This Writing Life

Facing the blank page

Lately I’ve been reworking my novel, A Dangerous Daughter – hence you haven’t heard from me for quite a while. It’s a never-ending, always changing process of trial and error, good days and bad. Starting a new draft requires courage, determination and a belief that you can do this thing, killing your darlings as you go, silencing your inner critic who casts doubt on your every word. 

There’s nothing more terrifying to most writers than confronting that blank screen or page, waiting accusingly for the words and images floating  around in your head to somehow materialise into the written product.

I can tell you that a key step in the process of writing something good is first writing several things that are awful. It’s the revisions where the magic happens, but you need something, even something awful, to revise in the first place. It’s a lot easier to do this when no one else is around to see what your diseased mind has conjured.

When I need encouragement I go to these words by Martin Amis:

I would say that the writers I like and trust have at the base of their prose something called the English sentence. An awful lot of modern writing seems to me to be a depressed use of language. Once, I called it “vow-of-poverty prose.” No, give me the king in his countinghouse. Give me Updike. Anthony Burgess said there are two kinds of writers, A-writers and B-writers. A-writers are storytellers, B-writers are users of language. And I tend to be grouped in the Bs. Under Nabokov’s prose, under Burgess’s prose, under my father’s prose—his early rather than his later prose—the English sentence is like a poetic meter. It’s a basic rhythm from which the writer is free to glance off in unexpected directions. But the sentence is still there. To be crude, it would be like saying that I don’t trust an abstract painter unless I know that he can do hands.  

Martin Amis, The Art of Fiction Paris Review, No. 151


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