As some dear readers may know, I am attempting to write a book. Or rather, I have committed and promised to write a book.
In Victoria, amid the glory of our impending BNT finish and the resultant I-Am-Bloody-Awesome feeling, it seemed an easy enough feat. Sure thing, I thought, as we traipsed confidently up yet another wall of mountain. If we can do the BNT, we can do anything. So the crowdfunding started, we finished the BNT, Fly and the donkeys got home, and a significant amount of amazing people entrusted their hard-earned money to receive this book I am supposed to have written in nine months’ time.
Last week, Kickstarter kindly sent me an automated email to remind me that I hadn’t written an update for a while. You know, to let my ‘backers’ know how its going and all. I gulped with guilt. A project update?
Well, I wrote a few sentences this morning. Then deleted them, rewrote them. Went to the fridge for a piece of cheese. Indulged in a bit of doubt and self- hatred. Delete, rewrite. More cheese. Research, look at maps to refresh my rapidly fading memory. Get distracted by maps and start planning new potential trekking routes. More guilt, more self-hatred. More cheese.
READ, everyone said. Writers need to read voraciously, and that, my friends, is exactly what I had been doing. Research, you may call it. If it involves adventure, donkeys, trekking, or travel of any kind, you can bet that I’ve read it sometime in the last two months.
You see, its one thing to go on an A-grade adventure, but another matter entirely to put pen to paper and tell the tale effectively. A blog is much less frightening and far more forgiving.
‘Oh, that post’, you can say casually. ‘Yeah its got a few typos- I wrote it on my phone. In middle of the night. In a tent on top of Lazarini Spur. After a few reds’.
In a blog, one can dither, digress, delete. But a book? But no one excuses such sloppiness in a real-life book. With your name on the cover, a book is forever. Every line should be a work of polished perfection, a carefully honed epitome of literary prowess, or flawlessly sharp wit. Which is why I’ve been giving my library card a good thrashing- to see just how the experts do it.
And boy do they do it well. The more I read, the more intimidated I feel and the more I doubt myself.
Take, for example, this little tidbit from Bill Bryson:
“I once joked in a book that there are three things you can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he is ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.”
Such wisdom, such readbility, such flow. Or this:
“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to”.
Such whimsical ease. I bet Bill doesn’t bite his nails and nervously consume pieces of cheese while he writes.
I have been told it is simply a matter of ‘finding my voice’. My voice? I’d like one just like Bill, please.
“Eliza, some people don’t even LIKE Bill Bryson!”, a friend explained with expasperation, no doubt frustrated at my content navel- gazing and procrastination.
And it sounds silly, but this was a revelation. Not everyone loves Bill! Great!
Perhaps there is no need to sound like a pale imitation of Bill Bryson after all. Or Paul Theroux. Or anyone else for that matter. Because the more travel narratives I read, the more I realise that there is not ONE way the experts do it. Some are funny. Some are based on dialogue. Some narrate remarkable feats of human achievement, others seem to squeeze a whole book out of a walk around the block. Some are self-deprecating, while others are so cringingly ‘Look-at-moi, Look-at-moi’-ish is that it makes you wonder at anyone actually taking them seriously.
So there’s a bit of a mixed bag out there, and no rules. And I’m proud to report that after weeks of nervous nibbling and wearing up a nice sheen on my keyboard’s ‘delete’ button, I’ve finally hit a breakthrough and the words are piling out. At long bloody last.
So if anyone out there is feeling a little doubtful about putting pen to paper, here are three things that seem to have worked for me in tweaking my
writers starter’s block.
How to Start a Book, I think….
1. Stop Reading
Read for pleasure, read to appreciate the beauty of words, but don’t ever read to compare. I cant help myself, so the more I was reading, the more I was feeling like there couldn’t possibly be a place for my little old book amongst all these works of genius.
Self-doubt is a swift wind that blows you off course and deflates the belief carrying your dreams. It is the kryptonite that weakens your creative superpowers and covers your inner knowing with an invisible cloak.
2. Fiddle Around With Tense
So I read ‘Love and The Art of Drowning’ by , a memoir buy a woman who sails across the Pacific with a guy she’s just met in a bar. This awesome book made me reevaluate all of my preconceptions around the use of the present tense.
“Yes! I want that for my book!”, I thought. There’s nothing quite like the present tense to transport a reader right to your side, by the edge of that mountain with you, feeling the sinking sun on their neck RIGHT THERE. “What’s next?”, the present tense makes the reader ask.
So, I tried. Here’s a little taster:
“Oh no, Mum! Basil’s hurt himself!” cries Zaydee as our first donkey backs nonchalantly out of the truck. Sure enough, he has somehow managed to scalp his hide. It is red raw and reminds me of those ridiculous bare-bottomed monkeys kids can’t help giggling at in the zoo.”
But I found it hard to sustain and it was starting to read like a racehorse commentator. So I’m back to past tense, which is feeling like a nice comfy pair of snuggly pajama pants.
3. Care Less
According to Psychology Today, procrastination is caused by anxiety in one of its myriad forms. We delay because of our fear of failure. I’m sure everyone can relate.
So I’m trying to care less about the whole writing process. How?
By thinking of myself as a medium for the book I am just a vehicle through which the book can be narrated. This helps me to become simply a channel for the universe’s creativity, rather than the ultimate maker or breaker of the story, which already exists as an entity in its own right. Thinking of it like this has helped to take away a bit of the weight and the ego inevitably wrapped up in it all.
And hey, if people hate my book, I can always say, “It wasn’t me! It was the universe!”.
And with that thought, I shall continue writing. But first, to buy more cheese…