When a novel sprouts wings and takes flight

Last June I went to a writing course in Wales. My current novel, at that point, was at its fairly early thinking stages and one afternoon I sat in an old barn enthusiastically telling the tutor (a writer I really admire) my ideas for the book. I remember her looking puzzled and incredulous. There was a pause. And then she said that it was very ambitious and structurally complicated and perhaps I needed to cut out some characters and simplify it.

She definitely had a point. It was ambitious. And the truth was, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do it, I just knew that this was the book I wanted to write. Between then and now, I have been slogging up a mountain with it. It is definitely the hardest thing (memoir aside, emotionally) I have ever written. I have been through days, weeks even of despair with it, thinking it’s just too much. That I can’t pull it off. That I need to scrap it and start again. That it may have been a good idea, but what’s an ‘idea’ without actually being able to write it down?

But then, about a week ago, something wonderful happened: I reached the top of the mountain. As in, I’m nowhere near finishing the first draft yet, but I could stand at the top and see the whole view; the whole landscape of my book mapped out before me. Suddenly I could see how the characters connected and I realised with utter jubilation that I was on the right path, something I really wasn’t sure of until then. On that same day, I happened to read a quote by author Hilary Mantel:

‘You have to trust what you don’t understand, and you have to be prepared to do that whilst walking in the dark.’

And I thought, yes, yes! There were so many things about this novel that I didn’t understand (and actually, still don’t) and not only was I slogging up an extremely steep mountainside with it, but it was also nighttime and there was no moon to guide my way. And yet, I had to trust. As writers or artists of any kind, that trust is so key. It’s fine to have wobbly moments or days or weeks, and want to chuck our entire project in the bin. But then we have to remember that impetus that made us want to create it in the first place. Did it have value? Did it have wings?

So if you are involved in a creative endeavour of any kind and those days come when you can’t see the wood for the trees, grasp hold of that trust in a tight fist and keep it there. Because when you unclench your fist days, weeks, months or even years later, if that spark is meant to see the light of day, you will see a flurry of wings as you watch your idea take flight.

Thank you for reading this blog post. Compliment it with my reflection on how to write the future in my novel in progress and how I decided that this was the novel I needed to write.

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