The joy (and madness!) of writing a book

iStock_000004092162XSmallThere is so much discussion about the pain involved in writing a book, the difficulties, the moments when you want to throw everything in the bin, the times when you feel as if you will never be finished, as if your book will be rejected, and alll you want to do is to wish away this compulsion in you to tell stories. So to balance out those narratives, I want to tell a story about joy – the joy of writing, the love, the euphoria, the wonder that I am lucky enough to have one of the best jobs in the world.

Last week I wrote 10,000 words in just four days for my new book, the one set in New York, that regular readers may remember me discussing in previous posts. There is nothing quite like the feeling I had last week, when your brain is so full of words spilling out so fast onto the keyboard that your fingers cannot quite keep up. And when you go to bed, your mind cannot stop thinking of new scenes, snatches of dialogue, missed details that would add colour to an already written scene and you have to – and you don’t mind at all – jump up out of your warm bed and write it all down so you don’t lose all these wonderful ideas.

I’m sure I even fell a little bit in love with one of my characters last week and I think that, as a writer, you have to – after all, if you don’t love them how can you expect a reader to? I would have been perfectly happy to have dwelt in my study, in the lives of my characters, for every hour of every day because when the writing is wonderful, your characters are almost like the best friends you will never have.

I realise this might make me sound strange or manic or even lonely – but with 3 kids in the house I think we can definitely rule out the last of these! But in a moment of serendipity, last week I was reminded of Susan Sontag’s words, which are an apt way to describe some of these feelings. Sontag says:

The writer must be four people:

  1. The nut, the obsédé
  2. The moron
  3. The stylist
  4. The critic

1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence.

A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2; they’re most important.

This week, I was working squarely in the realm of points 1 & 2, which is where I think the joy of creating truly comes out. (I am interpreting point number 2 as being like the fool, the person who is unconventional in their ideas, because to be conventional about writing would be to write the same as everybody else and there is no joy in that). I used to dislike writing first drafts, preferring the certainty of the edit where you at least have a story to work with, rather than the great unknown. But editing is a diffent kind of intellectual joy, where critique and an appreciation of style are applied. First drafts, I now find, are full of wonderful madness.

So I am writing this to remind myself, and to share with others, the idea that writing is a passionate act. I want to explain why writers do what they do and why sitting down to write a book can bring with it that same sense of wonder and joy that reading can, but to an even greater extent because in writing, you experience the thrill of knowing you have made this happen.

What do you think? Do I sound like the nut? What is your experience of writing – is there joy and do you celebrate when there is?

25 comments

  1. Lovely post, Natasha, and eminently sane 🙂

  2. Louise Allan

    When you’re in the zone and it’s flowing, there is no greater high. Great post!

  3. Well, I’m on my third/fourth draft, and I thought the second was pretty much where I needed to be, and now I just don’t know…the story is changing, I’m still joyful (sometimes) depressed (sometimes) and really looking forward to your workshop, Natasha!

    • Hi Rashida, every book and every draft is different isn’t? I’ve never had things go quite so smoothly and quickly and joyfully in a first draft as is happening now, and so I am very grateful for whatever it is that is causing things to work so well. Good luck with yours Rashida and here’s to more joy and less depression!

  4. All true! I think it was William Maxwell who said that a ‘a writer is a reader who is inspired to create a response’, or something like that, and the response is full of joy.

  5. marlish glorie

    Good to hear that work on your current novel is going so well Natasha. And in answer to your question – you sound like one of the sanest people I’ve ever come across. In fact, all the writers I’ve ever come across are quite sane. Sure being a writer, can drive you to despair and to self-doubt, but as you remind us Natasha, there is also great joy. And lots of it!

  6. Sounds like your new book is going to be amazing.

  7. I also love my fictional friends. Only writers understand that. I also admire writers who manage to write around children and their many and varied and non stop needs!!!!! Love that you managed to squeeze in this blog post.

    • Thanks Jenn. So nice to know I’m not the only one who loves their imaginary creations. I think you’re right and that others who aren’t writers do find that hard to understand, imaginary friends being something one is supposed to have left behind in their childhood. Although I didn’t have an imaginary friend when I was a kid so maybe I’m compensating now! And thanks for stopping by too.

  8. I love this stage too…when the book can be anything you want and still has the potential to inspire and amaze. Long may it continue and can’t wait to read…

  9. The joy of having characters keeping you up until 3am because they have soooo much to tell you- it makes me feel alive! If only I didn’t have to be at work by 9am the next morning, hahahaha!

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  11. Great post, Natasha, and totally agree. Sometimes when you’re really getting to know your characters and they start having conversations with one another and you have – you just *have* – to get out of bed or stop whatever it is you’re doing to write down whatever dialogue you’re getting out of it, there’s no better feeling. And that does sound mad, but I guess it’s like Carroll said, “We’re all mad here.”

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