A quick Q&A session now:
Q: What is the greatest, most exciting, enticing moment for a writer of fiction?
A: The first page.
Well, it is for me, anyway. It’s the giddy little thrill you get at the start of what you know is going to be a long, unfamiliar journey, an adventure where you’ll encounter strange new peoples and visit fascinating new places, perhaps in the company of friends that you love and know well, or perhaps with a brand new set of companions you’re looking forward to getting to know equally well.
I’m talking about the blank page, either paper or screen, I’m talking about the very start of a new project. That’s the one moment above all others – perhaps the only moment – when your new WIP is going to be absolutely perfect in every single respect, the moment when you feel that you can hold the entire magnificent artifice you’ve dreamed about steady in your mind’s eye, a glittering, fantastic bauble, a beautiful, unimpeachably flawless sphere that makes perfect sense from whichever angle you view it.
And then you begin to write, and incrementally, little by little by often, the perfection begins to crumble. The bauble loses its luminous shine. The previously hidden but smoothly-functioning clockwork innards start to make strange, uncomfortable noises as springs come loose and cogs start to slip and gnash at each other like rats under the floorboards. Reality, that hideous killjoy interloper, begins to get its ugly, misshapen feet under the table…
Think of it as taking a real journey, if you like, a holiday to some far-flung exotic location that you’ve been thinking and dreaming about for quite some time – a trip, an adventure, an odyssey, you’ve been planning for weeks or months, or maybe even years. You’ve bought your tickets and your travel insurance (for what that’s worth), you’ve had your shots from the doctor, bought your new holiday togs at the mall, and amassed a whole library of guide-books to get the lay of the land and bone-up on the local customs – all those important and colourful little yeah-yeahs and the anachronistic big-as-houses no-nos. You’ve visited the Bureau de Change and bought a wallet-full of weird-looking currency that looks like funny money better-suited to a board game, and practised employing useful phrases in the native patois learned from dubious Wikipedia entries, and you’ve plotted your itinerary down to the smallest detail. You have, in the words of another, far more successful author, “strapped it ON!’ and you are ready to boogie.
But then the taxi you pre-booked a week in advance to take you to the airport for 3:00am is 45 minutes late, and due to unexpected road-works and other unforeseen hold-ups the hour-long journey to the airport takes closer to two, and now you’re panicking about missing your flight… but actually there’s nothing to worry about, because when you finally get to the airport you discover your flight has been delayed by an hour or so. Phew, what a relief. So you queue to book in, queue to check your luggage (obviously you have to pay extra because your bags are too heavy for the airline’s new guidelines), queue to buy overpriced refreshments, to use the badly-maintained restrooms, to find a seat within a day’s walking distance of your departure gate… Then, over the distorted PA system, they happily announce that your flight is no longer delayed.
Now it’s cancelled.
To cut a long, long story short, your patience, energy and endurance have already been eroded to a thin patina of greasy travel-sweat long before you even reach your destination. Then when you finally get there, your all-inclusive holiday resort nirvana quickly begins to feel like a prison camp from which escape simply isn’t a viable option, because from the vantage point of your 13th floor hotel room window the world outside the resort looks far too dangerous to even think about venturing into. What’s more, as time has gone on you’ve managed to fall out with all the close friends you hoped to have such fun with reliving old times, and the new people you were so attracted to in theory – so much so that you just had to invite them along for the ride – have proved to be a complete nightmare in practise, and you have nothing to say to them or they to you.
And you know what? At the end of your holiday, you’ve still got to make it all the way home again before the journey is complete.
Every time I start a new novel, I think of a certain Cole Porter lyric: If we’d thought a bit of the end of it/when we started painting the town/we’d have been aware that our love affair was too hot not to cool down.
All of this is by way of saying that it’s so, so easy to start…but you need the balls of a brass monkey to slog through all the incredible obstacles both reality and fantasy throw at you and actually finish, and I applaud anyone who does.
In retrospect, I suppose I could have just said that last sentence in the first place and been done with it, but you know what?
It was just one of those things.