Writing and the Unknown

The Pea Roast Post

I was thinking again today about why writing the second book can be such a frightening experience. I mean, it’s not frightening all the time – most of the time in fact, it’s rather fun, particularly when I’m physically doing the writing. The panicked moments tend to come at around 3am when I stagger out of bed to go to the loo and start thinking, “Yeah, so. Book two. How’s that going?”

There are lots of obvious reasons why writing a sequel is nerve-wracking – the sheer pressure of being paid to write, the weight of expectation – but there’s one that feels truer than the rest, and that’s to do with that ropey old question, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

Because we don’t know. I look back on parts of The Copper Promise and I have to boggle at the mystery of it all, because I’ve no clue where some of it came from. Where most of it came from, actually. Weird characters, scary moments, even some unexpected twists – I couldn’t tell you when they popped into my head, what my thought process was at the time, how I worked it out. When I write a book I’m a mixture of a planner and a “pantser”. I have a loose plan of where I want the story to go, and I leave lots of space for things to spontaneously occur. Ideas and images will come, almost always seemingly from nowhere, and what was a plot problem will be magically solved. In fact, often, it will be more than that; several unrelated things will become related, and the story will suddenly shine out, clearer than ever.

Sometimes writing is like standing at the edge of a deep well, your hands around a rope. You drag that bucket up from the darkness and it’s full of pieces – weird things, usually, stuff that shouldn’t make sense in daylight – but because you’re a writer, you see how they fit together. You know where they go to make a story.

You don’t think too closely about that well. Who knows where it leads to, or what strata it passes through? It’s dark, it’s probably unsanitary, and there’s no way in hell you’re climbing down there to have a look. Besides which, you suspect there are things down there, creatures of the dark, and they’re the ones putting the pieces in the bucket. Do you want to meet them? They probably have teeth.

That’s why the second book is really scary, because as you listen to the clatter of the bucket against the crusted walls, before you peer fearfully into the bucket… you’ve no idea what might jump out.

3 thoughts on “Writing and the Unknown

  1. ‘You don’t think too closely about that well. Who knows where it leads to, or what strata it passes through? It’s dark, it’s probably unsanitary, and there’s no way in hell you’re climbing down there to have a look. Besides which, you suspect there are things down there, creatures of the dark, and they’re the ones putting the pieces in the bucket. Do you want to meet them? They probably have teeth.’

    So you’ve read my second novel then?

    Seriously, I love this post. Where do ideas come from? I think China Mieville once said all the things we love and the various experiences we’ve had contribute to a brain soup (it might have been mind soup).

    Hmmm. Brain soup.

  2. It’s your “difficult second album.” Will it live up to the promise of the first, while yet maintaining a level of invention and originality that is all its own?

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