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Conquering the blank page is often the hardest task of an aspiring writer…

That’s the way they used to write it in the school register: ‘Unauthorised Absence’. A capital ‘U’ in the margin. That was the shameful mark of a ‘skivver’, a player of ‘hookey’, the class rebel, the tell-tale sign of one who smoked surreptitiously at the back of the bike-sheds. Not that I ever skipped school. Perish the thought! I was a good girl, a model student, teacher’s pet. Really. Honest. Ok, well not quite…

But I’ve been a bit naughty lately, in that I haven’t posted for a while. As you’ll have noticed. To quote Jack Jordon from ’21 Grams’, “The guilt, the guilt will suck you down to the bone”, and that’s exactly how I felt when I realised my transgression. It was only at a friends house last week (when we all got to talking about our respective blogs) that brought on the bone-sucking guilt. So here I am apologising for my unproductive, unforeseen disappearance act. Sharing our blogging experiences made me think about this place and what it really meant to me. It feels like I’ve had it forever, but it’s only been four months since I started blogging here, yet I’ve grown rather fond of it. Before I became a wordpresser (if there is such a word) I had a place on windows live spaces with very little readership. While it was an ideal place to cut my teeth, it didn’t have nearly enough tools that WordPress.com has to offer its bloggers.

However, unlike here, I was blogging more often yet the lack of readers made it feel like I was talking to myself half the time. The final move to a better platform came when Microsoft did away with its mediocre stats page (without warning I might add). Major mistake. As the final straw, I did a toss-up between the book bloggers favourite (blogspot) and it’s more intellectual adversary (wordpress). Now that I’m comfortably settled here and have regular readers, things have become more serious. Suddenly there’s a pressure to produce, to write articles of quality that will generate discussions, questions and hopefully inspire other bloggers too. There is a feeling of responsibility, and that brings with it a learning curve that helps to hone my writing skills and develop an eye for what is a good subject for a blog and what isn’t.

But I digress…While blogging is a whole other kettle of fish among the myriad forms of internet writing, I have been engaged with a totally different, more traditional method which brings me to the reason for my absence: I have begun a novel.

Yes, the writing bug now has me well and truly in its thrall; in a way that I have been praying and praying it eventually would. In the past the muses have not been kind to me and I have learnt that youth is often a disadvantage when it comes to the art of the novel. Coherence, plausibility, experience and of course the all important catalogue of ‘read’ books all go contribute to some aspect of becoming a well-rounded novelist.

As a life-long reader there were times that I’d find myself going through books with a kind of envious longing. As I pass by bookshops I dared to imagine my book, with my name on it filling the shelves. But the daydream would dissolve when I thought of authors like Atwood and Murakami, about how theirs is an inspired genius, a talent that is born not learned. My muses would tell me this, but then they’d also tell me about how half of a writer’s art is his craft, and how at least THAT could be learned through hard work.  

Sometimes a beautiful passage would make me wonder ‘why can’t I write something like this?’ To make matters worse, my family have often said the same thing too, ‘you have imagination, you like books, why don’t you try writing one?’ Or, ‘you read so much, can’t you think up a story?’ But by far the worst is ‘it can’t be that difficult!’ Albeit, its said with all the goodwill in the world, but it’s still irritating. It takes all I’ve got not to turn around and snarl back ‘but it IS that difficult! Can’t you see?’ Writing out of all art forms is the most difficult to understand. In it’s unworked state, without the guidance of an intuitive mentor it is an unruly force that behaves in vastly different ways in different people. 

I think we can agree that some people are naturally gifted. They can just ‘write’ it all out in a coherent manner and be done with it. But for the rest of us, it takes a lot of hard work. Using myself as an example, I can say that for the longest time I carried the ‘idea’ of my novel with me wherever I went. Fully formed as it was, it was my lack of writing skills that stopped me from getting it down on paper the way I wanted it, or more importantly, the way it deserved to be written. After a few unsuccessful, messy attempts, I let it sit at the back of my mind and took the radical decision to allow myself the time to get to know my craft.

After a few years of reading intensively and studying the works of prominent authors, I began to understand that writing is much, much more than merely putting words on paper. It is a way of thinking, a method of Cartesian logic that needs to be re-learned, even though it is, by origin, innate. I set about listening to audiotapes of authors talking about their craft and making notes about how they felt, the difficulties they faced while they set about creating in this loneliest of crafts. The trials and tribulations of each differed, yet the main bugbear of ‘writer’s block’ and performance anxiety (especially after a particularly successful book) were among those that struck a chord with me.  

I began to see many mutual points of suffering between me and authors like Saul Bellow, Katherine Mansfield and Vladimir Nabokov. I was relieved (if relief is such a word) that getting stuck, beating yourself up over a few sentences and the general worry and stress of writing is something that carries on throughout an author’s life and can even be the fuel that drives them to reach their potential best. It was then I decided to make peace with my anxiety, and funnily enough, only then did my story finally come forward and yield itself to me.

It’s been three months now, and my research has gathered a momentum and a logic that is slowly helping me unravel the knots in my narrative. Unlike last time, I’m not in a hurry to get things down as quickly as possible. I take the time to reflect and think calmly on what I have to say and how I want to say it. Needless to say, every now and then the writing bug will take me away from the blog, but it’s all for a good cause.  So there. I’m not playing hookey. When you don’t see any posts for a week or so, it means I’m working hard in finding the meaning of ‘writing’. I’ll be recording my journey as I go along, and if my findings are blogworthy I’ll be sharing them here along with you and my other bookish things.