In the past week, I have added 26 pages to the text and the page count now stands at 103, and 29,665 words. The catalyst that signalled the end of the extended period of writers’ block that I described in my previous post was the introduction of the new character, a Frenchwoman, called Anouk. That is all I am going to tell you about her for the moment.
Anyway, we forge ahead. It may have taken me six months to write the first hundred pages, but remember that I spent much of that time doing other things and unable to work out how to progress this novel. Those clouds have now cleared, as they always do. It won’t take another six months to write the second hundred, more like six weeks at the outside. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island in just six weeks – and he was writing by hand with a pen. It just shows how quickly you can go when the juices are flowing. On the other hand, it took Leonardo da Vinci four years to paint the Mona Lisa. The uninitiated may ask how could it possibly take that long. The painting is not big, a mere 30 inches high. That is not the point. The point is getting it right, and that requires painstaking effort and constant revision. The visitor in the Louvre sees the end product of his effort, not the volume of work, thought and frustration that went into creating it.
It is the same with a novel. By the time it is published, I will have rewritten it several times over, both on the hoof while writing it and subsequently in editing. It isn’t just a question of thinking of the words and writing them down. Or, in the case of a modern writer, typing them out on a computer.
Michelangelo was commissioned to do a fresco (a painting directly on a wall) by a wealthy merchant. He asked for the wall to be freshly whitewashed and a chair to be provided before he turned up. When he arrived, he sat on the chair and stared at the wall. For four days. A clearly concerned patron asked him when he would be starting, and Michelangelo looked at him as if he was an idiot. “Start!” he proclaimed. “I’ve finished! All I need to do now is colour it in.”
That is the crux of the issue. A work of art, or music, or literature is not just the product of somebody’s skills. It is, primarily, a product of their brain.