Wednesday, March 13, 2013

You need to write the first draft to write a novel

The main thing that I am struggling with as a novel-writer is finishing the projects I start. Like most writers, I start off fully motivated and write at the expense of everything else in my life: going out, eating healthily, maintaining an exercise program, housework.  But, after a while, of life interruptions, my enthusiasm wanes, or I am forced too walk away from my writing in order to get a decent night's sleep in preparation for work the next day, or the kids need me to drive them somewhere, or I just can't put off doing the housework any longer, and return to writing on weekends.  The week long break makes it really hard even when I do have time to write to get back into the project: I spend so much time having to reread my own writing just to get into the right mind-frame that sometimes my precious writing time is almost over before I can even commit a word or two onto the page.

So, tonight, I thought about how I managed to finish two full manuscripts a few years ago.

The first manuscript, well, I didn't consider myself a novelist or a writer.  I just was angry over a personal situation, and wanted to get how I was feeling off my chest.  I wanted for whoever read my 'novel' to come away at the end understanding my point of view and how (and why) I was hurting. The poison inside me was so strong, and I didn't know how else to release it.  So, I wrote about the real situation and 'novelised' it just so I could let it all out and not get sued for defamation in the (unlikely) event that the story ended up spreading beyond my own family and friends.  I wrote feverishly during the day and night for a about a month.  I didn't need to nut out where the story was starting and going:  I knew the full story from start to finish and could pick up exactly where I left off without any 'hiccups' in getting the story to progress seamlessly.

Because I knew the story I was telling inside and out, top to bottom, and from every angle imaginable, when I suffered writer's cramp, I could put my pen down at the end of the chapter or scene, and then go off and do the shopping or the cooking and come back to it refreshed hours later and continue on.

So for this story, the full 'first draft' of the story was written in about a month. Then, when I reread it, I no longer cared for someone else to read it.  I had heard my own point, and no longer needed someone else to validate my feelings, so I let the story go.  I allowed 'forgiveness' to enter my life: I destroyed the manuscript in a cathartic act of letting the past go, for good.

Not long after finishing that manuscript, I entered a full time course in preparation of when I would return to the paid workforce, so I possessed relevant skills and knowledge when that time came.  I became busy doing my assignments: answering questions in written form to demonstrate I understood the learning principles and had achieved basic competence.

I think I realised that I loved sitting down and writing once I had finished doing my courses, and I became saddened when I realised I no longer had mini projects to keep my occupied and entertained while the kids were at school.  And missing the time I spent sitting down researching the topic (to enable me to write my answers for the assessments) and I particularly missed getting my words down and reading back and revising to polish my answers so the marker would give me full marks. So, one day, I just suddenly decided that I was going to try my hand at writing a novel.

I started off doing really well too.

I started trying to write a short story, but I kept being too imaginative with my ideas to cut the stories down to less than 2000 words, less than 1000 words, how the heck do I tell a short story in only 300 words? Logically, after one or two failed attempts at writing a short story to submit to my favourite Short Fiction magazine, I decided I should write a novel.  You know, a full story, like any published author.

It took me a while to think up a story line, and once I finally had my idea, I started.  Only, a person I knew put the seed of doubt in me by asking when I proudly replied to their question of what I have been doing lately because I had sort of disappeared from my social circles, I replied, "Oh, I've been working on writing a novel" which was met with, "Do you even know how to write one?"

I was over half way through writing a Horror novel at that point, and, unfortunately I fertilised that seed of doubt by later questioning, "Do I know how to write a novel?"  and came to the conclusion 'probably not'.  So, determined to succeed in completing my goal to write a novel, I figure 'no harm' in putting the project aside for a little while while I research how to write a novel.  I reasoned I may as well learn how to write a novel before I embark on actually writing it.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I spent the next two years researching everything to do with novel writing you could possibly imagine.  Plotting, characterisation, dialogue, grammar and spelling.  I read this author writing tips website, I read that writer techniques, I purchased or downloaded this and that tip sheet, cheat sheets and courses imaginable.  And then, after two years and I finally felt like I was starting to learn what I needed to do in order to write a novel, I came across a very simplistic piece of writing advice that stated that 'you need to write the first draft to write a novel'.

