This brief extract from my essay Where Language Darts and Swoops might resonate with other writers …
When I began my first novel the emotional weight of the content that I dumped onto the page in truckloads overcame my rational knowledge that someone had to actually read this stuff. I was, in fact, writing to myself into a state of cognitive masturbation. After three months of secret writing (I told my wife that I was doing ‘research’), it was time to lose my virginity. I joined a writing group and gabbled my first chapter out loud to five strangers. The invisible homunculus on my shoulder groaned at the ponderous, overblown, self indulgent tosh. At last I finished, dry-mouthed and red. Nobody winced. Nobody sniggered. Somebody said it was quite good. They made some suggestions: More dialogue here perhaps; too much detail in the second paragraph; how did that bit move the story on? I’d had my first lesson in the discipline of fiction writing.
And I’d understood the awful truth of the novelist’s vocation: That you cast yourself naked before the reader; that the lifetime accumulation of your beliefs and emotions and madnesses is the trove that you plunder when you invent a new reality. I’d spent thousands of hours of my professional life talking in front of audiences – lectures, committees, conferences. But none of it came close to the anxiety that I endured on that morning with five strangers when I read my own gaudy, private words.
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