I am made from gossamer and the wind is howling

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled to write anything as hard as “Experienced.”  I even wondered if I had writer’s block or if I just too stressed to write or was perhaps even all written out.  I thought I might be losing my touch until I remembered how easily (and how recently) I’d been able to write “Woken” and the final story for the first volume of The Exodus Sequence.

Writing “Woken” was a writer’s dream:  most of it was written during that unbelievably hot bit of the summer last year which made the creation of a love story burning with desire really quite remarkably easy to write.  The summer was still going strong when I got the freezing cold parts of the south pole – a huge relief after all that sweat and heat and passion.  The story itself seem to fall from my fingers.  I had no trouble at all getting inside the head of the main character.  I could feel everything he felt, quite literally, as it’s a very tactile tale.

The final story for the Exodus Sequence (the title remains under wraps until I publish it) was quite different – much more starkly written after the lush, slightly overblown fantasy style of “Woken.”  The main character was female and couldn’t have been more different.  It took a couple of goes but I found her “voice” quite quickly.   She couldn’t have been further removed from Meridian and Nimue in “Woken” who were both sharp and intelligent and extremely sensitive.

Having produced these two stories with such ease left me feeling quite confident – it seemed time at last to tackle “Experienced.”  I had started it at least a year before but abandoned it soon after the main character reaches the Circle.  I knew exactly where the story was going but didn’t know how to get there.  Also, I wanted it to be a series of drug trips (though not the sort of drug you find on Earth, you understand), yet I seemed to be writing everything BUT the trips.  Also, the fact that it went through several title changes didn’t bode well – this seemed to tell me that I didn’t really know what the story was about, which rather unnerved me (I ALWAYS know what my stories are about, though readers might not.)

Having taken time off work especially to work on “Experienced,” it soon became a harrowing ordeal.  I restarted it about seven times.  I changed the third person to first person (disregarding the opening few pages which is in, er, actually I don’t what it’s called – when you write as if in the first person but use “you” instead of “I.”  Perhaps some clever soul can tell me what that is…) and then rewrote what I’d written several times – and STILL I could not find the main character’s voice.  This was soul destroying as this is the most important character in the entire Exodus Sequence.  He is, truly, the main character.  He’s the one it’s all about.  And his voice inside my head was silent….

…..which made me realise (at last) that he was silent.  He was the one that never spoke.  Things took off from there – finally – though it was still difficult.  The ending, just as in the beginning, was rewritten several times too before I got it right.  And throughout the entire story, all I wanted to do was write the ending.  It was the most important part.  For me, it was the most powerful.  Nearly twenty thousand words to get to the last sentence.  When I was done, though, at last, I felt elated.  It was a day when everything went right, when the world was a beautiful, sunny place, when I was happy and joyous and loved everyone –

It’s been two weeks since that lovely day and my life has CRASHED around me.  Three days later, I had just managed to work out that I might have a computer virus when my broadband died.  A day later, after the Virgin engineer had been, I found the virus and killed it (hopefully.)  I also had to battle the housing benefit office (a battle that is STILL ongoing), the taxman sent me a demand for my next assessment, the shoulder specialist told me that the only way I was going to have a pain-free life was to have a ghastly operation (no thanks), and I got my head bitten off by the H & S guy at work which caused untold problems when I complained (bravely, I thought.)

Some weird stuff is going on here.  I finish the most difficult story I have ever written, feel real joy for the first time in a VERY long time and then my life collapses uncontrollably.  I’m left feeling I can’t cope with anything, that I’m utterly all alone, I cannot speak because no one can hear me – who does this sound like?  The main character – he who does not speak – from “Experienced.”  It wasn’t that I couldn’t find his voice, it was that his voice was mine.  I was writing a character that was too close to me.  I’ve struggled with this before but here, at least, I can take heart because the last character that was essentially me was Vincent Gomenzi and in the end, I got him right.  It took me two gruelling years but I got a nearly-full first draft down after ten thousand edits (and another one to come this summer when I get it into a publishable state!)  But still.  I am made of gossamer and the wind is howling.

I’ve published “Experienced” free on my website for all to read.  It’s still needs work, not least some paring down of the more lumpen bits.  That elation has long, long gone.  I have almost no confidence at all in this story now and my life continues in the kind of chaos I can’t deal with (much ostriching). I would be delighted if any of my blog followers could comment on “Experienced.”

http://www.susannahjbell.com/short-story-experienced.html

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About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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