Outside the back door there are hundreds of small plants waiting to be planted in the garden. I’m beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed with the amount of work I have created for myself to do.
All these plants to place in tubs or in the garden. Every year I think the same, why did I sow so many seeds? I’ve given lots of plants away but still I’m left with too many for my own garden.
I make the same sort of mistakes with my writing – I have the same self-doubt. Sometimes, in the middle of writing a story I think, “Why did I start writing this?” I worry about my characters; I fret about the plot; I agonise over my style until my hand freezes and I can’t write another word.
I had a similar feeling outside, in the garden, this morning. A cold May wind and a navy-blue sky filled me with gloom and pessimism. “Why did I start digging out these spring bulbs? It’s cold and miserable and pointless.” I came back into the house and I suddenly remembered a moment twenty years ago, when I was writing Truth, Lies and Homework.
My editor at Viking Penguin, Ann-Janine Murtagh, had read the latest draft of the novel. She liked it but she felt that there was too much going on. There were too many characters and too much happening. She asked me a question which has helped me when I’m overwhelmed with my work. “Josephine, what is the story you really want to tell?”
I picked up the manuscript and started to look at it again. “Well…” I began.
“No. Don’t look at anything… tell me the story you really want to write.”
I took a deep breath and I told Ann-Janine my story. “Now write that story,” she said. I often remember this conversation when I’m filled with anxiety about my writing. I ask myself the question, “Josephine, what is the story?” Answering this involves thinking - time away from the pen and the laptop – walking, peeling vegetables or dealing with the too many plants I have grown again this year.
Now that’s another story.