Starting to breathe
The desirable difficulty of sleeve and paint

If a thing's worth writing...

As night follows day, a new novel has entered the works, just as the final draft of the novel I think of as my Betrayal novel, has left them, going from my desk to my agent's and onwards. Not that it's new in the obvious sense; it first appeared, untimely, almost exactly two years ago. Since then I've been... not exactly ignoring it, but making no effort to do more with it than I couldn't avoid. I've bought the occasional book that caught my eye, clipped articles out of the TLS, gone to exhibitions that were relevant, collected postcards and leaflets, made a note of something I heard on the radio... but I've never allowed myself to sit down and Think.

And then a week ago, I did. In among lots of other, duller work, I was able to allow myself some treats: hours I could spend on this delicious stage of creating a novel. I collected up all the clippings; trawled my notebooks for the scraps and even pages headed "Happiness novel" (and found various nice things along the way); dug in the pocket at the back for the bus-tickets on which I'd scrawled things; found the one written with an inkless biro, my thought showing only as indentations. And then I pulled the cellophane off a big, squashy-covered Moleskine and found a magazine file, and sorted everything out. A few days later I began to try to germinate a few of these seeds. And later again I did a bit of what others might call planning, but I call thinking-aloud-on-paper, and from that made a working notebook to refer to, because free-thinking, like free-writing, and shaping the result into something useful, is a two-stage process; the time and paper spent turning the former into the latter is time well spent.

And now that I've done some brooding over characters and ideas, made spider diagrams of how characters relate to each other (in the emotional as well as familial sense) and imagined outwards to things which might happen, I realise that it's no longer a matter of deciding to work on the novel; like a new baby, it's taken up permanent residence in my life. It's such an exciting stage, this business of watching the clouds of unknowing massing, that it's hard to put off the moment of starting to condense them by writing Chapter One. But, having spent two years not starting it, I'm beginning to think that I should add to the four things which you need to have, if you want to become a writer. As well as persistence, hard work, talent and luck, I think you need patience.

Perhaps patience is part of craftsmanship. You need to put up with the fact that at the moment your ducks are wonky, you need to not launch into the new novel before it's ready, you need to not send your half-baked novel to agents just because you're longing get your singing heard, and you need to not throw in the towel at the first rejection, or even the twentieth. It's not that no publisher ever needed to be nagged for an answer, heaven knows. And it's not that history isn't full of novels written in six white hot weeks of inspiration - some pieces of writing come righter, quicker, than others - although it's rather less full of novels bought on the strength of an unfinished draft.

And certainly some kinds of patience come with confidence, or rather trust, and I write as someone who is extremely impatient in every other part of life. This will be the ninth novel I've written, so although I don't have a story yet, let alone a working plot, I have absolute trust that it will come, and come when it's good and ready. And I'm in the position - at the moment - to trust that when it's written, at least one agent and two editors will read it. But if you can't choose to feel patient, you can choose not to act on your impatience to do the next thing, to reach a goal, whatever you need to prove to yourself, or whatever The Ropeseller says about the market. It's not that you abandon the goal - although letting go of the outcome can have all sorts of good results - it's that you don't rush upon it. You don't let your desire to acquire the product overwhelm your respect for your process. If a thing's worth writing, after all, it's worth waiting for.

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