I've read and attended a lot of interviews with published writers and you can probably imagine the variety of questions they get asked: "How often do you write?", "Where do you get your ideas from?", "How much of an advance did you get?" and (the most cringeworthy of all) "I have an idea for a book, what do you think of..." (Cue awkward silences)
I'm not too bothered about writers' inspirational ideas; I mean no disrespect but the answers are often cliched (it's often beside a beautiful lake or watching someone donate money to a homeless person or people gazing at an airport arrivals hall - bleh!) or their writing schedules (hang on, you're telling me I have to write every day? Who knew?). And I genuinely have no interest in writing advances because I know that all writers, apart from the exceptionally talented, or the exceptionally well-connected, make pittance in their books, particularly their first ones.
No, the question that I would love to ask is different. I often scan through writing magazine interviews or occasionally drop in on book launches to see if it is asked and answered. I often visualise myself asking this question and not feeling afraid/embarrassed/silly (take your pick) for having the courage to do so. Ready? Okay, deep breath.
"When did you start taking your book seriously?"
That's it, that's my question.
That's the one that always grabs my attention instantly, because I genuinely want to know the answer. Because I can relate to it. Because I waited a long time for it to happen to me, in fact I always wondered if it would actually happen for me. But it did, thankfully.
I can recall the exact moment I began to take my book seriously. I remember it vividly, although that may only be because it happened only a few weeks ago.
I was driving home from work and it was a sunny evening. I was stuck in gridlocked, commuter evening traffic (as I regularly am) and I was thinking about my novel (as I regularly do). Okay, this next part may sound a little bit weird but bear with me before judging me (too much). As I straddled between 1st and 2nd gear, while occasionally stretching my left leg so as not to get "clutch foot" (it's a term I've coined to describe the dreaded foot cramp that afflicts many rush hour drivers - I'm working on copyrighting it), I was thinking about one particular twist in my book and I was wondering where to go with it.
I remember staring up at the traffic lights, stuck on red for what seemed like forever. I glanced over at the car to my left, inside which was a man who (I'm guessing) was as equally tired and frustrated as me, just trying to get home from the working day as quickly as possible. I really don't mean to sound like a stalker here but I looked at him for a few minutes and as I did so I started to wonder what he would think of my book if he read it. I wondered what this man, middle aged, driving a silver car, maybe married - I couldn't see a ring (okay now I definitely sound like a stalker!) would like to see happen in my book. Would he be interested in the story? Would he care about David? What would he like to see happen at the end of book one?
And then I had what I can only describe as an epiphany: I realised that he will never get a chance to read it unless I write it.
I know that that sentence sounds so simple that it might be hard to understand how I had never grasped it before. But I hadn't. And at that moment, in the traffic jam on a warm summer evening, a wave of panic washed over me. I remember sitting in the car, amidst my fellow commuters, suddenly aware of the responsibility that I had laid out for myself.
If I don't write it, no one will ever know it.
As I opened the window to let some air in for relief, that thought bounced around my head and continued to do so until the lights turned green. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I was engaged in the task of driving, or because I always feel less stressed when the traffic starts moving, but once I got past the traffic lights, I didn't feel quite as overwhelmed.
But it didn't leave my mind. The whole way home I thought about it and as I sat in my sitting room forty minutes later I still thought about it. It was like seeing my novel and my writing process through a whole new light. Something had shifted in that moment, and now it felt so much more real. Scary, overwhelming, immense - there are dozens of negative connotations that spring to mind but I tried instead to focus on the positive ones: challenging, possibilities, pride. And I wrote. And then I wrote some more. And I continued to do that.
That attitude has stuck with me since then. I know it's only been a few weeks but I've taken it so much more seriously. Even my other half comments on how when he gets home from football he knows he'll find me in the office writing, as opposed to sitting on the couch, watching Friends with a guilty face. Now I know that, not only do I want to, but I have to write this book. And now that that decision has been made, the work and the effort doesn't seem half as difficult.
So when the day comes that I get asked in an interview where I was when I started to take my book seriously, I'll know exactly what to say.
"You cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind."
Gordon B Hinckley