I know doctors, and I know the immense pressure of responsibility that they have in their work. Doubts about competence when it comes to practice is understandable, and the many thousands of doctors in this world who put themselves through that pressure on a daily basis have my utmost respect. What I found very strange when I was watching the television series, was how much I could relate to Radcliffe’s character and his fears concerning that which he is, in theory, competent to carry out. In theory I am a competent writer, but in practice I have an inner fear; a terror that I might not be. At my stage in my writing career I don’t write to make sure I don’t disappoint my audience, mainly because I don’t have one yet; the only people I write for is my characters. I know they aren’t real; I know that they are only alive in my head and in the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written of their story over the years. But I have absolute responsibility for them, and my fear is that I will let them down if I can’t prove my competence.
My fear is utterly justifiable, as I discovered recently. I have been working on my novel, ‘From the Ashes’, for many years on and off between university and work commitments. I have developed my writing with this book as it has gone under several drafts. The influences on it have evolved as I’ve grown from a GCSE student at 16 when I first started developing the characters, into a very different, more mature, in-depth creation that at 25 I have more control over. As a student of history, I have studied the consequences of human decision, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks that I truly understood and realised the flexibility that can exist in a writer’s set of decisions.
I plotted my book about 7 years ago, but it took me 7 years to realise that I hadn’t etched that plot into stone: I’d just put ink to paper. I will admit for the last 14 or 15 months my postgraduate degree and my work commitments have reduced the spare time available to work on my novel, which is good, writers need to step away from their work. Why it lasted so long though is because of the inner fear, the doubt in the back of my mind that I would never really get my novel to work, because no matter how many times I would re-write there would always be something not quite right.
About 6 weeks ago I combined courage with enough desire to write and finally returned to ‘From the Ashes’ and read through the story. In truth the vast majority of the novel captivated me, but it took time for me to get interested, and the reason it took time is because my first chapter was awful. Over the years the only thing I have honestly never changed from my first draft, is the first chapter. It’s been revised a few times just for grammar and the like, but I never touched the characters, the action, and I never changed the plot. Quite genuinely I really do not know why it had never occurred to me before that the first chapter was bad. I’d sat and read through it, and I had to put the book away for the day because the doubt I’d had that I could never make the book work completely overwhelmed me. Thankfully, I’m not a doctor with a dying patient on my hands, I am only a writer, but my heart was crushed at the thought that I had proof sat in front of me that I’m not a competent writer, and that the characters I had lovingly created for nine years had no hope of living their full lives. I couldn’t even introduce them to each other properly, so how, I thought could I weave their entire tale if I couldn’t even manage that was like a knife to the heart. The fear of not being what I dream of being made me curl up in a ball.
My only true vice is tea, not morphine, and I can’t make tea curled up in a frightened ball. I simply wouldn’t be able to reach the kettle. A great deal of what I want my characters to experience is the truth that sometimes to life, means having to overcome what you are afraid of, and if I ever wanted a cup of tea again I’d have to drag myself up to be able to reach over the kitchen counter. So I made a cup of tea, several in fact, and I have ripped my first chapter completely apart, with the same grit and determination that Radcliffe portrayed when ripping apart a man’s jaw. Except for me, I did it on purpose, and the new draft I have for my first chapter, fills me with an inner confidence that I’m not letting my characters down anymore, but without the inner fear, I would have no doubt about my ability, and I would be a bad writer.