I’m thrilled to welcome back the lovely and talented Nicola Morgan. Today she talks about how writing books is quite similar to sky-diving. Her latest is called Wasted and you can buy it here. And the book even has its own blog here.
It’s fair to say that we writers rarely stop moaning and that our emotional relationship with our work is, erm, volatile. I had no idea it would be like this. When I was unpublished, and miserably so, I thought that there were only two possible states: the crushing defeat of rejection, or the boundless heaven of publication.
I soon discovered that being published opens a whole range of emotions. Many books later, I’ve learnt the pattern, for it is a pattern and it seems to be a pattern that most writers recognise.
First comes the idea for a new novel. Fabulous! (Literally, one might say). It hits me on the tongue like sherbet. If I’m in a supermarket, I will stop mid-aisle. Walking the dog, I’m likely to ignore the worst canine behaviour. At this point, I’m thinking, “Yesss! Why didn’t I think of this before?”
Next, I fluctuate between excitement and a more prosaic, “Hmm, but such-and-such might be a problem later.” But over the following days, as the characters grow in my head, excitement mounts and doubts fade. I am about to start to write.
Which is damned terrifying because it’s the start of a long and unknown journey. When I sat down to write the first page of Sleepwalking, my third novel, I actually said aloud, “Oh God, here we go,” taking a huge breath to summon the strength. Many blank pages stretch ahead, and they won’t fill themselves.
But then I get into the swing of it. It becomes exciting again. It feels like gutsy writing at this point, risky, open-ended; it’s easy to get “into the zone”. I come to breathe the characters. New ideas arrive, new colours join the pattern, with no requirement to know where they are going.
Until the middle. Oh hell, that middle. It sags. Flaws are revealed. A creeping doubt becomes stronger. It’s not working. What if I can’t solve it? Have I wasted all that time? I can’t sleep properly, wake early and toss ideas around in my head. It’s horrible. And horribly lonely, because no one can help.
There are only two ways, as far as I know, to get out of this stage:
– 1) Remind myself that I’ve had this in every book and each one has worked in the end.
– 2) Get away from my desk and walk. Then write. Just write.
Next comes joy as that saggy middle is tightened up, problems solved. And suddenly I’m hurtling towards the denouement, tying everything up, noting changes that I’ll make later. End in sight!
The satisfaction of writing that last sentence is intense. Many of us have to shout it out, go on Facebook or Twitter or the phone and announce that the last sentence is done. It doesn’t matter that I know I’ve got lots more tidying up to do, even re-writing whole sections – that’s easy.
During the editing there are fluctuating emotions, too: one moment I think it’s worked, next I think I’m deluded, the whole book is rubbish. Then my editor sees it, likes it, even loves it, and I am happy to lap up the relief.
Now comes a long period when I don’t have to worry: no one else has read it apart from agent and editor, and they liked it otherwise they’d have said so, so it must be OK, mustn’t it? I forget about it, start writing something else. While no one else can read it, I can’t have negative feedback, can I?
Copy-editing comes and I put my book in the hands of experts, to make sure there are no silly mistakes. Proof-reading, all of us, a team. It feels very safe, very unreal.
The moment of signing it off is another terrifying one – but it has to be done. I try not to think about it. Publication still feels unreal anyway.
And then suddenly it doesn’t feel unreal: it’s approaching. The marketing people start talking about what they might do (though they usually haven’t read it at this stage) and it all begins to feel more real.
And scary. I’ll rephrase that: it’s bloody terrifying. This is when I have exposure dreams – you know, the sort of dreams where you’re in a toilet with no door, or you’re walking down the street partly clothed?
At this point, no one outside the publishing company has read it. And of course they’re going to say they love it. They’re paid to. So I start to worry that real readers won’t like it and will say horrible things on Amazon. I now have real fear for my new baby. What if everyone hates it? What if I end up being ashamed?
Finally, here we are. Wasted will be published on Monday. Gulp. But you know what that emotion is? Pure excitement and pleasure. It’s too late for fear, too late for angst and the possibility of failure. Just leap out of that plane and sky-dive. There’s no turning back once you’ve jumped.
Not that I’d ever really sky-dive, you understand. Writing a book is quite enough for me.
“Nicola Morgan is an award-winning author for teenagers, with successful titles such as Fleshmarket, Deathwatch, Blame My Brainand Sleepwalking. She prefers to forget that she also used to write Thomas the Tank Engine Books… When she’s not writing, she loves speaking in schools, and at festivals and conferences in the UK and Europe, She also enjoys messing around on Twitter or her blogs. Nicola blogs for writers at http://www.helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com and has set up a special blog about her brand new book, Wasted – you can join the activities and contribute in lots of ways at http://www.talkaboutwasted.blogspot.com”