Every writer I know has lousy days and weeks when nothing goes right, waking up each morning to do battle with the little voice in the back of the head that shrieks “YOU’VE LOST IT!” We’re all in the same leaky boat.
One of my favourite e-mails came from Hilary Mantel, to whom I wrote a fawning fan letter after reading Wolf Hall. She wrote: “What I remember about writing the book is regular desolation when I felt the material was too complex and would never shape; but then, with each breakthrough, a spoonful of exhilaration.” Of course her material was incredibly complex, but the regular desolation…how nice to know it’s a common ailment.
I’ve been struggling with writing (and riding) for what seems like months now. But this week brought two revelations. The first came from the osteopath I’d been visiting to try to sort out the back pain that makes me rigid and stiff when riding. “But your back isn’t the problem,” he said, “it’s your hip.” And sure enough, once the hip was sorted, the back stopped hurting, my position improved, and suddenly, everything felt effortless. I haven’t stopped smiling since.
For weeks I’ve been wrestling with my main character, trying to force him into submission — with no success. And then it came to me that the writing problem was the same as the riding problem — it was a different character entirely misfiring, quietly and sneakily throwing the rest of the book off kilter. As I started to shape her differently, everything else began (maybe, I hope, please God) falling into place.
I’m off to Suffolk now for four days of work with no internet. Just the dogs and me (and possibly a horse or two). With a little luck I might even come home with a finished draft.