Writing is like a drug. You may start with the odd story or poem, but you can soon find yourself wanting to do more. Before you know where you are, you’re on the hard stuff – the novel and there’s no hope after that. One thing leads to another. The pushers (agents and pundits) tempt you to write more books on the premise that the more novels to your name, the easier it is to market them or (your readers)that they can’t wait to read the next one. By then, you’re hooked. Unless, you’re writing, there’s a massive hole that needs constant feeding with ideas. Be warned! There’s no Writers’ Anonymous to help wean you off it.
There’s even a word for it. Hypergraphia. It is defined on Wikipedia as a behavioural condition characterised by the intense desire to write.
Don’t be misled into thinking this new hobby you’re contemplating taking up need only involve the odd few hours spent at the keyboard each week. Time you might just be able to fit into your busy lifestyle.
All too soon, you find yourself scribbling on the back of an old envelope or spare scrap of paper when an idea strikes in the middle of some other activity – much as I’m doing now leaning on the bedroom windowsill when I’m supposed to be dusting the shelves by the bed. Experience quickly teaches the writer in you that if you don’t grab an idea by the throat when it pops into your head, it’s gone. Even if the idea is still there by the time you go back downstairs to your study and switch on the PC, log on and open up a new word document, you will have lost the flow of words. That’s why we all write our best stuff at two in the morning!!! If only we’d made the effort to find pen and paper.
We writers write 24/7. We play scenes out in our heads as we make the beds, wash up, peel the potatoes and drive to the gym. We seek our protagonist’s opinion on a whole range subjects and imaging their reactions to events we wouldn’t dream of including in the novel.
We become obsessed with our creations. Many years ago, when I was writing what was to become my second published novel Watcher in the Shadows, I was walking down the High Street in Old Town and I caught myself reflected in the plate-glass window of a shop. I was walking like my paranoid killer. I took a quick look round, but luckily, I don’t think anyone noticed me making an exhibition of myself.
I often sit at my PC pulling the faces of my characters as they experience some intense emotion trying to work out exactly they are doing so I can describe their reactions in the narrative – show not tell. I used to think I was odd and would not dream of admitting to it in public until I heard a well-known writer say that she has a mirror by her PC specifically for that purpose.
Going Cold turkey
Writing a novel is an intense experience. When you’ve reached the end, checked over the plot sorted out the characters, ironed out any little niggles and brought it to the point when it’s ready to send off for its first edit, you have to let it go.
Whether that process has taken only a few weeks, months or a year or more, it has reached a peak. A period in which you have eaten, drunk, dreamt of nothing else but your novel. It’s filled every thought of your day. Now it’s gone. A great void stretches in front of you. You hit the ground with a thud. It’s a recognised condition.
There are so many things you know you should be doing! You haven’t looked at all that marketing and social media stuff you should have be doing for weeks. Your writing to-do list is over the page. But the incentive has gone. You wander around aimlessly. I had an idea for next month’s blog, but I can’t whip up the enthusiasm to write it – instead, you have this!
I sent Murder in Morocco to the editor on Tuesday. Wednesday I caught the cold and cough and for the last week, I’ve been suffering from Murder in Morocco withdrawal symptoms and haven’t had the energy for anything else. I read a good book (Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm) and though I’ve started a few others, nothing else has held my attention.
Holding your printed book in your hand or seeing your eBook gathering 5* reviews might be one of life’s great pleasures and I would never seek to dissuade anyone from attempting to write a novel. But that gap between the end of one book and the start of a new, is a phase in our lives that many of us writers could do without.