So… this is the year you are going to write that novel, sell a short story to a magazine, publish that memoir. In short, do everything you said you were going to do this time last year but didn’t quite get round to. So what’s different?
You’re more determined/inspired/motivated? Delete as appropriate.
Maybe you don’t need to be any of those things. Maybe it’s simpler than that.
Can I tell you a story?
It is 1997, five a.m. on a winter’s morning. I am asleep in bed when I hear the sound of shouting. I don’t stir much. I think I am dreaming, and even when it becomes apparent that I’m not, I assume that the shouting is aimed at my neighbour, Eric, who lives in the flat above mine. Eric is a commercial window cleaner. His boss picks him up at an ungodly hour to take him to work. Eric is also fairly deaf and in order to wake him, his boss has to bang hard on the door and shout, and sometimes throw stones up at the window.
Today, his boss is making one heck of a noise. Eric must be deeply asleep.
I hear the sound of smashing glass – and it strikes me that Eric’s boss must have thrown one too many stones at the upstairs window. How irresponsible, I think, pulling the duvet up over my head.
“Fire, FIRE, your house is on fire!” shouts Eric’s boss, and finally I rouse myself. Now that is just too much. Someone might think there really is a fire. Now I am angry. I decide to go to my own front door and give him a piece of my mind.
The man standing on my step is not Eric’s boss, but a stranger. A passing taxi driver, I later discover. “Your house is on fire,” he says urgently. “You have to get out.”
And suddenly I realise there are flames leaping out of the windows of Eric’s lounge – which is directly above the bedroom where I slept until a few moments before.
There is no time to fetch so much as my slippers. I and my dogs are out of that flat in seconds. And thankfully Eric isn’t in his either. The fire brigade arrive, the heroic taxi driver melts away into the night. I stand across the road in my nightie and a kindly neighbour’s coat and watch my house burn. One of the more surreal experiences of my life.
Now, I am not telling you all this for dramatic effect, but because of what happened next.
After the fire brigade had made sure the fire was out, a hunky fireman strolled across the road and said to me. “Very soon there will be water flooding through your ceilings. We don’t have much time but is there anything in there you would like to save?”
What would you save in a fire? I didn’t know until that moment. But aside from animals and people, there was only one thing I really cared about in my flat.
At the time, I’d been writing for about ten years and I worked off my dressing table. And it was in the days when it wasn’t so easy to back up your work. (I made copies to floppy discs when I remembered) Ten years of my work was about to be drowned.
So…rather swiftly, the very nice fireman and I carried my tower, monitor and printer – all still attached because there wasn’t time to unscrew any cables out of my ‘shortly to be waterlogged’ flat to the safety of my car. It wasn’t my ancient PC I cared about, but the stories that were on it.
I’ve thought about that incident many times since.
I think I was lucky to be in that fire. It forced me to focus on what my priorities were. Aside from people and animals, writing was the most important thing in my life.
So what are your priorities? If you were in a fire what would you save? If you had six months to live, would you use it to write that novel?
Sometimes I am asked if there’s a secret to my writing success. I think that this may be it 🙂
If you would like to know more about writing short stories or novels, do please check out my two latest writing guides: The Novel Writer’s Toolshed which is available for Kindle £1.88 and in paperback £4.99.