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Listening to the voices


I've already blogged about the voices you shouldn't listen to, the ones that tell you your book is rubbish, that you should give it up, that you're a failure, a fraud, and a fool for carrying on. I'm not saying they don't have a point. Some books really are rubbish and deserve to be abandoned, but most can be rescued and anyway those voices are not dealing with objective truth but an entirely subjective reality. Maybe there are other voices in your life. If you are lucky, they will be kind, encouraging lovely, ones belonging to friends and family who remind you of your undiscovered genius. You shouldn't listen to these either. Even if you did win a composition prize when you were a child or were always top of the class in English. Uncritical praise is as damaging as too critical condemnation. I am going to share a secret, a sacred truth that is never discussed because it is disturbing and not a little weird: the voices you should listen to don't talk about the value of what you are doing at all. They can't because they are part of it, the voices that you should listen to are the voices of the story. You may think I'm mad, which is absolutely your prerogative, but it you are lucky, if you have begun to listen to your own imagination, if you have learned to allow your book its head, if you have moved from playing the role all powerful novelist to humble collaborator with the wilder parts of your own psyche, your characters will take on their own life and they will start to talk. The narrative voice in your head begins to interpolate itself into your daily life and you know that your writing is beginning to take flight. When a book is going well, I imagine whole scenes, on the way to the supermarket. There are arguments, sometimes even fights with edged weapons, as I do the washing up. All day ideas are playing at the back of my mind and I find myself doing much of the work of envisaging the story when I'm nowhere near my desk. If it doesn't happen in the course of writing, it is usually a sign to me that the story is probably a dud or I am not ready to write it. The bit of my brain that makes things up, what one friend calls ' The Fabulator,' is stalled. The voices won't talk if your mind is too engaged with what you are going to do with the book once it is a success. You lock them out if your imagination is too obsessed with the business of making it as a writer. They only come when you stop worrying about what the book is on the outside and start believing in it from the inside. Trust yourself, trust your characters, quieten your doubts, give them the space to speak. Listen to the right voices.

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