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The longest day

The hardest moment for any writer is beginning. You sit down at the laptop/notepad and stare at the intimidating white space before you, wondering how you arrived at this position. Then, after several gulps of filter coffee (or Jim Beam), you make a tentative start, one leaden finger after another. Soon, you’ve forgotten how intimidating the whole process is, and settle in for your daily 500 words with due professionalism.

A similar problem exists for the awakening of the unborn novel. That is – one that exists in the portals of the mind, but has yet to come alive on the page. Repeated attempts produce only more confusion. Instead of revealing the theme and the nuances of the plot, each subsequent draft seems only to confirm its inadequacies. Despair sets in. The kind of soul-deadening malaise that only writers can understand when the well has been boarded over, the bucket filled with sand.

One common piece of advice is to abandon the thing there and then. ‘No point wasting valuable time on something that clearly doesn’t work,’ they say. ‘Put it to one side and start another.’  Well, yes, that’s fine, in theory. But what happens if the writer encounters the same vacuum with the new idea? By abandoning your first unborn child, you may be setting a precedent for all future progeny. The rot, when it finally sets in, may be irreversible.

Friends of mine think it an amusing quirk that I always finish reading a novel, no matter how tedious, or awful I might find it. But if I don’t finish someone else’s, I might one day take the same liberty with one of my own!  A novel is a huge undertaking by anyone’s standards. It requires a commitment of time and sacrifice most ordinary folk would never consider. To abandon it partway through is, to me, inconceivable – especially when I’ve had the thing churning around in my head for several years, keeping me awake at night and ruining my concentration.

Instead, I choose to take the long view. If I keep taking my place in the chair, and working over the same dull territory, something will happen. That strange alchemy that turns base metal into gold, and barren deserts into jewel-encrusted cities.  I’ll be freed from the dreadful paralysis that seizes the mind, to embrace something that inspires and vindicates me. The final draft is then something to be savoured, almost revered, as proof that persistence does pay off.

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