There are states of not writing

There are states of not writing

Sometimes a writer can’t write. Sometimes the writing flows irresistibly. But most of the time there is an in-between state. This is the truth for me, at least. And it is in this in-between state that I am in now. It’s a state of being neither entirely driven, nor entirely blocked.

I think the urge to create lies on a spectrum, with vague niggle at one end, and gnawing hunger at the other.  In the middle is an enjoyable state of flow. I am just slightly further on than the vague niggle at present but nowhere near the flow. I often say that just because I have written 17+ novels, I don’t find the process much easier than I did when I started out. What does helps though is the experience of having done it so many times. I recognise the feeling of my current stage. It’s like an itch that can’t quite be scratched because the source can’t quite be reached. Experience tells me to be patient. I am splashing in the shallows of a novel that began by surprise just when I was expecting to have a rest. I quickly wrote a couple of (possible) chapters – and now I’m flailing.

The trouble is, I think, that I am not ready for it. The ideas haven’t had time to bubble in my subconscious. The whole project still feels delicate and uncertain. I know I mustn’t hassle or force it, but wait, tiptoe round it, give it time and space to grow and only then see what it is, and whether it’s going to work. Patience is called for, and that is really not my forté. Often in the process of writing a novel, anything that isn’t actual writing feels like a waste of time, not really work. But, of course, research – both external and internal – is vital.

One surprise aspect of the process this time, is that my main character turns out to love algebra. My mathematical skills are roughly those of a six-year-old, so in order to properly inhabit the character I am going to have to learn this discipline. I loathed maths at school and have always believed that I am not properly wired up numerically. However, in this early niggly time, I have dug out a basic mathematics textbook. I’ve started from scratch, as if I’m an infant, doing exercises in addition, subtraction, multiplication and now division. Long division is HARD. I think it’s probably where I lost heart as a child. But this time I am loving it! It’s a wonderful satisfying rush to do a list of sums, look up the answers and be able to go ✓✓✓✓ (though less of a rush to go xxxx). Soon I’ll be ready to tackle algebra and I feel bizarrely excited by the prospect. It’s like unearthing a whole new underworked part of my brain.

As I work towards learning the basics of algebra, I am also working towards an understanding of my main character Minna.  She likes things to add up, to be definitely right or wrong – she’s not a fan of the grey area. And although it’s not writing – arithmetic is almost the opposite – this is a necessary part of the research for this novel, of the whole caboodle.  You really never do know where a novel will take you. As I perform this research, I can feel my previously feeble arithmetical synapses twitch into startled life. And even if the novel doesn’t work, I’ll still have that!