One of Stephen King's most intriguing novellas is 'The Long Walk', written as King's alter ego Richard Bachmann. In this story 100 teenage boys gather at the starting line of a life or death marathon. Their task is simple: walk at a steady pace of 4 mph without ceasing. The catch: if they stop they will die. Their aim is to be the last man walking. If they can manage that they will be given everything they've ever dreamt of.
At the start of the 'race' their spirits are high. Some of the walkers work together, encouraging each other. Others become loners and retreat into their own shell. As the walk progresses boys begin to fall away – or rather are shot dead. In the end the last man standing is the only one to survive and win the prize.
Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little. Writing a book is hardly life or death... BUT it does take a certain single-minded madness to see it through, to be the 'last man standing'.
Anyone who has written a book from beginning to end will know there are definite stages along the road. At the beginning the idea is a bright light. It fills your mind with glee and your heart with hope. This will be the one! This one is different! This idea is going all the way! You start writing, and every moment is a joy. You love the characters, the places, the cleverness as the plot twists and turns. You can't wait to sit down at the computer every evening.
The end is pretty satisfactory too. You know you're nearly there! It's like climbing a mountain and seeing one last ridge between you and victory. Somehow you get a second wind. I remember writing the last four or five chapters of The Watchers with a mixture of love, hate and steely determination. You keep going because you're so nearly there.
In The Long Walk the middle section is where most of the walkers fall away - or lie down and die. The middle is where the fun is over and reality is dawning – there's still so far to go! You don't know if you have the reserves to get you to the end. Other people are out in front! Sometimes those people are people who have become your friends. You're not sure if you're going to make it!
In the end, after years of painfully throwing aside half finished manuscripts, I've realised that real writers are the ones who write through the pain. The writers who find agents and advances and publishing deals aren't 'magical'. They don't know the right people. They're the ones who just kept writing, whether they loved it or hated it.
As you can probably guess I'm about half-way through the new book and the pain is raw and fresh... It's a long road - but I'm going to keep walking!