So: it’s finally happened. I have started writing a new story. And, unlike my last effort, I even know what this is going to be called, though I’ll save that revelation for another day – when I’m sure that this is actually going to happen and isn’t just a random twitching of the fingers. One session, one thousand words, does not a novel make.

But I have made a start. I won’t be writing every day, especially when the Pandemic work-from-home-ishness of life is over and I have to return to the great wide world. But if I can grind away a bit a week I’ll be happy.

When I was beginning to write seriously I used to be in a rush to get everything done. It was a fear, I think, that I’d ‘lose it’; that I’d grind to a halt and never get the wheels moving again. Now I am much more sanguine. I chip away, a few words at a time, and watch the end slowly, slowly get closer.

Writing is all self-doubt and angst anyway; why add more to the burden?

This is a fine philosophy but it’s hardly how I live. I worried about having lost my imagination in a fallow period from August to yesterday, and I’m still not sure that I have the mental fortitude to carry out a major project like writing a novel. Which is why I spent the time to create something akin to a plan: trying to force my brain to work rather than waiting forever for that bolt of lightning to strike.

Starting something new feels like such a relief. The fear of failure – of having nothing left – is so stultifying that to finally exhale is a joy. But I’m not there yet. I need to know this novel is working, that the words are coming regularly, in order to trust that I am once again free to do the thing I love.

I’ve just realised how contradictory I’m being here. I veer from optimism to pessimism in alternate paragraphs. I worry and then I’m more sanguine. I feel relief and then talk about the anxiety of not writing.

Well, maybe that’s part of the point. Writing often involves – for me at least – holding a lot of contradictory viewpoints at the same time. I’m a good writer and yet I’m nothing special. This novel is the best I’ve written and yet it doesn’t stack up with all the agented reads I see being published.

The fact is that we live in a world of uncertainty, of doubts, of twilights. Writing will never be easy for me but it is what I do. And I think the doubts, the second-guessing, will always be part of it because it is in me.

The call to adventure

I am slowly going insane. I have been beaten around the head by the continent of Antarctica for so long now that I can see nothing but white. For at least three years I have been existing in a wilderness of my own creation and now I’m beginning to feel that if I don’t get out now I’ll be trapped here forever.

It is, in other words, time to start a new project.

Ideas are not a problem. Ideas are never a problem. Ideas drop in constantly, brushing one Mandelbrot wingtip across my brow before fluttering away as if ashamed of what they might become. It’s like a fever; one moment you’re enthralled with a new vision and a wholehearted determination: I will do that next, just as soon as I’ve dug myself out of the hole I’m currently in. But then a month passes and you’re still busy on whatever it is that’s occupying your time and the fever’s abated and you start to realise what else you actually need to do before you begin this new project.

I have about half a dozen ideas – viable ideas that have had at least a modicum of serious thought – going round my head at any one time. Which I select is partly chance, partly just because it’s been with me long enough that I don’t have to do quite as much hard thinking; it’s oven-ready, just has to be popped in the warmth for a while, cozened, held close.

Of course, as soon as you actually set metaphorical pen to paper you realise that it’s nothing like ready. Now you have to create your mythos, you have to strip out the most blatant thefts and actually do some original thinking.  You have to clear out the assumptions and all the muddled, tangled threads and scribble stupid, inane notes to yourself before there’s any sort of coherent ‘story’.

But after three years trapped in the same world, it’s a delight, a relief to be actually writing again. It’s a real liberation; just a few days in and you’re already shifting neurones into place, reorganising your mental processing. To have new visions in your head, new people to dance with. And yes, this is only the very beginning; there’s a long, long road ahead of you with no clear destination in sight. There will be dead-ends and deadfalls and magic mirrors to thwart you. But that’s all part of the process. That’s the adventure.

Just as your characters are setting off on a quest – be it across an endless nameless wilderness or just through the transformations of one soul – the writer is also setting off on a journey. This is the most exciting time, before the feet start to blister and the scalp starts to bake in the legendary Desert of Slog. The time when you’re choosing your provisions, loading the pack and finally setting off on that road.

This is the best time to be a writer. The view’s fantastic. Shame about all the mountains you’ll have to cross, all the dread chasms, the Guardians of Dark and Secret Wisdom that need to be slain. But right at the beginning it’s all downhill, a magical thrill of following that stream all the way down to the sea.

Just be careful you don’t capsize. I hear they’re got piranhas the size of cows down there.