Crime writer Ian Rankin did a documentary for the BBC this week (watch on iPlayer if you can) and it was fascinating to watch a programme about a best-selling author and see him go through the same process and doubts that I have gone through.
He describes writing his new book like being on a roller coaster – one day he likes it, the other he doesn’t, one he knows what he’s doing, the other he doesn’t. He talks about not feeling in control of the process, having a fear of writing – “There’s a lot to be afraid of writing a book”. Mostly he acknowledges the hard work involved in writing a book. Watching someone who has published so many books to so much success grapple with these feelings I have to admit gave me a big shot of relief.
Talking about finishing a first draft, Ian said he didn’t know who the killer was yet. WOW. I’m always scared to read back a first draft for how hideous it might be but to see this established author write a draft that doesn’t actually have an ending and to not know how it should end yet was a big eye opener. Everyone writes in different ways. All my firsts drafts have had endings and after editing have broadly stayed the same. I know where I wanted the book to go. This just shows there is no right way to write a book. We all do it differently.
The more I get to know other writers, the more I can see that we are all tough on ourselves a lot of the time. We are our own critics. I doubt we will ever write a book and think it’s amazing all through the writing and editing process. There will inevitably be a wobble or two – a moment where we question our writing skills. Where we think we suck. Knowing this has helped me no end. I’m not alone with my self doubt. And even with self doubt, a novel can be produced. It can be successful. Just look at Ian Rankin.
As Ian’s wife in the documentary said “writing is solitary” so learning from other writers and feeling like we have things in common really help. And even best selling authors can learn and be inspired by other writers. In the documentary, Ian showed the camera the quote he has stuck to his wall above his desk:
“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea” – Iris Murdoch
What lessons have you learnt from other writers?