Words for all seasons . . .
… or how this beautiful oak tree helps me chart how close I am to a writing deadline.
You see my study’s on the third floor, my desk’s situated in front of a picture window and the tree pretty much dominates the view.
I generally start work on a new book in the autumn and when I look out the oak’s leaves are just beginning to turn. I see every shade of russet under the sun – when I’m not catching odd glimpses through seasonal mists of mellow fruitfulness.
As the leaves slowly and steadily fall, I’m writing the opening chapters – laying hooks, planting plot seeds, introducing characters. In as far as an author embarking on a novel can be, I’m fairly chilled and laid back.
When there’s a chill wind outside, the leaves have all but gone, the branches nearly bare. At this point, I know I should be about a third of the way through the story. If my output’s not on track, I might begin to feel the first faint stirrings of unease.
Those feelings increase considerably if the word count’s still down when the first snow falls and the tree forms part of a winter not-so wonderland. If I’m not halfway to the finishing post, I know I need to speed up or risk not hitting the deadline.
That’s easier said than done, of course. As we know, writing isn’t like building a wall or knitting a scarf. It’s impossible – or should be – to create and sustain a fictional world to order.
Even so, I plough on and I’d love to say that when the tree’s first pale green buds begin to show, my fresh ideas have started to shoot and the creative juices are flowing. I’d love to say that. But it wouldn’t be true. It would be fanciful and wishful thinking. There are times when the words just don’t come. Or at least they do, but not the right ones and not necessarily in the right order. In fact, I feel that in some ways the more I write the harder the challenge is of doing it well.
It’s then when experience kicks in. I recall that there’s always a phase when I fear this is the book I won’t be able to finish, that the narrative strands just won’t weave together. I have to remind myself how many books I’ve written. That no one said – heaven forbid – that it would be easy. That it takes persistence, professionalism and faith. ‘Keep your nerve’ an editor told me years ago and it’s probably the best writing advice I’ve ever been given.
So what do I do? I work through the doubts. I keep my head down, my bum on the seat, my fingers on the keyboard. I work later into the evenings and every weekend if need be. I might spend a little less time looking through the window . . .
Then suddenly it’s summer time and I look up and the tree’s not only in full magnificent leaf but I have a completed script under my author’s belt.
Winter, spring, summer and fall – you could say I have a writing buddy.