This blog first appeared as a guest post on Penguin’s Classy Bird Blog another version (on writing as psychosis) was featured in The Sunday Times.

I am often asked about my writing process; from what inspires my novels, to what extent I map out my plots in advance, to my daily routine and average word count, the editing process and so forth. I pretend to consider these questions, and give answers that I hope sound coherent, by retrospectively imposing order on what is, in truth, chaotic, painful, feverish. If I told you that heroin addiction is its next of kin, you’d think I was lying. Read on. 

I give you the real stages of my writing process:

  • Stage 1: Abstinence

I write nothing.

  • Stage 2: Emotional Trigger

There I am, doing nothing, writing nothing, minding my own goddamn business, when bam … a little twist in someone else’s life story starts to gnaw at the murky edges of my weak mind.

  • Stage 3: Temptation, Fantasising and Denial

I start to fantasise about this other, “borrowed” life. Soon I have persuaded even myself of a reckless hedonism in distant times; an abandon that bordered in the details that come disturbingly easily to me, on the nihilistic during my opium-clouded years in a squalid hotel in Bangkok that smelled of damp and incense and cheap perfume, Lenthéric, perhaps, in the thrall of sordid affair with a married man, whose lopsided smile and louche decadence proved irresistible to me.
But not even in my fantasies am I allowed the forbidden. No, no there are consequences for deceit, for betrayal, for sin. She must be punished, this girl who so wantonly broke the rules. She deserves to be punished. I obsess about her guilt, her shame, the loss she must suffer, her deliverance in the end. Oh, I am judge and jury and the world must bear witness. The temptation to write about this dark tale of erotic obsession grows daily – the whispering to breathe life into those who do not yet exist becomes a clamour. I should write this story. It will be important. And a best-seller. They’ll probably make it into a movie and I will be invited to the premier. No-one will recognise me on the red carpet, until the director points me out in my ravishing gown – the creator of this shocking x-ray of the human psyche that has stunned audiences and critics alike. And it will be my last. My last legacy, my last indulgence of this terrible addiction to living a secret double life charged with adrenaline and cortisol. After this, I will give it up, walk away and never look back. I promise.

  • Stage 4: Surrender

I surrender to the temptation. I begin to write. I am ablaze, incandescent, a gifted alchemist with words that just fall from me faster than my fingers can fly across the keyboard. Even when I’m showering, I have to leap from it to scribble razor-blade insights naked and dripping all over my desk. I hardly re-read what I have written, yet I could weep for its brilliance. I am The Word. And the Word is me. Oh the world will gasp and sink to its knees, especially those who gave me less than four stars on Amazon last time. Those losers will regret their bovine stupidity. Because after I have won a major literary prize I will use the obscene prize money to bribe someone at Amazon to have those reviewers blocked. Or shot.

  • Stage 5: Guilt and Remorse

I begin to feel ill. Gluttonous. I stop, re-read my manuscript and wince, a little. I avoid it for a few days and then re-read it and find it’s crap. Painfully self-conscious, amateurish crap. But it’s too late. I’ve written over sixteen thousand words, and I’m not just going to shred them, now am I? I forge ahead, but my plot, ill-formed and anaemic from chapter one, stumbles down one blind alley after another, the pace sags, my cardboard cut-out characters do exactly what you’d expect of them, mostly make preachy speeches to show-case the research that I’m now doing compulsively to prop up my secretly flagging faith in what I once believed with such zeal I had to tell the world, and my descriptions descend into the hideously over-wrought. Of course they do. I am a cheap fraud, a grown-up playing make believe, indulging in a pretentious ego-wank because I am bored and bitter about my own life spent mostly sitting. No wonder I had to bribe my own mother to come to my last book signing. Jesus. I rip off the little post-it note taped above my computer that reads “Be brave, be honest”. For Chrissake, you’re already hiding behind fiction, I tell myself. Just grow up.

  • Stage 6: Penance

I turn to my editor for salvation.