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A Writer On Writing: Notes From A Hospital Bed

"So don’t let that unknown black hole of hard work frighten you off attempting a longer piece of writing,'' advises Sally Jenkins, prompted by a short stay in hospital to bring this sound advice to would-be authors.

A few days ago I had to go into hospital for a minor operation. Like most people, I was nervous and tried not to think about the actual procedure. Instead I tried to focus on the more pleasant things – such as choosing which book to pack to fill the time before I went down to theatre, going shopping for new slippers (fruitless – they were all old ladies’ styles!) and the relief I would feel when it was all over. If I had dwelt solely on the operation I would have been stressed, anxious and maybe I would’ve chickened out of the whole thing altogether.

Sitting in the ward in a backless gown, thick white anti-embollism stockings and paper pants (too much information – sorry!), it struck me that it was all a bit like attempting a novel. The thought of the huge task of slogging away at 80,000 words strikes fear, anxiety and stress into the heart of any writer – and scares many of us away from starting chapter 1 at all. But taking our eyes off the task ahead and instead concentrating on the preparation (character sketches, plot, chapter outlines etc) and allowing ourselves (brief!) flights of fancy to a future book launch party makes things less daunting - allowing us to slip into the actual writing without too much worry, just as I slipped under the anaesthetic (well, after a couple of attempts by the anaesthetist at finding a vein for his needle).

So don’t let that unknown black hole of hard work frighten you off attempting a longer piece of writing - concentrate on the pleasanter bits to ease yourself into it.


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