There’s very little that can beat the buzz of starting work on a new book. I’m not talking about the mental preparation, the character breakdowns, the background searches, the frenetic visualisation - all of which put the fear of God into me. No, it’s the actual writing that is so compulsive. The ‘not knowing where you’re about to go’ feeling one gets when starting on a new chapter. The quasi osmotic creation of character beneath your very eyes, when the way you thought it would go isn’t the way it goes at all. I call it ‘living on the hoof’. You start off by thinking you’re in charge, but you soon realise that the story is in charge of you. That you are drawing from wells you didn’t even know existed.
I’m at that stage now. The stage where you are scared to talk about the thing you are working on - what Hemingway called ‘putting your mouth on it’ - for fear of diluting the energy, which needs to be transferred directly onto the page, and not into anyone else’s ears. Hemingway added that discussing work in progress ‘takes off whatever butterflies have on their wings and the arrangement of hawk’s feathers if you show it or talk about it.’ He was right.
When one is at this stage of a book’s process, one has to be prepared to get up from bed at any hour (if a suitable idea should introduce itself inside your waking moments), settle down at your desk, and get it down onto paper. It might look like hell later on in the morning, when you wake up again, but at least you won’t have lost it. Same thing if you luck into an idea swimming in the pool, lazing in the sauna, or relaxing in the jacuzzi. Get up, fetch a piece of paper/kitchen towel/envelope/wallpaper sample or whatever, and write the thing down. If you don’t do so you will always regret it, because you will remember it as being smarter than it probably was. It will stay cleaved to your brain, convincing you that it was the single greatest idea you’ve ever had, and that you blew it away for another ten minutes in the pool. This is the literary equivalent of self-immolation. From there on there is only the slippery slope that eventually leads to Tom Lehrer’s ‘Massachusetts State Home for the bewildered’….