I don’t believe you can set out to write a book. Not really. And I suspect many people who set out to do so in a conscious, act-of-will kind of way, are deluding themselves, and are either unlikely to complete the task or in doing so produce something sub-standard. Setting out in this premeditated way may well mean ‘the process [of writing] is arid’ – as someone recently and eloquently described a writing exercise to me.
So what do we actually start out doing? Well in my case – and I suspect in most cases – we just start writing. Something. Anything. Scraps of words that may or may not coalesce well, with which we may or may not be satisfied. But if things go well and there’s some kind of connection, then we’ll add a few more words; some additional ideas will start to arrive from the aether. The magic begins.
And then, often quite unexpectedly, something even more intangible happens, and what we are writing – no matter what it is – begins to take on a life of its own, and we, as writers, almost become subservient to what we’re writing.
Or at least that’s how it is for me.
I have been writing some new poems, on and off, since the turn of the year and the publication of “First-time Visions of Earth from Space”. You find yourself pleased with one or two – and then one or two more. You sense some kind of thread emerging from these refugees, these orphans. And then it hits you: this could be a collection. At that point – no matter how self-deluding that thought may be! – the little voice that says ‘I am going to write a book’ speaks up and the die is cast.
Am I close to that right now? I think I’m getting there. I’ll know in a month or two. And actually, if I’m honest with myself, with poetry – because of it’s very nature – there’s an inevitability about it; it’s just a matter of when.
With prose the process is even more exciting, though. In parallel with the new poems, I started writing what might be called little vignettes; pen pictures that began with an image of a lonely man in a hotel restaurant. Given no-one is ever truly alone, other characters began to appear, attached to the man – or attached to the people attached to the man. A little ‘mind map’ of characters and interactions. Unlike poetry, with prose I find that it’s not volume, per se, which triggers the I’m-going-to-write-a-book moment, but caring. I find that, having invented some people, having forced them into certain situations and interactions, there is a compulsion to know what happens next; not to take them on their journey, but to allow them to complete it. I find myself in a hybrid role of both Writer and Reader at the same time. It is almost as if there is an external force possessing an undeniable inevitability – and that it’s acting on me.
Am I there yet with my little – but growing – menagerie, spawned by lonely Liam? No – but I’m getting closer. I’m starting to care. I’m starting to become the Reader. And it’s exciting. There’s an intellectual tingling about it. The trigger point is actually unknowable and unpredictable, but when it hits me, then I’m lost..!