Wow, that sentence just hit me even though it was buried in the middle of the writer's paragraph, and it wasn't the direct point that writer was making.  But it hit me as a truth so powerful, that I realised I was wasting my time researching how to write a novel when I should be just writing it.

But I had abandoned my horror story project without even knowing it.  And, now that I was determined to write my novel, I picked the project up and couldn't get back into it.  It just wasn't what I wanted it to be. And I didn't know how to end it, or anything.

So, I waited for a new idea to inspire me.  A few months later and I hadn't come up with anything and I started to panic.  Please, Char, please think up a story idea, so you can write the novel you always wanted to write.

Luckily, not long after that my mind delivered, and I came up with the idea of a novel.  Also, luckily, during my research I had come across National Novel Writing Month and how participants all enter and try to write as much of their novel as they can during the month of November.  I had just missed it, but it was almost school holidays; I didn't need to get the kids up early for school soon.  I could have my own, solo, NaNoWriMo - in December/January, when the kids spent their half of the school holidays with their dad, leaving me all alone with nothing to do.

The day after I returned from taking the kids to their dad's, once all the housework was done (with no children to mess it up on me) I sat down to enjoy some me time.  I started writing my novel.

Before I knew it, it was two o'clock in the morning.  I was yawning, and my eyes were watering, but I was really just getting into it.  So, instead of going to bed, I made myself a cup of coffee, and I continued writing feverishly until about 6am.  I crashed into bed and was asleep within seconds, and didn't wake up until after lunchtime. 

When I woke up, I went straight back to it, wrote for a few hours, only stopping occasionally to make myself a cup of coffee or to grab something quick and easy to eat.  When I tired from writing, I took a break and as soon as I was 'recovered' I was back at it all over again.  That year, I spent New Year's Eve with wine next to my computer as I pushed to reach 50,000 words.  I didn't make it in time for the countdown which I was striving for, but I did get there about an hour later.  Who cared about fireworks, and parties, and socialising / partying when I was close to achieving my required word count. And damn, if writing half drunk wasn't helping me get those words onto the electronic page!

After trying to beat the New Year's Even countdown, I then worked on my novel and kept pushing myself to get as much as I could written before my kids returned from their holiday with their dad. From this side of New Year, the return date was rushing towards me.  The house was still pretty much as clean as the day I got my housework over and out of the way, but well, I could do with brushing my hair and doing a load of washing - especially the pyjama's that I had taken to wearing even during the day.

I didn't make the end of the novel by the time the kids arrived back home, but I only had about two or three chapters left to write.  I was up to my climax, and dammit, the kids were back home, and I had to wait until I put them to bed before I could race back to my computer and get to the end of the story.

The sense of achievement when I finished my novel is something only another author who has sacrificed so much of their life in order to complete can fully appreciate.  I was PROUD of my own self.  I didn't need other people to comment 'well done' or 'I'm proud of you'.  I was already in that happy place, feeling fulfilled over my own accomplishment.  And it was only the FIRST draft.  I still had to revise at the macro and micro level if I wanted to polish it up to submissions-worthy quality.  That would take me another couple of months; slowly editing my own words.  Can I improve this sentence?  Did I use the right word, the right spelling?  Oops, I didn't catch all occasions once I changed that characters name that I came up with on New Years Day when I was at about the halfway point in writing the story.

Locking myself away and just getting in and getting my novel written is how I have actually achieved completing two manuscripts.  This only having time to write after work and on weekends is a real completion-killer (for me).

How do other writers who hold down full time paid employment in career roles manage to get their novels written?  Yes, a novel really can be written in a month, but seriously, only if that author gives up everything else.

Ahh, I've just made myself jealous of 'the old times' back when I was a stay-at-home mum with all the writing time in the world.  If only I had of known I had a love of writing back when I had all that writing time.  If only I knew how to keep that writing enthusiasm going when you are forced to take week-long breaks in between writing sessions.

Have you written a story (or aspire to write one)?  How do you get to the end?

No comments:

Post a Comment