There is nothing more terrifying for a writer than to face the white expanse of a virgin page.
It brings home how alone you are. How terribly, terribly alone.
Which way to turn? Whatever direction you choose is a desecration. Does it not feel a sin to mark the terrain with your pointless remarks? Who are you to record such stuff? Who will be interested in reading your trite observations?
In this bleak landscape, it is easy to mistake the whistle of the wind under the door for the sound distant laughter. (Ignore the fact that, frequently, it is the sound of distant laughter and not the wind under the door.)
The point is to be positive. You may feel completely useless; in truth, you may be completely useless, and, let's face it, most wannabe writers are completely useless. But don't let that get you down. Remember the top half of the best seller list is filled by celebs who find it difficult to articulate their glottal stops, let alone spell them.
A trick I find very useful in dealing with the mocking behaviour of a blank piece of paper is to put it firmly in its place by scribbling my acceptance speech for the Man Booker Prize all over it.
It is never too early to write your acceptance speech. Indeed, I believe it portrays a healthy attitude to write it well before you have written the book. Nothing is more embarrassing than arriving at the plinth ill-prepared – ask Gwyneth Paltrow.
Having written several acceptance speeches in my time - in truth, it is all I have ever written - allow me to pass on the lessons learnt.
Humour: do not confuse accepting an award with being a stand-up comic. It is best to confine your wit to a few self-deprecatory remarks. (Do avoid making any such comments about your ability to write in case the audience agrees with you.)
Erudition: it helps; however, it would be a brave individual to follow in the footsteps of John Berger who, on winning in 1972, questioned the whole notion of the Booker Prize. To quote: “Since you have awarded me this prize, you may like to know, briefly, what it means to me. The competitiveness of prizes I find distasteful.” Disingenuous of him, I say.
Modesty: don't overdo it. Only politicians sincerely believe in modesty in much the same way they most sincerely believe they are mere representatives of their constituents, and genuinely sincerely believe they have been appointed by Divine Right.
On the other hand, it is unseemly to blow raspberries at your competitors as you weave your way through to the podium.
Finally we come to the issue of thanks. Who to thank? There are the obvious candidates – your agent, your publisher, your partner, your children (if applicable), your parents, your grandparents, your grandchildren (if applicable), your pets, your best friend, the partner of your best friend, Microsoft, Apple (choose manufacturer of your computer), all your friends on FaceBook, everyone who follows you on Twitter – you can see how rapidly the list grows out of control.
The solution is surprisingly simple. Just prepare a group message of thanks to everyone relevant and text them once you arrive at that point in your speech. If nothing else, it will prove entertaining as twenty mobile phones go off simultaneously in the room.
Lesson Three is entitled Routine, Routine, Routine. It will demonstrate how easy it is to get to handle the boring bits involved in writing a bestseller, namely the writing bit.