The First Draft: Post 1- Digging for The Big Idea

Archaeology must be a tough career. I mean, those lads/ladies spend a lot of time digging. They dig, and dig, and dig and I’d imagine that most days the only treasures they find are some raggedy old shopping bags, a used condom, and a broken bottle.

If you think I’m being facetious, I’m not. I’m very grateful because most of what we know about the human race and the history of the earth is thanks to them. That they continued to go to work every day and come home most evenings with nothing more than a sore back and dirty fingernails. Their tenacity, passion and their faith are what drives them to do the work that they do. Where would we be if they hadn’t bothered looking beneath the soil because it was too much hard work? How many pieces of the puzzle of our past would we be missing now?

Every novel starts with an idea, but where to find it? For me, the job of uncovering ideas for stories is similar to the work of an archaeologist. Like an archaeologist, you must be committed and you must have faith and you must keep digging. Oftentimes you end up uncovering the literary equivalent of a well-buried dirty nappy, but sometimes you’ll find a gem: something precious, something rare, something significant. If you just let the earth lie, you’ll never find anything of substance.

Coming up with the big idea for your first novel might come easily to you. For me, it emerged after a number of weeks of committing to a daily writing practice. The idea for my novel started out, like all ideas, as a faint silhouette, something that had no discernible shape or immediate merit, but it was an idea that I couldn’t ignore. I had to write it down.

It began life as a short story, but as I wrote my protagonist, I started to realise that his story couldn’t be told in 3,000 words. There was so much more to him than I’d anticipated. The more I wrote him, the more he revealed to me, and the more compelling his story became. After a few days, I found that I couldn’t think about anything else but the journey of this character. Even when I was carrying out mundane daily tasks, or sleeping, my thoughts were never far from his story, and my brain was whirring away quietly and discreetly in the background, shaping it.

Whether his story will be as compelling to other people as it is to me, I don’t know. Whether I am yet capable of doing the idea justice, I don’t know. All I know is that I believe in Tommy’s story. I know it has the potential to be part of a really great novel. And I would never have found it if I hadn’t carried on digging.

I believe that if you keep writing, you’ll find that big idea for your novel. When it comes to you, you’ll know. You’ll know it’s the one because you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. It’s an incredible feeling, something like falling in love. Being in its company will be effortless. And like a person in love, you’ll look forward to spending time with the idea, allowing it to take you on a journey of numerous magical paths (and dead-ends) as it reveals itself to you.

Over to you: What inspired your big idea? Did you have to dig for it? What advice do you have for an aspiring novelist who can’t get off the blocks?

How I Got Here: Pathways

Catherine Day Pathways

My dream of writing a novel began in childhood. That magical time when we are allowed to believe that we can do or be anything we want, and when we are naïve enough to believe that our dreams can come true just like that! I carried some of my naivety into the first attempts at writing my novel. After numerous false-starts I realised that it wasn’t going to happen without some help.

So I decided to revisit the wise 124 year old Catherine on her deathbed.

‘I’ve decided to do you a favour. I’m going to write that novel, so that you don’t have any regrets when you finally kick the bucket. Please tell me, oh wise one, where do I begin?’ asks the present me.

‘Oh, just get on with it, for fuck’s sake’, replies the tetchy, 124 year old me.

‘But I can’t. I can’t just write a novel! I don’t know how!’

The 124 year old me rolls her eyes at present me:

‘Stop making excuses, you gobshite. You’re a great one for the excuses, you are’.

‘You’re really mean, future me!’ present me replies petulantly ‘and incredibly foul-mouthed’.

‘I’m old, decrepit and dying, I can be as fucking mean and foul-mouthed as I like. You’ve never written a book before, what do people do when they’re trying something for the first time?’

Present me looks at 124 year old me blankly.

‘Use your noggin, you eejit. Learn from those that went before you, like everything else. Now while you’re here, you can empty my colostomy bag’.

Angry, I go over to the life support machine beside her and pull the plug instead. As I walk away my anger subsides and I realise:

By jove, she’s right! I must to learn from those that went before me!

Pathways to success had been pre-lain for everything else I had succeeded at in life. Those pathways were nice and straight. They were clearly marked, if you put in the work, and  had enough determination and grit you were certain to get you to your destination. Want to get good marks? Study. Want to become a lawyer? You get an apprenticeship and pass your law exams.

It’s hard to believe that pathways have been mapped out for writing novels, but they have. I say pathways, plural, as from what I can see, there are multiple ways you can approach writing your novel at the outset. The pathways appear to be meandering and confusing and lonely, and I have a feeling that I’ll reach a number of crossroads, and it won’t be clear which way I need to go, but the most important thing is that pathways exist. I just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.

Over to you: Have you found the map to your own writing pathway, and if so where did you find it? What advice do you have for an aspiring author in terms of their own pathway?

How I Got Here: Turning Fear Around

Catherine Day dreams fear regret

Martin Luther King wasn’t the only one that had a dream. We all have a dream. Every. Single. One of us. His was big. Huge, in fact, and it makes me sad that to this day, his dream still hasn’t been realised. So I play it safe. I dream small in comparison. Like many people, my dream is to write and publish a novel. It is something I’ve wanted to do since I was ten years old, and I haven’t managed to fulfil it, nor have I managed to shake it.

