For the past two and a half years, those three words have been banned not only in my house, but anywhere in my vicinity. That’s how long it took me to whinge about and complete my second novel – Cold Light. I started just as my agent started submitting A Kind of Intimacy to editors and at that time I was full of confidence – thinking that I’d done it once, of course I could do it again. This time it would be much easier, and quicker, and less frightening – because I knew what I was doing.
Insert the sound of hollow laughter here.
It wasn’t quicker, it wasn’t easier and in many ways, although I didn’t take the Donna Tartt route and leave a decade between my debut and follow-up, it was actually more difficult and time-consuming than the first time around. For months I deleted more than I wrote, dismantled the plot and screwed it together again threw the kind of hissy fits that I sneer at when I hear about them from other writers. It was a horrible couple of years.
Exactly like, in fact, writing my first novel.
The cliché of thought around SNS is that the publicity surrounding your first gives you a bit of stage fright. But I’ve been incredibly lucky. There was an initial flurry of reviews, none of which made me swear or cry, and a steady stream of events at festivals, libraries and bookshops, which I quite liked doing, actually. Nothing I could point at and say, ‘there, it’s your fault I can’t write this.’
For me, the problem was in the transition between writing as a hobby, done in the early mornings, late nights and lunch hours at work, and writing as a job – shoes on at nine in the morning, bum in chair, sit yourself down and get on with it no peeking at twitter kind of work. I got an arts council grant, gave up my job as a prison librarian, and got on with it. Except it didn’t happen right away. I struggled to take myself seriously, to take the work seriously, to feel like a real writer. They don’t do it like this, I thought, not in their cardigans with a bag of satsumas in their laps. Real writers aren’t like me. I needed a boss.
I wish there was a trick to sorting that out. I spent some of the grant on mentoring – a difficult, rewarding, demanding process that really helped. Forgetting about money and resigning myself to always being a bit poorer than my Friends With Jobs helped too. Rationing facebook and twitter. Knowing when to give myself a bit of sympathy and when to sneer at my own tantrums and force myself back to the desk. Remembering something I am always telling my students – it’s all right to write a shitty first draft. The magic is in the re-writing.
The most important thing was giving myself permission not to write. The world has enough books – no-one needs something I can’t be arsed writing. If I don’t want to do it, then fine, don’t bother. See if I care. The thought was usually enough to drive me back to my desk for another round. I’m easily manipulated like that.
And I’m done now. I’ve an idea brewing for the third. It’s bound to be easier this time. I’ve done it twice now, haven’t I? This time round, it’s got to be a doddle.
Jenn Ashworth has, as you may have gathered, just finished her second novel. Her first, A Kind of Intimacy, is out with Arcadia. She also writes a blog. www.jennashworth.blogspot.com