This is an unusual post for me, but one I felt like. And hey, I suppose it’s my blog, right? Have some little facts about novel writing that I don’t hear enough about. Oh, and don’t forget the customary self-serving comments on my own work!
Okay, so I’ve been writing for quite a while now, and novels are my main writing format. But still, I hear people talking about novels as though they simply magically appear out of thin air. Sadly, I wish all writers could just have this moment of inspiration and ta-dah! Novel. But that’s just not how it works.
1) It will change. You will ‘kill your darlings’. You will cry, and you will sit at home screaming at a computer because that word just doesn’t sound right (it can’t just be me…)
By means of both an illustration and an update, take my current project. I have re-written it completely from scratch several times. So much so that there are more than six different 90,000 word or so files on my computer with similar names, all for this novel. And, reading them, the characters are the same, the story is the same, but the details are completely different. That’s because (I hope!) I progressed. I’ve been writing this one novel on and off, in the midst of others, for years. Just take a look at the first few sentences…
I’m guessing at the years here, but:
2009: The whole town was separated. From the inside quarter: the polite, respectable, beautiful town that everyone knew. To the outskirts: the debauched, gang-ridden streets that were the home to anyone who didn’t seem to quite ‘gel’ with the inside world.
2011: He sent the manager hurtling into the wall. He’d really sent him flying. Not just a gentle push; a forceful throw.
2011 (later): He was amazing, in a twisted, horrid way. As his hands shot forward, Aeireil could only watch him, praying for the safety of the unfortunate victim. It could have been a great dramatic scene, where everything was sorted out by the end of the play. It could have been a trick of the light that he almost seemed real.
2013: He sent the manager hurtling into the wall with far more force than seemed possible from his scrawny form, tearing Aeireil’s breath from her chest as though he’d done it to her. The sound as the man’s head slammed against the wall was just enough to cover up the sound of her pounding heartbeat, and the whispers from everyone surrounding her.
2014: The first cut alone was enough to make her arm bleed, but she did it a few more times just for good measure. The red blobs swelled and shifted, and finally ran in tiny rivulets down her arm. Transfixed, she watched as small parts of her lifeblood trickled away down the sink. It was only when every drop had vanished from view that she rinsed her arm under the tap, put the razorblade neatly in place in the cabinet, and shrugged a large, knitted, pastel-coloured jumper back over her shoulders.
That was the first word heard. Who it was heard by, what it meant, or why it was said was a matter of opinion. The fact was, there was a body, somewhere, on a platform, with something inside it that heard it. Something that had once been a young girl with a troubled past. It might have been something, anyway. Though since it didn’t know what it was yet…
… They don’t even look like they’re all from the same story! And that’s just the first few sentences, excluding the beginnings that I have been too embarrassed to admit even exist
2) There will be problems. Real life will get in the way. You will forget to write, or your washer will break down, or your fridge, or even you, or sometimes all three.
Notice the gap from 2009 – 2011? … Yeah, I wrote other things in between, but I also wrote less. Life. Sadly it interferes with perfectly decent writing times.
3) It will never be perfect. You will always want it to be.
So many writers look back on their old work and hate it. Hell, most of them look at their current work and hate at least parts of it. But keep going, keep moving with it, and maybe one day you’ll write something that someone really wants to get lost in.
4) And finally, it will TAKE TIME.
Look at those dates up there. Just look at them. Yes, this is the longest I’ve ever spent on a novel, but 2009 wasn’t even when I started. The important thing is, you’re going to have to work like hell. A novel isn’t like a blog post, or even a short story, and it’s nothing like just telling a story to your friends. It may destroy you. It probably will. Most writers are walking around these days with arms hanging off and brains falling out of their heads. Just let us ramble on about our work, though, and we’ll be happy.