Saturday 29 May 2021

Writing is hard - Be brave

 Writing is hard.

Sometimes the words and ideas flow with ease. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes you have to make some very difficult decisions. You need to be brave.

Recently I've had one of those moments. Some of you who follow me on social media may know what I did. Consequently, I thought I'd explain my process/reasons a bit more.

During the previous eighteen months to two years, I have written three novels. One of which is Safe, the sequel to my Second World War adventure story, Flight, which was published by Firefly in 2018, and Feiwell and Friends in the US this year. I am currently waiting for the edits to come back from my publisher for Safe which is coming out in 2022.

The other two novels I had written were contemporary, realist novels, so very different from Flight. They contained similar themes, horses, nature, family, and important current issues such as food poverty and being different. I enjoyed writing them and as always doing the research. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love doing research. I rewrote them and edited them. I put them to one side while I worked on Safe then came back to them again and did another edit.


There was something wrong I had a niggle. A familiar niggle in fact. The last time I had this feeling I had been editing what had been my Ph.D. novel and luckily for me at that time I had been working on it with my great friend Imogen Cooper. Some of you may have heard me tell this story. I had been worrying about the manuscript. I couldn't get it right. The writing and the story were all perfectly fine or adequate is probably a better word. But something just felt wrong all the time. The feeling was deep inside me. I found it really difficult to explain but knew I needed to try at the next editorial meeting. However, unbeknownst to me, Imogen had also decided to have 'THAT' conversation with me. We got together. I didn't realise how worried she was. She had no idea how worried I was. 

My memories are vague now but I seem to remember Imogen saying to me, 'Ness, I think you need to walk from it.' It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders because that was exactly what I had planned on suggesting. Her face was a picture when a grinned broadly and said 'Thank god!' I think that was the last thing she expected. The scariest thing was Imogen told me to go away and write whatever I wanted to. But it worked. Flight was the result of that conversation.

Recently that niggle was back though. It didn't matter how much I edited these novels. They weren't right. They were fine. They were adequate. But they weren't good. I was very conscious that whenever I edited Flight it could still make me cry or laugh at the appropriate moment. These novels didn't move me in the same way. They didn't reach deep inside me. The point being is if I am not feeling a story then my reader is certainly not going to.

I made the decision this week to walk away from both novels. Some may think it is a stupid thing to do but I can't keep putting energy into books that don't work for me. Again, I spoke to Imogen about what I was doing. I told her about how I had the same niggle. As usual with her normal insight, she pointed out how I need to feel my stories. I have to get all the emotions. If I don't then it doesn't work for me. I can't make it happen. It is all part of the writing process for me. I admit it, it makes it quite torturous at times. 

I notice my previous post, all the way back in January (University was very time-consuming and stressful with all the online teaching so please forgive me), I was talking all about latent processing. I am taking some time and stepping back from it all (great advice Jo and Amber) as I think about where I want to go with my writing. Once again I felt great relief having walked away and am looking forward to exploring where I am going next and finding new stories. There are also the edits for Safe to look forward to. Another story I felt deeply. 

What am I saying? Sometimes you have to have the courage to walk away from a story. However, give it a good chance though. Don't abandon it at the first hurdle. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint (how many more cliches can I get in!) One final cliche and one that is very important to me: trust your gut. Be brave and enjoy your writing. Get all the feels as my small grandchildren sometimes call it.  

Update: I am going to add a caveat to this. As the brilliant author Jennifer Killick so rightly reminded me and which I think is so important to highlight. No writing is wasted. Writing is like a muscle. The more you do the stronger you get. But also, elements of these stories and inspirations from them may well appear in other manuscripts in some other format. Writers are naturally very good at recycling. Please don't think I am in despair because I have walked away. I know it is the right thing for me. This is all about knowing what is right for you as a writer.