This post is intentionally left, by the way, with the title surrounded by blackness.
Following up writing one’s first novel is not easy.
One is conscious of needing to avoid the terrible pitfall of repeating oneself, and simultaneously of the temptation to visit again the elements of what was successful the first time. Of course, the ideal solution would be to forget that you had ever written anything whatsoever, so as to come at it like a leap into fresh snow. But that is tough. There is the indignant thought burning at the back of your mind that you did do it before and therefore must be able to do it again.
For a while there, with book two, this threw me: it dumped me in a place where the right words were not raining down on the page with anything like the intensity they did during the evolution of Roebuck. Some would call this writer’s block and these shouldn’t be words writers are afraid to write: from time to time this is a thing that will threaten to jinx the most prolific of us. One has to fight through such times; keep treading water until the prose flows again. That is our professional duty as people who ply a trade out of writing words, just like long-distance runners fight and overcome pain barriers on the way to completing marathons.
For me, with my latest foray into fiction, rediscovering that flow came about in a strange way: through having as one of my main characters a writer who, indeed, suffers from writer’s block. In fact, writer’s block manifests as a central theme in the novel: the frustrations of having it, the jealousy and anger (and worse!) that can occur as a result. Tackling head-on what I’d dealt with in real life, mapping out every aspect of what can/could happen when a writer is deprived of his inspiration and drive and taking this to its most far-reaching scenarios, enabled me to enter a fresh new zone with my own work. This was possibly because I created a space to channel my own recent negative experiences as a writer directly into a key strength: I had gone through, in actuality, a version of what my character was undergoing, and this rendered my character’s voice all the more potent, more convincing.
With writing, a bad thing, if you seize it and wrestle with it long enough, can become a good thing. Because a good thing, in novel writing, is a thing that is believable for the reader. One that strikes a chord with them. And maybe even one that makes them cast a glance over their shoulder and shudder, slightly. Comfort zones are fine, when you’re reading. But being transported outside them is brutal, chilling, and pummelling you out of the security of your armchair into raw emotion.