I was talking with a fellow writer last month. It was a ‘golden’ day – not like today which has been cold and windy, with showers that hit the skin like stones. What we were talking about on that lovely autumn day was something we called ‘golden novels.’ What we meant is that sometimes the novel or story we are working on feels like slogging through mud while the novel we just have an idea for shines and beckons in the distance. But the reason this novel shines is because we haven’t tried to write it yet. It’s only an idea, a concept, even if in our minds it is perfectly formed. But we know that once we set down to work on it, our new ‘golden’ novel will lose its shine just like the one we are working on now.
The hard truth is that writing is a challenging mental process. It requires a great deal of us – uncertainty, vulnerability, discipline, and play. And therein lies a problem. Because in order to write we need to get into a state of flow and in order to get into a state of flow we need to accept that our writing won’t be perfect. If we constantly wear our critical thinking hat, we will get stuck at the ideas stage or in the editing stage – unable to move forward. Stuck in the mud, in other words.
In the back of most writers’ minds is the question of the ultimate success or a failure of the novel. That fear of failure can all too easily stop us in our tracks. Fear of success can also hamper creativity. Which is why that ‘golden’ novel, like the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, is always out of reach.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the next novel or story while you are still in the middle of another one. I do that all the time. I keep a notebook to jot down ideas. Some of those ideas may turn out to be my next book; others may not. But it’s too easy to get stuck in the ideas and planning stage and never move forward. Because it’s good fun. There are no barriers. No one telling us this works but this does not. However, in order to complete the project it is necessary to move from thinking to action – from ideas and notes to words on the page. This requires discipline. We have get those words down. A thousand. Ten thousand. Fifty thousand.
Action requires risk. Think of it like standing at the top of a high diving board. What are you going to do – dive into the water below or scuttle back down the ladder? (And believe me I have scuttled down that ladder many times). Perhaps you aren’t quite ready for the high dive. All right. Then settle for diving off a lower platform. Or go to lessons to learn how to dive so that you are less afraid. Or perhaps you are happy to jump but have no idea what to do afterwards. Writing is like that. Just like life. We must to learn to dive in and take risks but we must also slog through the mud.
Bronwen is the author of two novels and a book of short stories. Her flash fiction has also been widely published.