Fiction writing 101: the fluffy pink cloud of early sobriety (and writing first drafts)

When I was in early sobriety, I heard people talking about a ‘fluffy pink cloud’. It’s that high that recovering alcoholics get when they’ve put down the bottle and life appears to be falling back into place again – you feel excited about waking up in the morning, and full of hope for the days and weeks ahead (or at least not as full of fear as before). Not everybody goes through this, but I did. It started when I was a few weeks sober, and carried on for a good few months. In that time, I felt alive again. I sang songs in my head as I waited for the bus to to to work, and I looked forward to the weekends where I would drink tea instead of vodka and chat with fellow recovering alcoholics, safe in the knowledge that I had found my tribe. Life was safe again, and I relished every moment, absorbing the goodness and joy in the world around me.

There is also a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: this too shall pass.

And pass it did. The fluffy pink cloud doesn’t last forever, and it can be a double-edged sword. Whilst it is there, it can help you stay sober, to stay away from the booze one day at a time, but there will come a time when it starts to disperse and everyday life just becomes everyday life, in all its grey, tedious and worrisome glory. And that is when the real work of staying sober begins.

But fluffy pink clouds exist everywhere; they are not exclusive to recovering alcoholics (although I do wonder whether there is something inherent deep in many of our personalities that makes us more prone to them than most).

in my life, I experience many fluffy pink clouds, but the biggest and most glorious of all of them is that high I get when I am writing something I love, something I didn’t realise I was capable of. I had it for months when I was writing the first draft of my memoir. I expect I wouldn’t have written it if I hadn’t experienced that high. It’s like a kind of higher power that helps you to believe in yourself, that helps you to plough on and get the job done when the harsh realities of the publishing world and a lack of belief quite frankly would have had you give up at the first hurdle. Fluffy pink clouds are the magic that gets you to the other side without giving up.

And when you’ve got so far, you’re less likely to give up (and that’s the point you need to prop your dreams up with the scaffolding of determination and editing tools).

I’m floating on a fluffy pink cloud at the moment. For years, I thought I couldn’t write fiction. I thought that maybe I just didn’t have the right imagination. Because despite the characters and stories I told myself in my head, they all just seemed to fall apart whenever I tried to get them down on the page. Somehow all the stories I started went the same way. It was almost as if I was trying too hard. So I gave up, and resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t write fiction. No problem, I told myself. I’ll just stick to non-fiction. I mean, I’ve written a memoir. Maybe I could write another? But when I went back to the memoir drawing board, I just kept going over the same old stories again. All roads led back to stories I’d already written.

Now, I guess this is an issue for a lot of writers. You have something you want to say, and you just keep finding different ways to say it. A lot of writers have themes they keep on going back to. So, I had to find out what the things were I wanted to say, and then it would be easy, right?

Sort of. It still took me many, many attempts to get anywhere with fiction though. I wanted to write about addiction, about teenagers, about sex, about families, and I also wanted to write a damn good comedy. And I was attempting to write about all of these things in one book. It just wasn’t going to happen – too much pressure. And I was still trying to write for myself, which was fine for the memoir (to an extent), but what I really needed to do was to branch out and think about audience more.

As soon as I took myself out of the equation, I started to think more objectively about story structure and character arcs, and it was through my reading about the Snowflake method, and authors such as K. M. Weiland and Roz Morris, that I finally had a breakthrough. One night before I went to sleep, I thought out a very sketchy plot involving teenagers, female friendships, absent families and issues surrounding sexual consent. It wasn’t a comedy (alas, I shall come back to The Library Letters when I’ve finished), but I had a few characters I thought I could try to mould. It was perfect. I began writing a brief synopsis and plot the next day, and to my amazement, it didn’t sound trite, like every other attempt I’d ever made at writing fiction.

The plot’s evolved slightly since then, but my passion for the book is still as strong as ever. I’m up to 12,888 words now, and somehow I know this time it’s different. It might be the fluffy pink cloud talking, but I don’t care. It’s helped me to break through the barrier.

I expect the fluffy pink cloud will go pop when I get to around twenty or thirty thousand words (see Emma Darwin’s blog post about the twenty thousand word doldrums here), but for now I’m just enjoying the ride.

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Author: lifeandtimesofamemoirwriter

I am a writer based in East Anglia. Currently writing a memoir about alcoholism and student life during the mid-1990s Brit Pop / Girl Power era (long-listed for the Mslexia Memoir Competition 2014).

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