New year, fresh inspiration (I hope)

My latest manuscript is with an agent; for the time being all I can do is wait for news. I’m well aware that even if my hopes of a publishing deal are realised, there will be a fair amount of rewriting to do at some stage. If no deal is forthcoming, the need for revision will be equally important, if not more so. But in the meantime, these months of waiting give me the perfect opportunity to make a start on my next project.

After a mostly solitary Christmas and New Year, I can’t claim to have been too busy, so what is holding me back? I can reveal that for this author (and I can’t be unique), it’s one of the toughest, most frustrating and torturous stages in the process. It makes me want to shout, cry and fill the page with every single one of those unhappy emoticons. Matt Haig describes perfectly the brutal reality of that first step in the creation of a book:

The Writing Process
Have an idea. 
Start writing.
Write 20,000 words.
Have new idea.
Start writing.
Write 30,000 words.
Give up on both ideas.
Feel defeated.
Lose your mind.
Have new idea.
Feel it makes no business sense.
Start writing.
Keep fucking writing.
Know it is the one.

I’m at the stage between feeling defeated and losing my mind. In the last three months or so, I’ve made attempts on three potential projects, rescued from the back of my mind where they’d been lurking for many years. For the first I already have notes but fail to drum up the necessary enthusiasm to take the idea further. For each of the other two in turn, I embark with some vigour on the tasks of researching, making notes, imagining characters, constructing rough plots, only to discover I’ve wasted my time. The first idea, based on a historical character, has been covered already in a similar way by another author some years ago. The second, a story based on a long-running scandal, is the subject of a book soon to be published, written by the victims themselves.

I give myself a couple of days off before trying again. A story idea has to ferment, which is why I’m revisiting old ideas, while remaining open to any new ones that come along. The right inspiration must surely be waiting for me out there somewhere if only I could locate it. Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. The answer is anywhere – from the snippet of a story read in the news, an imagined dilemma, a what if? thought, the hypothetical development of a situation or incident… Too many ideas can be as much of a problem as too few. My mind flits from one to another instead of persisting with one until I’ve fully explored its potential. But I have to feel passionate about or at least deeply engaged with the story, the underlying themes and the characters. After all, I’ll be living with them constantly for months or more likely years.

I’m now starting to explore a fourth idea with a protagonist entirely of my own invention. This one is a project I began in the early 2000s and abandoned at 5,000 words. Last year a moderately well-known author brought out a novel that used a similar concept. Must I consign yet another idea to the scrapheap? No, on further investigation, I find hers to be sufficiently different. Does this latest idea of mine make business sense? Probably not. Can I make something of it? It’s too early to know. Is it the one? Ditto.