It doesn’t happen often, that I am left speechless. Even if it’s only a curse I can usually muster a couple of words.
Being unable to write is a new experience. Never have I stared blankly at a bare sheet of paper for ten minutes and failed to find a single word worth writing.
But on Wednesday that’s what happened. Unnerving.
I’ve sometimes been called a novelist. The definition of a novel is a story invented by the writer – a tale about imaginary characters and events. In other words, fiction. The person who writes a novel is a novelist.
All my books so far have been non-fiction. They are about actual events, people and places. They are not novels, and I am not a novelist. I’m a writer, or author. However it is increasingly common to hear all writers referred to as novelists. Does it really matter except to the pedants?
But I have meandered away from the point.
Our guest speaker at the May literary luncheon hosted by Charroux Literary Festival was the effervescent Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova novels. After lunch Alison held a workshop on ‘character and setting.’ The first part of the exercise was to create a character. In ten minutes.
While the 17 other guests bent their heads and wrote diligently, my mind became a vacuum. The minutes ticked by. Alison called: “You have five minutes left!”
I felt a wave of panic. This is how Masterchef contestants must feel as the clock ticks down and their panna cotta hasn’t set. I quickly scribbled down the most clichéd character imaginable, and as quickly scribbled them out. When our ten minutes was over, my character was non-existent. It’s the hardest piece of writing I’ve never done. I could feel sweat trickling down my back, and my throat had dried up.
Things looked up when we went on to the second element of the exercise, creating a setting. From nowhere came a muse who settled on my shoulder and helped squeeze out a couple of hundred words.
The final part of the exercise was to swap all our characters and settings around anonymously, and create a story from them. Pity the poor person who was landed with my non-character.
I landed on my feet, as the character and setting, although devised by two different people, could have been written for each other, and I regained my writing mojo, for the first time actually writing fiction. And loving it. Something I have never believed I am capable of. That doesn’t mean I’ve become a novelist – 200 words do not a novel make, but I can see a glimmer of light beckoning from the end of a previously unknown tunnel.
Since then I have been creating characters in my head, and without the pressure of the ticking clock have found it addictive and fascinating.
Alison is – forgive the cliché – a prolific author with a huge fan base, and has written five novels in the Roma Nova series in three years. She also blogs energetically and offers advice and help for writers. I bought her book The 500 Word Writing Buddy which contains no-nonsense, succinct advice delivered with a generous dollop of humour. It has motivated me to hope that one day I will deserve the title of novelist.
First, however, I must finish the current non-fiction book I am working on. 🙂