Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Novel Perseverance

In November last year, I contemplated the possibility of writing 30,000 words of a Novel in a month. Beforehand, there were many things that I used to try to talk myself out of it.  I was too tired, there were more important things I should be doing, etc.  But my biggest concern was the kids.  I believed at the time that the biggest barrier this task, and the greater task of finally completing my Novel was the three under three who fill my house, my time and my heart.

But 25,000 words later (yes, spoiler alert, I didn't quite make it!), I realised that my kids weren't the biggest barrier to getting a Novel written.

Turns out the biggest barrier is me.

For the last nine years I have been writing a Fantasy Novel.  What started as a fun excuse to get me writing again, slowly became a world, three books, and over 150,000 words.  And I designated 2016 as the year that I would finally finish a first draft of my first Novel.

In some ways you would say it is going well.  I am a few pages away from reaching my 6 month goal of having the story, in a very rough form, complete and coherent.  I have the final six months of the year will have three goals: rewriting one particularly bitsy section, fixing some major stylistic problems (reducing/improving exposition and language), and finally writing a short Novella which covers an "out of the main story" character.

The Novel is also one of a three book series.  I spent last November working on Novel Two, and I found dipping my toe into this really helped refine some details in Novel One.  So I'm going to do the same November challenge with Novel Three, leaving December for any final Novel One tweaks.

But despite the positive steps and plans, this last six months has been an ongoing battle with myself.

Sometimes I will read a section and think yeah this is actually pretty good.  But most of the time I am cringing.

The secret to writing with three gorgeous distractions in the background is to just write.  You don't have time to sit around and wait for the perfect words or ideas.  You write, and then you edit, and edit some more.  But editing is painful!  It means spending lots of time re-reading bad writing, and that at times cripples my writing confidence.

And as I started taking writing more seriously, I also began to read more things online about writing. Sometimes they were really helpful tips about language that I can't wait to apply in my "refining" period.  But at other times I read things about how you are suppose to plan and structure your novel scrupulously (I haven't), that you can't expect to be a quality writer without courses and writing groups (which I don't have time for!), and that a writer's first novel will never be good enough to be published.

So my doubts grow.

I tell myself that getting this Novel finished is a worthwhile exercise, regardless of if it get's publish.  That the learning and experience will make me a better writer.  

But sometimes I just want to drop my hard-drive in the bin and quit.

There are two things that keep me going.

My whole life I have been someone who has stuck to my strength.  I'm uncoordinated so I avoided sport, even though I enjoyed it when I played.  I was strong academically and so stuck to that, worked hard and did well.  And if I'm honest with myself, I gave up playing the flute after finishing school because I had two friends who were brilliant flutists and it seemed pointless to continue when comparatively I would only ever be just okay. Perseverance is not my strength.

But I don't want to give up on things just because they are hard.  I don't want to be that way, and I don't want to model that attitude to my kids.  I want them to try and experiment and fail and experience and grow.  I may not be the best writer in the world.  But there are such precious nuggets of joy hidden within the hard work; it is worth the effort. 

So I will stick to it and work hard and get better.  And I suspect the perseverance I am learning this year will bear fruit well beyond my Fantasy world.

The other things that keeps me going? Trusting myself. And doubting myself.

Several years into this novel, I went to a Sydney Writers festival session with Isabel Carmody and Garth Nix.  When Garth was asked what advice he would give young writers, he said to not worry if you find yourself doubting your writing, because that is just a part of writing.  He said even as a published writer, part-way through every book he finds himself thinking "I can't believe someone was willing to publish my work.  I'm awful!"

So since then I have decided to back myself.  When a little voice says "you can't write" or "this is never going to be published" I do my best to ignore it.  If I read a sentence and it makes me cringe I think "How can I make this better?"  When a scene doesn't work or a plot hole gapes on the page I don't give up.

In fact, some of my favourite moments this year have been in front of the keyboard, fixing this novel.  Wooden characters coming to life.  Scene's fit together.  And plot holes are filled to form twists and details that feel like they were always meant to be.

And so I plod along.  

Will it be published?  I don't know.

But it will be finished.

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