Long before I decided once and for all that I was going to write my novel, I was starting to think about where I was going with my life. I was turning thirty-five, not particularly old, but an age where you’re supposed to be ‘there’. You’re supposed to be ‘sorted’. To anyone looking at me, I was sorted career-wise: I had a good job, I had money, I had security, I had seniority, but I wasn’t happy. Somewhere along the line, whilst forging ahead and ‘getting on with living’, I had left happiness behind.

Despite trying to ignore it, the dream wasn’t going anywhere. It was hanging around, determined to get my attention. Its tactics changed from pestering to bullying on a daily basis. Some days my unfulfilled dream was like a Jack Russell in a YouTube clip. It would jump up and down behind a fence I had constructed in the back of my mind, joyful and enthusiastic. It was telling me I could do it, that I had to do it. On other days, the Jack Russell was replaced by a mean, playground bully. Taunting me. Jibing at me, Sucking at my confidence and self-esteem and telling me that others can do it, but I’m just not good enough.

That I’ll never do it.

In response, I told myself that one day I’d write a novel but that I just couldn’t right now, because it was too big an undertaking and I just didn’t have time. I constantly used work as an excuse not to write my novel, it was a handy one. I could rely on that old chestnut forever if I really wanted to. Work was always going to be there, this huge obstacle/excuse. But why was I hiding from my dream? It took a long time for me to accept the fact that it wasn’t because it was too big, or that I didn’t have time- but that I was afraid of failure.

I was terrified of having had this dream for most of my life, going for it, and failing spectacularly. Fear was making me procrastinate. Fear was making me look for excuses not to write everywhere I could. Fear was stopping me from making a plan. It was all down to fear.

How did I overcome this crippling fear?

I overcame it by turning the fear around. I decided to use fear as a motivator.

The fear of regret.

About a year ago I came across an online article written by a woman named Bronnie Ware entitled Regrets of the Dying’.  This wonderful woman worked for many years in palliative care and had, for the benefit of the living, recorded the five most common regrets that people have on their deathbeds. Ignore this list at your peril!

One of them was ‘I wish I had had the courage to live a life true to myself’ another was ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. These two in particular resonated with me. After reading the article I visualised myself on my deathbed (morbid I know, but bear with me…). Not that I have any choice in the matter, but I plan on dying a peaceful death when I’m very, very old, despite having lived a life of debauchery and excess. I’ll be lying in a very comfortable bed surrounded by my adoring, and impossibly perfect progeny. One of my many great-great-grandchildren, a gorgeous little cherub, of course, will lean in and say:

‘Nanny, I know you have achieved much in the 124 years you have been on this earth, but surely you must have some regrets. Tell us Nanny, what is your biggest regret?’

A hush will immediately descend over the room. The many and varied fruit of my loins will move forward, straining to hear my words of wisdom. I’ll open my mouth, and in a feeble, faltering voice say:

‘Not writing my novel’, before uttering a dry, dignified cough and dying with a permanent look of regret stamped on my features.

The more likely scenario is that I’ll open my mouth to speak, but instead break wind loudly, and immediately expire, but regardless, I’ll still regret not having written my novel. Regrets are shitty things to have. What a tragedy it would be, to be preoccupied by regret in the final days of your life, when you should be looking back on all you have achieved. I owe it to that flatulent old lady to write my novel. So that is what I will do. I’ll write it. Be it good, or bad, wherever may lead me, it will be written, and today is as good a day as any to start.

Over to you: Were you scared to embark on your novel? How did you overcome your fear? Where did you find the motivation to start writing your novel and pursue your dream?

I’m actually writing that novel

Catherine Day Office

Hi there, I’m Catherine Day. I’m a solicitor who has taken a year-out to follow my dream and write a book. I’ll blogging about how I went from practising law and writing the occasional short-story, to finally committing and writing that novel.

When it comes to novel-writing, I can’t claim to be an expert in anything but my own experiences. I just hope that in sharing what I’ve learned I can connect with other people on a similar path to me, so that we can support and learn from one another.

I’ll be mostly:

  • Posting about how I reached a place in my life where I was ready to take on the challenge;
  • Mapping out the pathway to my novel’s completion and publication;
  • Posting on my insights and observations as I learn the ropes;
  • Writing about the problems that I encounter and how I overcome them; and
  • Providing booklists and links to the online resources that I use to complete my novel and get it out there.

Because I’ll occasionally need to run away screaming from my novel, I’ll also be posting on non-novel related bits and bobs. I’m still writing short-stories, so I’ll post about that, I’ll be posting reviews of the work of other writers, literary events and any other book-related things that grab my interest.

I’m not only new to novel-writing, I’m also a novice blogger. This is also my first ever blog post, so please be gentle with me. I didn’t expect that pressing the ‘publish’ button to send my first blog out into the ether would be as terrifying as it is!

I hope you enjoy!