On Saturday I sat down at my computer and restarted work on my fourth novel, ‘The Blade’s Fell Blow’. I was surprised how easy it was. Admittedly I had spent some time organising my work before actually sitting down and starting to write again, and this helped enormously. I knew where all my files where, references, character back-stories, timeline, up to date copies of the manuscripts for the two previous books, etc. This meant that when I did raise my fingers over the keyboard in earnest then I had nothing else to worry about; just write.
Although I do undertake a considerable amount of time in preparation for writing, something that is absolutely necessary with the genre of historical fiction, most of the notes that I take are practical rather than part of the creative process. I have both a very good imagination and a good memory, and I employ both to write my stories. In fact I would go so far as to say that I create an entire world in my head. Before I get anywhere near the keyboard I have played out significant parts of the story several times in my mind. In my imagination the characters are alive and interacting with one another; this is the essence of make-believe.
My method of working may or may not be similar to other writers, I honestly do not know, but it is my preferred style of working. I like to imagine scenes and play them out repeatedly, developing dialogue, trying out different characters, looking at it from different angles and then seeing how it fits into overall story. I find that I can imagine quite a lot.
I have said previously that there are no benefits to being disabled and I still hold to this assertion, but one of the other things that I have learned is the personal value of adaptability. My impaired mobility has often resulted in my being a spectator rather than a participant in many activities throughout my life. I was often left on the side-lines. Generally this meant that I sat on my own for extended periods of time and to stave off boredom I would retreat into my imagination. I am sure that this was when I started writing stories to entertain myself.
I spent too much time in hospital as a child. Even just attending for regular appointments with doctors who did not know what was wrong with me involved waiting an inordinate amount of time. This might have seemed like a good time to indulge in some reading but actually I found that despite my love of books I could not concentrate simply because I was suffering from anxiety. I knew that my name was going to be called out at some point, usually later rather than sooner it always seemed, and that fact was both welcome and yet to be dreaded also. The reason for the dread was quite simple; I knew that I was going to struggle to get out of my chair.
My muscles have a hard time switching between relaxed and active. When I have been sat for a while and then have to stand the muscles stiffen up and refuse to relax immediately after the first movement, or even during it. This situation leads to a loss of balance so having something to hold onto, like the back of the chair that is hopefully in front of me, helps. Once I have stood up the next step is just that, a step taken in the direction of the nurse; only that is much harder to achieve because usually I have gone into a period of temporary paralysis. It must have looked quite fascinating to other people also sat in the waiting room. My problems were exacerbated by anxiety because this state leads to the release of adrenalin into my system and that causes more stiffness and temporary paralysis. With the muscles it also causes ‘transient distal weakness’ as well, illustrated by my limbs suddenly switching from paralysis to incapable of supporting me like the flick of a switch. This often results in my knees giving way suddenly and me ending up on the floor.
As might be appreciated, having to consider all of this while waiting for my name to be called made concentrating on reading a book, even my favourite book, practically impossible. Using my imagination to keep myself occupied was far more practical because it helped to keep me relaxed, allowed time to pass, and I did not have to fumble with fingers that were not responding to put away a book while trying to resist gravity and rise from my chair. I could pause my mental storytelling at any point and pick it up again later, while waiting in the apparently endless queue for an X-Ray for example.
I do not think that this coping strategy is unique or wholly original but no one showed it to me, I developed it very much on my own. There could be a comparative similarity with how some other writers have learned to work but I would have to meet and talk to them to verify that. All I do know is that even when I do not have access to a word processor or a pen or even a pencil I can still write using my imagination.
Of course there is one pitfall with this approach and that has to do with memory. Now I said that I had a good memory but even with that attribute I have to admit that I forget things. Distractions can rob you of your train of thought very easily. My only defence against this is repetition. Repeating scenes and dialogue helps to fix them into my memory. I would not say that this is fool-proof, indeed, like everything it is still subject to change. I have often found that when I do eventually sit down and start writing these little scenes that I do change them. The transition from imagination to written words leads to new ideas, new interpretations, and new developments. These changes are rarely radical, however, they are more in the spirit of refinements, or at least that is what I would like to think.
I have become very used to living out these fantasies in an imaginary fashion now. It is a form of make-believe, of creating illusionary scenes and peopling them with characters that are entirely my own creation. I draw them, define them, fill their mouths with words, and play out little melodramas all within the comfort of my own brain. If I could find a device that transcribed my imaginings onto the pages of the books that I want to write then my outpouring of stories would be a flood. Now there is a fantasy that I would like to see realised!