My grandson asked me the other day if it gets easier to write as one moves from book to book. It is an interesting question. You would think it ought to. It get’s easier to make bread each time, or do a better fox trot with practice. And perhaps the fluidity of writing words for the purpose of communication, as I am doing now, becomes easier the more I do it.
I’m not even sure it should get easier, frankly, to write a book. But some aspects of it do, I suppose. I told him that because I have a set of characters whom I follow from book to book, in some ways it becomes easier to write about them because I get to know them better. It becomes easier to recognize what they might say or do in any given situation, and if and how they might, say, be dishonest to themselves or each other. But even then, some days they surprise me. I’ll write something and then say, “no…really?” In those situations I do what I always do…never delete…and I wait to till the next day to see if it holds.
Some difficulties, though, don’t seem to change…I won’t say never…I am only writing my fifth book in the series…perhaps by the, gawd help us, tenth book I will no longer be troubled by this. Here it is: every time I sit down to write I have the exact same anxiety, that today, nothing will work. I lead up to writing by making tea, reading the paper, doing a spot of meditation, cleaning the kitchen counter, cleaning the kitchen floor with one of those steam cleaning things…what a pain in the ass that is…and by the way, they never get into the corners… anything to avoid that first eruption of words onto the screen. And then the moment comes when I can no longer avoid it and I crack on.
Because I write at least five days a week, I don’t wait about for inspiration. If I may offer a version of ‘you don’t know what you think until you write it’ which was my mantra for my students who slouched about desperately on their desks saying they couldn’t ‘think of anything to write’, then it is: ‘you do not know what inspires until you see it on the page’.
And so, I just start writing. I have done one thing that makes it easier. I give myself permission to not accept something if it doesn’t work. I’ve sometimes written a whole chapter of 2500 words, and then decided it doesn’t work at all in the arc of the story, or I don’t like how one of my characters behaved, or, in one case I decided Lane Winslow’s war time friend and colleague Yvonne has come for a visit, wrote her in for several chapters, and then decided I didn’t really want her there at all. (A confounded nuisance for her…it was a big deal to travel from France to western Canada in 1947…I hope she will agree to come back another time.) Two or three days’ work, gone. So I highlight the whole offending section and move it to a file I call “rejected bits”. I know I’ll likely never go back and fetch them and put them into service somewhere, but it’s a way of placating the writing gods…Oh…did I mention there are writing gods? Demanding brutes, the lot of them! Believe me, they are not interested in a writer’s ease at all.
Meet Lane Winslow!