In the foothills
Graham Swift once said, ‘All novelists must form personal pacts with the pace of their craft.’ Now I am deep in the foothills of my second novel, that quote is a comfort, because I’d forgotten how hard it is to write fifty thousand words. (I plucked fifty thousand from the air because it feels less intimidating than eighty thousand, but of course I have no idea how long the story will end up being. So much of it is mind games. I could equally think of it is ten five-thousand-word short stories that share characters and work as a cohesive whole, but that sounds immeasurably harder.)
The pace of my craft is not as fast as my ego would like. It’s a slow journey, with many meandering paths — all necessary. I know at a rational level getting frustrated is counterproductive, but I can’t help it. Donna Tartt describes a wrong turn while writing The Goldfinch (3:50) that was eight months of work, but it gave her information she couldn’t have found out any other way. If this bit isn’t fun, you know, the writing bit, what’s the point of writing at all?
In a summer holiday spurt, I wrote just over ten thousand words. The autumn stretches ahead, with more COVID-19, the American election (which shouldn’t be my business, but is), and Brexit, all looming in my imagination. I am safe, and my family is well, for which I am grateful. I know how lucky I am. But the technology that makes working from home possible and gives me a degree of financial security, is also the source of all distractions. I must close my ears to that noise. Those ten thousand words want to become twenty thousand. I can hear them whispering. They are the signal.
If I am in the foothills of a novel, the ascent to the summit comes from following the paths marked with the golden thread. In the land of the imagination, intuition is queen. Connections are as common as spiders webs. You don’t see golden threads or spiders webs when you rush.
Hm. I didn’t see that fairy tale turn coming. So, on we go. What did the grandma say? Keep to the path.