed and, before doing anything else, writing three pages of whatever is on your mind. This is meant to help in bypassing the inner critic and also help you explore who you are and what’s important to you because that will feed into your ‘voice’ as a writer. She also recommends taking yourself off on an ‘artist’s date’ to fill the creative well. So I’ve been doing that too. I am not blocked, I am filling the well. It is important to trick the mind by turning what feels like a negative into a positive.
I am also focusing on that feeling when I’m in the flow, when everything else falls away and the writing seems to come from some force outside of yourself and flows through you on to the page. When writing is like dancing. Like Pamela’s waltz and Kara’s tango.
At the moment, I have a touch of the Widdecombes. It will pass. I will waltz with words again.