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Self-Doubt: Good for the Writing

His novels translated into twenty-two languages, bestsellers on several continents, it would be fair to assume that crime-writer Ian Rankin can sit back a little and relax. Not so.

Initially optimistic before setting to work on his latest project, he quips that, if you’re a novelist, one good idea a year is all you need. On the wall above his desk is a post-it note, a quote from Iris Murdoch: “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”

Whilst an idea is just that – an idea, private, as yet un-aired – the notion of a perfect book remains. It is not long before Rankin rubs his eyes and admits, “The fear has arrived.” And it seems that the fears of an internationally acclaimed author are not so different from my own: fear of beginning; fear of the next page; fear of the next day (and, at the same time, not being able to enjoy the time spent away from the manuscript); not feeling in control of the process; fear he doesn’t know how the story will be resolved, dangerously close to the end. 

What Rankin cannot do is let the fear stifle him. He is working towards an immovable goal. Having started work on his new novel in January, it will be published in November. But his deadline for delivery is actually the end of June. And so that very reasonable-sounding timescale of one year turns out to be six months.

He admits that writing sometimes feels like hard work.

He is affected by bad previews (particularly from people who have not actually read his previous writing).

He struggles to come to terms with his editor’s report, saying that, after thirty years, it seem he still doesn’t know what he is doing. Then he reads it again and accepts that she may, perhaps, be making a good point.       

Then he sets to work again, smoothing his ragged draft down with sandpaper.

Jane has been watching Imagine with Ian Rankin.