Writing yourself out of the doldrums

More thanks, this time to the children from Macclesfield Library reading group and Middlewich Primary School, who I met last week to talk about Riding Icarus. It’s so great to have an opportunity to meet such enthusiastic readers and many budding writers. As always, there were lots of wonderful questions; I think this time my favourite was “When you’re angry does your writing come out angry too, and when you’re happy do you write happy things?”

How much does what ends up on the page reflect what’s going on in real life?

If I’m in a really bad temper, I find it hard to write at all – unlike during my angsty scribbling teens, when the number of pages I wrote increased exponentially with the badness of my mood. Back then, I was writing to escape into an alternative world that was way more satisfying than my own.

These days, I like to think that what I write is less of an escape, and is more independent of how I’m actually feeling. Although a novel overall surely reflects the author’s overall worldview, when you’re in the middle of writing one you can’t write in a tragic scene every time he doesn’t call or the train is late, or alternatively decide that everyone’s going to live happily ever after on the final page just because you got invited to a party on Saturday (well you could, obviously, but I’m not sure the results would be worth reading).

A good writing day for me is one where I’ve got completely into the internal logic of the book and can see what the next development should be (happy or sad) and how I should write it irrespective of whether I think the real world that day is a good place to be or a miserable slough of despond.

So, I guess my answer would be: no; I can write a sad scene when I’m feeling bouncy (easy!), and a cheerful scene when I’m grumpy (though that’s harder). On a really good writing day, a cheerful scene I’ve just written might even spill out into real life and I’ll end up feeling that the world isn’t actually a slough of despond even though he didn’t call and the train was late; it’s full of sunshine and balloons.

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