The Empty Page.

What to write and what not to write…

The prospect of writing my first blog post has been buzzing around my head for a while now. It’s been a bluebottle, an annoying one. And yet, time passes and still I can’t figure out what to put down about my writing life that could be of any interest to a casual passer by. I suspect that writers, by their very nature, are solitary creatures, and spend a considerable amount of time sat in their various writing places staring at the empty page, or empty screen, waiting for the words to come. You know you’ve got a tough gig to jazz up when the spike of excitement is an occasional cup of tea. Ooh, and maybe a biscuit.

So, I will take my present procrastination and give it its true name – Writer’s block. Ugh.

My most violent bout of drying up came after finishing chapter eight of my very first draft, several years ago now, but still vivid enough to make me want to slam the screen down on my laptop. It was bilge: fake, shallow, formulaic and written in someone else’s voice. And I’d loved every moment of writing it, been transported to some other creative dimension where, I was sure, all my lovely words, so long neglected, were waiting to shine. My shame was so great that I banished it to a secure folder and spent the next two weeks paranoid that somebody might discover my terrible secret. It was too late, of course; once you’ve opened the door to the voices inside there is very little you can do except let them live. I lasted barely a fortnight before I began to write again.

The turning point in this particular bout of writer’s block, was the very liberating realisation that it was unlikely anybody would ever read my work. I was writing it for myself because I had to, because I genuinely love writing, and because the story was bursting out of me, Alien like, fully formed and immensely vivid. I switched off my inner chorus of critics and began to write.

Shortly after this I listened to an interview with a woman writer, I can’t recall her name now, where she’d said her best work was written with her left hand, critical faculties shut down and almost without her volition. This rings very true for me, but it is a mental state that requires practise, with each of us having our own way of luring our muse out of the woods to sit beside us and whisper in our ears.

For me the most important way to let the words through is having time to daydream. How indulgent is that? We live hip deep in the tidal rush of a world that despises layabouts. I grew up in a family with an almost Victorian abhorrence for laziness; if I was caught reading during daylight hours my book would be confiscated I would be banished outside to weed or muck out or scythe thistles or a million other drudgy jobs as punishment. Being an adult can be a drag but one of the upsides is nobody gets to monitor my ‘me’ time.

So when my muse and I need a little ‘us’ time, I daydream. Fiercely, and for hours. I light the fire, switch off the lights and vanish. The only other absolute necessity is music; it is the doorway, the gap between the trees, the sudden vista. Reading has been my passion since my nursery teacher left me hanging several pages from the end of The Faraway Tree, and sleepless with the need to know. But music has always come a close second. It informs and colours everything I write. And it was one particular song, absorbed in the dark, and in all that firelight, that put vital flesh on to the bones of the girl whose voice fills my novel. I saw the animal inside her as she walked out of the woods, as she changed from a Fox to a White Deer Girl, and it changed everything…

So switch off the lights, light the fire, fill your head with music and daydream. Let the stories come uncensored, let your characters unfurl, and, maybe, you too will see the animal inside.


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