Writing Life

I suppose the most surprising thing I have discovered about writing is that once people know that’s what you do in your ‘spare’ time, they ask about it. It shouldn’t be surprising – people are interested in anyone’s line of work – but now that my writing life is out in the open as it were, it feels strange to be asked how the ‘writing’ is coming along.
Before I published my first book, my writing was a secret. No one knew: I didn’t know really. For four years it was just something I returned to and added to and re-read and edited just to see if it could be done, and to satisfy myself that there was another story underneath my favourite story of all time; that the characters could behave differently or have a better ending than everyone thought.
It wasn’t until there was enough written down that I could see that within another chapter or so, I would have told the story I had set out to tell. Then what?
Then I published and people have read those words that I wrote in secret; hundreds of people all over the world and some have commented politely about my secret writing and I am glad they enjoyed it. But it is still very weird to think that words and ideas from inside my head are being read and discussed. And now, when I sit down to write, not only do I wonder if anyone will enquire how the writing is coming along, but also I feel all those people watching over my shoulder, reading and commenting and making suggestions.
It’s much easier to write in secret. The pressure is not there, the expectation is nil. There are no spectators or commentators or critics.
Fortunately, the characters don’t put up with my neuroses. I put two in a chapter together and they have their own conversations, and while they are organising the way their lives will unfold, I discover the fact that where I thought I was going with the story – my story, I believed – is not actually where it’s going at all. And so, with a fierce argument between two characters, all sorts of dynamics change, and earlier action has to be re-vamped to fit. It’s an ever-changing world inside my head apparently; I’m just the last to know about it until it appears in front of me on the screen.
So even though people ask how the writing is coming along, I still don’t know even though, for the second time, I am closing in on the end of a story I set out to write.
The trick now is to decide when the end will be; I could continue on with the characters’ lives ad infinitum; follow their every move until they die in the distant future. Perhaps I will; perhaps I will continue for another hundred thousand words. That will delay all the queries and comments for a while.
Perhaps not. The right stopping place is the key. When is it? I certainly don’t know.
Perhaps the characters will let me know when they want me to butt out of their lives, and I’ll get back to you.


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