How I write – Alex Vella Gera
How do I write? The first answer that comes to mind is “I have no idea”. I just write. In other words, I have no particular habits, specific time schedules, periods of day or night or favourite trousers which I wear when I sit down to write. However, obviously, writing is more than just the actual act of writing. A writer is a writer not only when he’s writing but every second of each and every day of his life. Indeed, it is a way of life, a vocation, and one that can easily turn into an obsession (to my wife’s dismay). Writing is a way of seeing things and involves the knack of putting two and two together and getting three, or of joining the dots of disparate strands of life and solving a puzzle you yourself created. This does not necessarily mean living one’s life on the look out for subjects or stories or characters. In my case things tend to happen on a subconscious level, although simple observation and a modicum of self awareness could easily reveal what is really going on. For instance, walking home from work I pass by an open air café where I often spy an oldish man sitting alone at a table drinking a beer. He’s practically always there, day in day out. Our eyes have met a couple of times. The obvious questions one would ask are: What’s on his mind? Who is he? What life did he lead? Why does he keep his hair long? Anyway, recently an idea for a story cropped up in my head, quite suddenly and out of nowhere (I’ll clarify this inaccuracy in a minute) about a man who meets his own self much older. This is a reworking of a Borges short story, by the way. Fine. An old man, who is really you comes back from the future to warn you about a mistake you are about to make which will radically change your life for the worst; a mistake of which he is the result. An interesting idea, but it wouldn’t have gone beyond the conceptual stage if a while later, as I walked by the old man in the café once more, I realised that he was the guy. He was me who came back to warn me. My heart stopped for an instant, not because I believed this realisation literally (I’m not insane) but because the emotional jolt I felt was true and real. Without that sensual contact with the emotional core of whatever you are writing about, a story will not come to life and resonate with the reader. To me, that is writing first and foremost. Now, allow me to backtrack slightly. I mentioned earlier that a story cropped up in my head, quite suddenly and out of nowhere. That is not exactly true. In fact, it is a romantic notion which I would like to dispel. Nothing comes out of nowhere. The reason why I got such an idea for such a story is probably because I have an affinity for time travel stories and because recently I was contemplating the huge burden one feels when one realises the finality of life’s decisions; that is, how one cannot go back and change decisions one has made that brought no joy or satisfaction. As I said earlier, separate strands come together, two and two make three, and imagination takes flight. In other words, what goes in comes out. Whatever you take on board in your life will inevitably find its way into your writing. This may be obvious to most of you, but in practice it can yield surprising results. For instance: the idea for the story I have just mentioned, through which I can address the issue of regret in an unusual way which transcends a simple exercise in genre writing. Naturally, that is just the beginning. The space available to me here is much too limited to even begin to touch on the actual writing of the piece and how serendipity plays magic tricks on the work in progress and gives it a life of its own. I started this article by claiming I have no particular habits when it comes to writing. That’s true, but I am not completely habit free. For instance, experience has taught me that nothing beats a long long walk, preferably late at night, to work out ideas or problems with a story or novel. There’s something about the act of walking that sets my mind on overdrive and more alert than usual. I imagine this is a common feeling, not only among writers. Perhaps it is also the sound of my lonely footsteps echoing down the empty streets at two in the morning. This is such an appropriate image to describe what it feels like to be a writer that I’ll stop there. Alex Vella Gera’s next book, which will be coming out next month, is a novel entitled ‘L-Antipodi’.