Work in progress

Why do we put pen to paper, or index fingers to keypads, to record our thoughts for posterity? Seeing as the vast majority of writers will never experience publication in any wider context, why bother in the first place? These questions have no real answers. The fact is, people write because they are driven to, compelled by some primeval force to unburden themselves and to analyse the results.

Carl Jung famously said that he didn’t have writers and artists as patients, as they did their own therapy. Could this line contain a nugget of truth? Could the lowly writer, bent over his word processor, trailing cigarette ash and bourbon fumes, really be improving his character along the way? Surely, the pursuit of such a lonely business is more likely to exacerbate neurosis than promote good mental health. And writers by definition tend to be a pretty unstable bunch, given to all sorts of related afflictions. Alcoholism, marital break-up, manic depression, to name but a few.

Perhaps writers, more than anyone else, have a pathological need to make sense of the world. Born with one layer of skin less, they tend to be shy, sensitive creatures who spend much of their time on the sidelines, observing the action from a safe distance. Writing provides a vicarious pleasure, a means of engaging in combat without risking one’s life. Macho writers like Hemingway and Norman Mailer hid their sensitivities behind alcohol and a bluff public front, not an approach that’s recommended if you want to preserve your sanity, and your liver!

Writing a novel is like giving birth. From the moment of conception on, your children are not your own. You tie their shoelaces, watch them grow and send them out into the world, hoping (in the literary sense) that they will never return. The sense of loss is enormous. Then, sitting morosely at your desk one day, you’re faced with the only logical conclusion. You have to start another family.

The second novel deserves a section all on its own. Mine has been fraught with difficulties, from failed deadlines (self-imposed) to a general disatisfaction with the end result. The five stages of grief might best describe the process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Occasionally joy, exhilaration and a sense of accomplishment factor in, but these are fleeting and not to be trusted. Why go on? Simply because, like most writers, I have to. Plus, the first draft of my third novel is already written, and is waiting in the wings.

Work in progress, that’s all we have. The day’s output waiting to be despatched. And that, quite frankly, is more than enough for anyone.

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