Typing ENDS on a body of work is supposed to be satisfying. It’s not. There’s an emptiness, a void, that welcomes a mind that has been attuned to a plot and imagined characters for months, perhaps even longer, and then cuts it dead. It is a finality that is unnerving: a mental vacuum that sucks creativity.
Imagine that wardrobe doorway into the world of Narnia; then imagine walking through and finding nothing. That’s the problem with ENDS: after such a long time of focus and belief, of purpose and a literary skip in ones step, it signifies a finality that can be hard to deal with.
OK, there is a sense of achievement and a momentary flush of satisfaction, but then the doubts creep in. In fact, they don’t ‘creep in’ at all, they thunder out like a stampede of buffalo, and leave a thickly cloying miasma of self doubt.
A golden rule of writing is that any completed work should be of the highest possible standard, the best that the writer can ever produce, and carefully written to cover all the other rules of grammar, plot, cadence, factual correctness – especially important in fiction – and what is loosely termed ‘page-turnability’, but in fact means capturing and keeping the readers’ interest so that they keep reading and don’t put your book down and look for something more exciting. It’s also important to not make sentences too long (see above!).
Another maxim is that all writing can be improved by a second pair of eyes. What this means in practice, and before the manuscript goes to the initial reader/editor, is that the author puts aside their work, leaves it, adopts a different persona, and then goes back to be critical. The result, I find, is that they weren’t finished at all and probably need a damn good edit, if not a re-write of some passages.
So we come to the solutions for my dilemma. Fellow writers seem to fall into two categories: those who agree with me; and those who say: “Stop whingeing: keep writing”.
I dismiss the first category. They’re as bad as me and probably turn to pub lunches, cutting the lawn and gardening (amazing how much neglect you can amass while writing). Perhaps it’s cathartic to visiting fellow writing friends, which can be a mistake if they are properly immersed in their own work and do not welcome distractions. Those in the second category may be right, but they are also lacking in basic understanding of our craft.
The problem is that typing ENDS is the culmination of a mental tsunami that has swept everything else aside and, like all good tsunamis, leaves ponds of lingering doubts and lakes of abject ennui that suck ones feet further into that muddy morass. In other words: I’m spent; the creative juices have dried up; my metaphorical pen is like an empty, used condom. This is not word-blindness: I can write eviscerating letters to suppliers of goods and services; I can compose paeans to those (especially the NHS staff) who bring joy to my life. What I have trouble with is creating a plot or a scenario that will gradually transpose into a short story or a new book.
The arid desert is, therefore, creativity and imagination. It isn’t in dealing with facts. Perhaps here is the solution. I have a great, great grandfather who was a surgeon in Tamworth in the very early 1800s. Now is the time to research the medical skills and accomplishments of surgeons at a time when there were no required academic qualifications – probably the ability to not faint at the sight of spilled blood would be one.
I feel a new plot coming on …