Today, the 1st July 2017, is the one year mark since I went a bit mad, quit my nice, secure, well-paid job with paid holidays and a pension, and decided write a novel. It’s a good time to take stock and reflect on where I am, the big lessons I’ve learned, and where I want to go next.
Lesson 1: A year isn’t a long time when you’re writing a novel
I thought a year was loads of time. I thought I’d have a bit of spare time at the end to kick back and chill while waiting for the publishers to come-a-knocking. I’ve missed my twelve month deadline, but I’m not beating myself up about it. I’ve shifted it to my birthday, the 14th August, and on that date I am just stopping. Ready or not. I’m drawing a line and accept that ‘this is my novel’.
When I set my twelve month deadline I didn’t take into account the following:
- Learning, learning and more learning
- Trial and error
- Reading, reading and more reading
- Allowing the book to rest between edits
- Cats demanding belly rubs
- So much editing, oh sweet Jesus, the editing
- Life outside of writing
- More editing
- Cats lying on my keyboard
- Paralysing fear
- Amusing cat videos
- Did I mention editing?
- That a year is a very short time to write a novel. Even seasoned novelists struggle with twelve month deadlines. Given that I had so much to learn, it was always going to be tight for me.
Lesson 2: Writing full-time is feckin’ lonely, man
Writing is lonely. There are aspects of office work that I definitely miss, and people are one of them. I’m not as much of an introverted misanthropist as I thought I was. I like humans. Most of them are grand. I miss my co-worker humans, not enough to leave writing behind, but just enough to make me think I need part-time work outside of writing, because I need people. No woman is an island.
Lesson 3: Writing is a craft, so I have to keep learning
I wrote about this in an earlier post, about the craft of writing. I thought that having a ‘big idea’ should be enough. What an arrogant prat I was. How naïve! Having said that, I don’t like the idea of writing-by-numbers. I definitely believe that rules are made to be tested and bent and broken, but that ultimately, you must know the rules you’re breaking. Rule-breaking must be conscious, so that you can weigh-up risk and benefit, so that you can go into it knowing that this is the right decision for YOUR book. I know now that nobody else can make that decision for you and you have to trust yourself. But that knowing the rules first is imperative.
Lesson 4. Writing is hard and letting go is the hardest part
I was lulled into a false sense of security when I started writing my novel. I remember the elation I felt when I finished my first draft. I thought
‘I have something great here. That’s the hard part over with. Time to do a little tidying up, and on to the next book!’
How wrong I was. I thought the rest of the writing process would be as easy, if not easier, than the first draft. It isn’t.
Writing is hard.
I’m on my final draft now, and this is the most difficult part of the writing process by far. It is when self-doubt begins to sneak in, when you begin to question every word you’ve written, when you find it hard to be objective about your work.
I’m going around in circles trying to decide what needs to be fixed, and how to go about it, and where to start. I’ve never been in such a death-spiral of confusion and indecision before and I’m not sure where it’s coming from. I had a think about it the other day, and I think it’s a mixture of two things, fear and perfectionism which is manifesting itself through procrastination. I’m a bit afraid of changing my novel and making it worse. I’m a bit afraid of not seeing its flaws, not changing it, and that it won’t be good. I’m a bit afraid of finishing up and letting go and putting my novel out there. And I’m definitely afraid of letting go if my novel isn’t absolutely perfect.
I know what I have to do. I have to fix plot-holes, rework the story, rewrite scenes, revise dialogue, do additional research blah, blah, blah. But I don’t know where to start. I’ve ignored all my own advice, and found myself in a rut.
I just need to remember to just approach everything in small chunks, and not become overwhelmed by the mammoth task ahead of me. I’m taking a mini-break from the novel to write a few other bits, and I hope that’ll press the ‘reset’ button, and get me over this massive hump.
Lesson 5: Walking is amazing for problem-solving and inspiration
Stephen King’s, On Writing was what got me started with walking every day. I have always been averse to moving my lower limbs, so I would never have tried it only for he suggested it and he gives pretty good advice. I now believe this is the best piece of advice he gives in his book. I wrote about this in an earlier blog-post, but walking takes your addled and foggy brain and gives it a good shake. All kinds of amazing things flutter down from secret compartments up there. Inspiration is found, problems solved, plot-holes filled, story structure repaired. Your brain just whirrs into life, like a machine, and starts spitting out all this good stuff. I can’t explain it. I just know it works.
Lesson 6: I love writing. I’m addicted to it. I can’t stop.
What is getting me through this final-draft process is that, at the finish line, there’s a shiny new novel waiting for me to start writing. The first draft process, which is just so pure and exciting and so much fun, will begin anew, because I love writing. I’m not stopping. I can’t stop. I have to write.
Lesson 7: I’m willing to have less money if I can keep writing
I have a lot less money this year, and yet I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve learned that I’m willing to be financially poorer in order to write. I don’t know if I can make a living, let alone a good living, as a writer. I’m aware that in most cases, writers can’t live on their writing income alone. Although I hope to be the exception, and that my writing will sustain me, I’m realistic about this.I know the in the near future I’ll have to return to office work as I look for a publisher or an agent. What I know for sure is that when I do, I’ll choose a job that won’t prevent me from writing: either because it leaves me with no time to write, or because it causes me so much stress that I find I can’t write.
Lesson 8: Writing can heal you
Writing reintroduced me to myself. As a young child I loved my own company. I loved to write and read and paint and daydream. Time alone was really important to me. As I grew older I began to feel anxious in my own company. Being alone meant that I had to listen to my own thoughts. I had become prone to some dark moods, and I would go through phases where I couldn’t shut off the loops of negative thoughts. Other people were my panacea. They were a distraction.
I am now content to be alone again. I no longer have anything to fear from my own mind. Though I spend more time ‘in my head’, ironically, writing has forced me to reconnect with the world around me. I am seeking out sensation, beauty, emotion. Writing helps me to make sense of the world, put my thoughts in order and put life in perspective. Regardless of whether you’re planning on publishing your work or whether you’re just journaling for yourself, writing is cathartic, and healing.
Writing is a really good thing. So I write. And so should you.