A letter to Chris Nicholas

Reading your latest article, I was initially beset with worry. “O no, not you too!” I thought. “Don’t give up now, you’ve come so far!”

I was relieved that you felt able to declare yourself a juggernaut at the end. “Ah good, he’s not out of the game by a long chalk!” I said to myself.

You are quite right. Success means very little without failure. I am reminded of a wonderful speech by JK Rowling on this matter. And what writer hasn’t known failure? What writer hasn’t had cause to doubt their worth? It’s the nature of life. Some people keep slogging away, others find a different path. The question that greets us with every period of writer’s block is: “Is it worth the struggle?”

The struggle is not just in creating something, but in polishing that creation. To complete a novel is one thing, to edit it is quite another matter. Suddenly everything that flowed so easily a few weeks or months ago is called into question. This isn’t right. This bit isn’t good enough. You question and second guess every decision you ever made, over many thousands of words. It’s agonising.

I’ve done that with two novels, that I decided weren’t good enough. I gave up halfway through writing a third and I’ve barely thought about writing fiction for months. Now, out of the blue, it’s in my head again. A quiet voice uttering, “You could try again, you know!”

If you’re still struggling with writer’s block, I would urge you to think about what inspires depth of feeling in you. When you’re generally happy and content, it gets harder to draw out those gritty, gripping tales. Perhaps a favourite book or author could create that spark? Or a trip to the ocean? Or even reflecting on some personal tragedy?

I had a friend who had a sad life, once. I tried to rewrite her story and give her some happiness.

Whatever inspiration takes hold of you, go with it.

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