A Novel Approach

A Novel Approach

It’s Day 7 of my January challenge to write a novel in a month and it has become painfully obvious that I have bitten off way more than I can chew. This is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done.

I never understood before what people meant when they said that they didn’t enjoy the “writing process”. I love writing! (I thought) Why are they trying to be writers if they don’t like writing? (I scoffed) More fool me.

Instead of flowing from brain to keyboard to screen, I feel like I am having to push the words into shape, contorting and twisting them into unnatural configurations. Paragraph by paragraph I corral them into some semblance of meaning, hoping that they make sense when read together with the ones that come before them. Worst of all I feel like my vocabulary has abandoned me. All the good words upped and left, and only the dull, clunky and inelegant ones remain available for my use.

I suspect that part of the difficulty lies in my choice of genre. Sci-fi novels are plagued by all the same difficulties of character-building, mood-setting, tone, pace, and dialogue as other stories, with the additional burden of having to create a whole new world from scratch. The Book of Genesis is seeming ever more implausible — it would have taken ages to even come up with the idea of Earth, the solar system, the galaxy and all the things in it, let alone turning them into reality. And we’re meant to believe it was done in 6 days plus a day off? Unlikely.

I have even started to question the decision of writing fiction at all; non-fiction would have been a much safer option. Indeed, as I watch these words fly across the pages of this blog the point is reinforced: my writing speed is more than halved when I am attempting fiction. I now realise this is to be expected, but my original ambition of writing 4,000 words per day for a total of 80,000 in a month (plus time for research and editing) has been shown to be a complete joke. So naive! I’m struggling to get down 1,500 in a day, which is less even than the recommended number for NaNoWriMo.

I should probably give myself a break (cutting other people slack is actually one of my 54 resolutions and I am considering adding a reflexive version for next month). After all, in 6 days I have come up with a complete plot (the final touches came to me while I was out for cocktails on Saturday night – inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places), I’ve written an 11 page detailed chronology of all the events in the story (although admittedly half of each page is dedicated to potential plot-holes), 6 pages of character sketches, and 18 pages of supporting notes, ideas and miscellaneous (and illegible) scribblings. On top of that I have written 3,000 words. That’s not nothing. It is 3,000 more words than I had last week and, perhaps even more importantly, I have done the hardest part — I have begun. This idea has been knocking around my brain, neglected, unloved and unused for 10 years, and now it has a future, however murky and tortured.

Pat on the back thus administered, I’m still going to need more of a plan if I’m going to get through this month. “Just write” isn’t cutting it for me.

The first prong of my plan is to capitalise on my “golden hours” of writing. I can pull together a blog post late at night but the novel demands attention early in the morning, ideally before anyone else is up to disturb me.

Secondly, I need to resist the urge to edit and re-write. Perfecting previous sections robs time from even starting later sections. Plus the editing process is somewhat mechanical and, I understand, should not allow it to intrude on the creative process of writing. Book in a Month recommends writing “as if”: you note down the change you need to make and then continue writing as if you have made that change. You can go back and edit previous sections later.

Finally, I need to stop dithering and just bash it out. This involves accepting that, at least in its first incarnation, this is not going to be a thing of outstanding beauty. No one will shed a tear over my haunting turns of phrase and evocative use of language. Indeed, the reality is that no one will read it at all if I don’t finish it, so I better get cracking.

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8 thoughts on “A Novel Approach

  1. Keep on at it. Your first draft will rarely be the best example of your work, especially if its your first novel (heck, I know people who still cringe upon reading the final drafts of their work). Remember that you’ll spend a lot of time editing, where you’ll have a much broader view of the work as a whole and have a better idea of where the right words are needed.
    In the meantime, write like you’re digging for the gold under your keyboard !

  2. My favorite quote when it comes to writing is to “kill your darlings.” In other words, don’t get too attached to anything. The more you devote to anyone section, the better chance that you fall in love with a turn of phrase or idea. Instead, keep up your “just keep plugging away” philosophy and then circle back. If you’re in love with nothing, you’re in a far better place to begin your editing, the honing, and crafting! Annnnd…if you have a spare couple hours, you should probably read “Letters to a Young Poet.”…an excerpt….

    “There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity….”

    • This is great advice! I think I’ loving my draft just enough to get on with it but am comfortable with delete. And I think I must write, I just need to resist the urge to think about whether *this* is the book I must write or whether it’s actually something else…

  3. M: I am not a writer, but learned from various writing “gurus” that one should first write like a “madman” (i.e. without pausing to edit, write as it flows from you – don’t even stop to correct the spelling!), and then, bring the “architect” (i.e. edit away). I don’t know if this technique works, but might help to meet your deadline. So far, it seems, you are doing well.

    • Thanks! I think I need to bring more madman to the process! So far the architect has been really trying to take over!

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