Hi everyone. I thought I would change things around with my latest blog for your reading pleasure. It is my birthday today and I am intent on living up to the adage of one Stephen King. He said that he was once asked in an interview if he wrote every day of the year. He said he only took two days off from writing: his birthday and Christmas. However, he was quick to point out when looking back to this interview that he had committed a grave mistruth. “I never take a day off writing,” he stated, “because it is my belief that a writer is never off duty.” This resonates in my mind as I have seen ample evidence of it in my own writing life.
“A writer is never off duty” works on more than one level. Yes, any writer worth his salt should always strive to write something new every day. He should be disciplined in his approach and never waver from the task in hand which is to come up with work which is first and foremost pleasing to himself and hopefully to his reading public, too. I cannot say that I have always kept to this maxim but when I haven’t I have felt disappointed in myself and soon made a promise to myself that I would strive to do better in the future.
Once many years ago I was talking to a work colleague on a Monday morning and told her I felt guilty because I had not done any writing during the whole of the weekend. She was surprised at this. “Why do you feel guilty?” she asked me. “It’s not like you are at school or college where you have to revise for a test.” I cannot recall how I replied to her words but if I had been honest I would have said I felt so guilty because writing is in my blood and writing fiction is what gives my great joy. To not do something you love so much through sheer laziness is a crime against the noble art of literature. I felt during the week I was building up to a great weekend of writing where I would be doing the writing equivalent of cartwheels as I produced some inventive ideas and typed them out on my faithful word processor which I had at the time. Instead I let this wonderful opportunity slip me by of extending myself as a writer and venturing off into some exciting and vibrant areas of creative pursuit.
Procrastination is one of the big enemies of writing fiction. Sometimes as a writer I can start making up excuses not to write. I realize this must make no sense to non-writers but any other writers reading this will know exactly where I am coming from. We have a terrible habit of wasting our time before settling down to write. I am convinced a lot of this comes from fear. I appreciate it might seem fine for me to feel this way being a horror novelist. One might say a fear factor is in my DNA. But the fear I am talking about has nothing to do with coming up with sinister ideas and narrative which will curdle the blood of any self-respecting reader. No, I am talking about the fear of coming up with writing I am not proud of. On many occasions have I settled down to write thinking I would be lucky to come up with even a paragraph. On such occasions the well seems to have run dry. How can I possibly set down anything which is remotely worthwhile if my brain seems empty: devoid of any workable ideas and the ability to come up with any constructive words which will push my story forward? Yes, this is how I have felt and so I convince myself that this particular night is not the best time to continue with the said story. ‘I’ll leave it to another time when I feel I have something to say.’ This is what I tell myself and then I think ‘well, it wouldn’t hurt to write a sentence or two just to see what comes out.’ Then after two hours have passed and I have found myself hammering away at my keyboard like a man possessed I discover I have written not one paragraph or two or three but pages after pages amounting to about 2000 whopping words! This happened to me a few nights ago and I felt liberated after ‘taking the plunge.’ It was then that I was grateful that I had banished my original negative thought from my mind and explored my imagination to the fullest.
‘A writer is never off duty’ can also be seen in a slightly different light. Many years ago I was on holiday with my parents. We were either in France or Italy and my Dad noticed me writing something. He asked what it was and I said it was a novel I was working on which was set in England. Although intrigued by the fact I was writing a full-length work of fiction he was perplexed by the subject matter or rather the location of the story. “Why are you writing a story set in England when you are abroad?” he asked me. “We are here for a fortnight. Think of all the detail you could set down about living in a foreign locale. You should be making the most of this opportunity. You could write about your novel set in England when you return home. This isn’t the time to do it. Take advantage of what is in front of you.” I admit I am paraphrasing my father’s words to an extent but this was the gist of his message to me. And a very important lesson it was, too. A writer should always be open to the surroundings he finds at any particular time. To shut his mind off to possible ideas further down the line can also be considered a crime against the art of writing.
This idea of a writer being always on duty is all good and well but there are moments in his life when he has to take a step back and move in another direction. A book needs to be written but sometimes personal matters get in the way of this. For his own state of well-being he has to set his current project aside for a time and go in search of other creative avenues. I experienced this myself in 2002. My father passed away after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. At the time I was nearing the end of a horror novel but the scene I was writing had a child character in hospital. He was in a coma after a demon possession. When I think about the set of circumstances which overtook me in my own life regarding my father and this particular episode it makes me realize how blurred the difference between fact and fiction can be, sometimes eerily so. It certainly was in this case. My Dad was in a coma for a short time and when we were looking after him at home he had a nasty fall in the bathroom which left him with scars on his face, mostly his nose. What is spooky about this is that my child character had a badly bashed in face. In fact I described it like this ‘it looked like he had gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime.’ I wrote this before my father had his fall and, of course, before he went into his own coma. I am sure given all this it can be clearly understood that the stomach went out of me when it came to write any more on this scene in my book. When my father passed away I found I could not continue with my novel. I had to write about something else. So then I thought I would write about my Dad in a fictional way by having a character losing his father in the same manner which had befallen me. I swear I wrote the opening to that story three times and tore each opening up. I simply could not go through with it. I was too close to the death of my father. I had to move away completely from any reference to what had happened to me and my much-loved parent. So this is what I did.
There is a powerful footnote to this story. Some time later I was writing a novel about my church and the power of faith when I had a character whose father had passed away some years before and he received a visit from him in his ghostly form. As I wrote this part of the book I felt once more liberated. I was emotionally overcome because I was thinking of my Dad but it was just something that came to me. I did not force it almost as if I was determined to bring my father’s memory back to me. It just slipped into my mind when I was writing a scene and I went with it. I always find this aspect of writing so powerful: when a writer is not even thinking about something that happened in the past but it just appears to him as if by magic and it fits the story perfectly. That is the beauty of writing fiction and in particular horror and most especially supernatural horror. The spirit world has always been a source of comfort to me. It is wonderful to think that our loved ones move off into a celestial domain when they breathe their last. We are thus able to look back to the good times shared with people who were dear to us with a happy heart. This brings forth a powerful release of emotion. When I wrote this scene I am describing tears rose to the surface but they were not despairing or desolate tears: they were tears of happiness and gladness that my parent had found a safe haven from daily cares.
Categories:The Ghosty Traveller Speaks
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