I’ve always wanted to be an author. Well, since I was about 8-years-old, anyway. I spent the majority of my teenage years holed up in my bedroom writing boyband fan fiction and by the age of 22 I had completed a – fairly cringey – novel which no-one wanted to publish. And then nothing. For six years. I took too long a break after finishing the first novel and couldn’t find my way back into it. The kinds of things that had inspired me to write in the past still ignited that urge in me, but I didn’t know where to start. I could have produced so much in those years when I had nothing much to do with my time. And I wasted all of it.
So when I found myself looking after a baby every hour of the day (and night) and there was an actual real barrier to being able to write, of course the ideas came flooding through. And, in November last year, once I’d got the baby sleeping through the night, I made a start. I dug out a long, rambling fanfic that I’d been proud of as a teenager, and I decided I was going to finally finish it, 13 years after I originally started it. Just for me. Just as something to get me writing. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t any good. I already knew the characters inside out so didn’t have to suffer that boring character development stage, and I always hated that it had been left unfinished so that was my main motivation. Tidying up the loose ends of my teenage years.
I was incredibly rusty to start with. I immediately wanted to give up on the whole idea and go and do something easier (like eating). But I made myself sit in front of my laptop regardless. Some evenings I only managed to squeeze out a couple of sentences. Other times it was whole pages. I thought about it on long walks with the baby, car journeys and before I fell asleep. I scribbled down extracts and ideas on whatever was to hand, and mapped out key moments on my phone while I sat in car parks waiting for the baby to wake up. And I loved having all that in my head again. I felt like I’d righted one of the great wrongs in my life. Because I’d always thought of myself as a writer; defined myself by it. And in those years when I wasn’t writing there always felt like something was missing. In the end I added more than 30,000 words to it over a couple of months, and I finished it. It’s badly written and melodramatic and horribly teenage-y, but before I’d even got to the end an idea for a proper book had started to grow in my head, and all of a sudden I was a writer once more.
So I’m writing my proper book now. I’ve got all my characters thoroughly developed and the outline of a plot. I’ve got themes and narrative questions. I’m pretty sure I know what I’m trying to say. I’ve got a title and – already – the closing paragraph. I want to get it right; I want this to be something I’m so proud of that I make everyone I’ve ever met read it. But right now I’m eight chapters in and it’s all gone a bit wrong. It’s meandering. The characters aren’t doing what I need them to do to push the story along. I can’t work out whether what I’ve written so far is too drawn out or whether I’m skipping through it too fast. The whole thing has me a bit confused and I feel like I’m going to need to make a lot of lists to sort it out. And I think one of the main problems is that it’s been so long since I’ve read anything other than a badly written boyband autobiography that I no longer have an idea in my head of what good writing looks like. I can’t remember how proper authors write conversation, or portray relationships, or build sub-plots. Reading is just not something I do any more. I fear I don’t have the patience for it. I can’t even sit through a 40-minute TV programme without checking Twitter on my phone. My attention span is somewhere very close to zero.
I’ve forgotten how to read.
I’m sure that part of my dissatisfaction with everything and everyone at the moment stems from the fact that I’m not writing. I’ve just spent six months with these characters I’ve invented and now we’re not talking any more. I got used to having them around. Once more, something is missing. One of the reasons I started this blog was to give me a reason to write something. And I have to say that – much to my surprise – it’s doing a fairly good job in improving my general mood. But I eventually need to get back to my book, and I think the key to that is spending more time reading. I’ve got shelves and shelves of books in the house. I’ve read most of them more than once, but there are more than a handful that I feel a bit ashamed to say I’ve never even opened. So when I’ve finished writing this I’m not going to spend the next hour loitering on social media or watching Netflix. I’m going to bed. With a book. And I’m going to concentrate on what I’m reading. I’m kind of excited by this prospect; of the places these books might take me. I’m going to admit that the book I’m currently half way through is another badly written boyband autobiography, but after that I promise to read something entirely made up. Fingers crossed it jump starts my imagination and gets me writing again.