Near the beginning of 2006 I finished the final draft of my first novel. I had started writing it the previous November during something called the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), during which the objective is to write 50,000 words during the month. Of course 50,000 words is barely half way towards finishing a decent sized novel, but by the end of my thirty days I had topped out at around 80,000. It took me until the following April to produce the final twenty thousand, and go through the laborious process of edits and re-writes, but eventually it was whipped into a shape that I thought presentable enough to send off for publication.
One of the catches was that the book might have been finished, but the story wasn't. I had left my characters halfway through their adventure and was going to have to write a second instalment to get them over the hump. Unlike the first book, where I sat down and wrote with no real idea of where it was going, trusting in the characters to find their way through the story, I'd planned book two out in some detail. I know exactly what should happen when, to who, and where, and so in theory it should have been a piece of cake to write.
Yet, aside from writing some pre-history for the first book that I felt it needed to give it more texture, I've got nothing to show from the last two-plus years but an opening chapter and the first paragraph of the second chapter. It's not for lack of trying either, for the first few months I'd sit down every day and stare at my monitor and write, but more often then not I'd just end up deleting everything I'd written before shutting down the computer. To say it was frustrating would be somewhat of an understatement I suppose, but there really isn't any other word for it.
The problem was that what I was writing on the page didn't sound like it sounded in my head. In my imagination I knew what I wanted the words on the paper to create but I couldn't reproduce it no matter how hard I tried. I wanted to create magic but all I seemed capable of were banalities. I can be stubborn on occasion, and for a while I persisted in sitting down every day. Eventually I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm for opening a file every day and writing a thousand or so words only to erase them again, so I gave up.
Now obviously I didn't give up on writing, as since then I've published around 1000 articles online, and nor did quite give up on writing fiction either, as I made periodic stabs at it. However, nothing ever came of those attempts and each new beginning petered out without going anywhere. Occasionally I'd try continuing the original story from where I left off but had as little success with that as all my earlier attempts. I was genuinely terrified that I had lost whatever ability I might have had as a storyteller.
I tried to convince myself that I was okay with this, and that I would be perfectly content to spend the rest of my writing days talking about other people's work and writing non-fiction opinion pieces, but a part of me deep inside knew that I was only kidding myself. Maybe I only had to wait for the right story to come along in my head and then I would find myself back on track? The trouble was how would I even know the right story when it came along?
After about a year of fretting and worrying about it, I decided there was no point in belabouring the issue as it was only making me even more frustrated. Instead I decided to focus on making the work I was doing as good as I possibly could make it. When I was offered the chance to edit Epic India Magazine by a friend of mine early in 2007 and I had accepted in the hopes that reading other people's work with a critical eye would help me be more objective about my own writing.
It's been a good sixteen months; I had a piece published in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine, a couple of authors have used blurbs from my reviews on the dust jackets of their books, I've received appreciative letters from publishers, writers, and musicians regarding the quality of my work, and had the chance to interview some amazing individuals. I've even made a little money from the writing along the way, not enough to make a living with, but enough to occasionally buy myself or my wife something we wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford.
The other day something happened that took me by surprise. I felt the spark of an idea for a story. In my mind's eye I saw what looked to be the starting point and the potential paths I could follow to bring a new world to life. Now in the past when this has happened I've always immediately sat down and began forcing myself upon the idea in the hopes of bludgeoning it into submission, with the result that I've usually ended up squashing the life out of it. I don't think I'd ever appreciated just how fragile an idea is at its earliest conception. and had ended up crushing it under foot like an eggshell.
So I've decided to quash my natural inclination to plunge merrily into the unknown without really knowing where I'm heading, and am curbing my impatience. For any spark to become a fire it needs to be properly fed fuel, you don't just dump a huge log on it and hope it catches. That might work once in a million times if the conditions are exactly right, but most of the time all that will happen is you'll be left shivering in the dark. This time I will try and coax a flame from the spark, before I attempt to build the fire.
I'm a firm believer in magic, I think you have to be in order to tell a story that hasn't been created before. What other explanation can there be for having an idea that creates life out of nothing and provides the impulse that puts words on a page in just the right order that they fascinate and enthral people? It's been a long time since I've felt like there's magic in my life, but now I'm beginning to see its faint glow again. For all I know this could be another blind alley that will lead nowhere, but right now I have to believe that once again I've found my way back into the world where anything is possible and fiction is stranger than truth.