NUMBER ONE: SELF-DELUSION
I used to think that luck, hard work and a bit of talent was all I needed to write. But experience has shown me otherwise. Over time, I’ve come to realize I also require several other – far less noble – qualities. And as I gear up to start a new book, the item at the top of my must-have list is self-delusion.
I can’t speak for all writers. I can’t even speak for ten. But I find it hard to imagine that anyone sits down at a computer, types CHAPTER ONE, then draws a deep breath of anticipation and thinks: I’m going to write a fairly good book, which will sell moderately well, get a few nice reviews and may even win a small prize somewhere.
I certainly never think that. Even if I know, given all the hurdles involved in writing and marketing fiction, it would actually be a fine outcome. Something in fact, to hope for.
One of my favorite passages in all of literature is a description of a dream in Roald Dahl’s BFG.
I HAVE RITTEN A BOOK AND IT IS SO EXCITING NOBODY CAN PUT IT DOWN. IN ALL THE CITIES PEEPLE IS WALKING IN THE STREETS BUMPING INTO EACH OTHER BECAUSE THEIR FACES IS BURIED IN MY BOOK AND DENTISTS IS READING IT AND TRYING TO FILL TEETH AT THE SAME TIME BUT NOBODY MINDS BECAUSE THEY IS ALL READING IT TOO IN THE DENTIST’S CHAIR. DRIVERS IS READING IT WHILE DRIVING…BRAIN SURGEONS IS READING IT WHILE OPERATING ON BRAINS AND AIRLINE PILOTS IS READING IT AND GOING TO TIMBUCTOO INSTEAD OF LONDON.
I’m always reminded of this passage when I start a new book. I have a vague sense of my story, an image of my main characters and perhaps two or three scenes that stand out vividly in my mind. But nothing has been put into words yet. The screen is still blank. And I think maybe this time, this time, I’m going to write something so brilliant, so compelling, so heart-wrenchingly good, that it will stop the world itself from turning for a second or two.
That won’t happen. Of course it won’t.
Because without that probably, that spark of completely unrealistic, delusional, almost demented magical thinking, I’d never start writing anything at all.
I’d do something else instead.