During these unusual changes to our normal circumstances, many of us have been forced to stop work and find other happenings to occupy our time. I have been afforded time to be productive with my writing - something I used to practice sporadically here and there while the rest of my busy life revolved at high speed.
Creating my blog and continuing with my novel are what fill my time more than anything else now, and I love it. I am learning the answers to questions I have asked about myself for years; questions about who I am when I’m not doing everything else that is expected of me. I will come back to this a little later. First, I want to talk about my book.
I have never written a novel before, and as much as I’ve been given lots of professional advice and have experience of structuring short stories, nothing has prepared me for this. I am now on chapter 10, and I want to share with you the things I am finding challenging so far.
1. When I write articles and short stories, I write them quickly - get the first draft written so I can then spend more time editing and re-writing, etc. I know I should do the same with my novel - I have spent months planning and structuring, and working and re-working the plot, so I have a good idea of how many chapters there will be and what happens in each one. But I can’t seem to let go and just get it written without scrutinising each little notion as I go, and checking and re-checking. It’s somewhat infuriating.
2. Point of view. My story is told using two points of view, one is male and the other is female. I am finding it very easy to write as one, and more challenging to write as the other. I have written detailed character profiles for both and I hear them talking to me constantly. It’s just really interesting that one of them speaks more easily through me and onto the page, and the other one likes to be stubborn and argumentative with me, making it a very challenging task indeed. I have to admit I enjoy writing from both perspectives very much, even if one is less pliable than the other. It just goes to show that the writer is just the vessel for the story being told by its characters. They are more real to me than some of the faces I see in front of me every day.
3. This isn’t so much a challenge as an invaluable lesson I have learnt. Thinking time is key. I spend more time thinking than writing. Much, much more. That probably sounds obvious - we must think before we do - but I find that if I go out on a long walk - which we have thankfully been allowed to do during this crisis - and thrash out a problem with the plot development, I can solve it perfectly. Walking and thinking is when I do my writing. It has become my routine. When I sit in front of my laptop I’m almost on autopilot, because everything I need or want to say has been written in my head, and I just need to get it down. I can’t make it up as I go along, so to speak. I make it up well in advance.
4. Structure. I am going to contradict myself now. After all the meticulous planning and structuring of my story, I am having to learn to make drastic changes as it develops. My Writer’s Bureau tutor has been very supportive of my work and has read the synopsis and first chapter of my novel (although even they have changed quite drastically since). She said to me then that there is quite a lot going on which may need to be revised as I write. The novel is set between 1920 and 1944, so there is quite a lot to happen, and she has been absolutely right. I am having to alter and restructure quite drastically as I go - which maybe, as mentioned before, I should leave until it’s written. It is a minefield of questions and analysis that I suppose is the fate of a first-time novelist. All the planning and structure in the world hasn’t prepared me for the tumultuous ride of getting it written. When recently chatting to a friend, I told her I was 8 chapters in, and there are 24 chapters in my plan. She said, “So you’re a third of the way through?” to which I panicked and thought...absolutely not, I’m just getting started. Will it ever feel like it’s all going to plan?
5. Epilogue/Prologue? Another dilemma I’m having (prematurely as it doesn’t require answering yet) is do I turn the first and last chapters into an epilogue and prologue rather than chapters? Although the bulk of the story takes place between 1920-1944, it begins and ends in 2019 with the descendants of the main characters. I don’t think it gives anything away that I’ve told you this, but it is something I will have to consider when I’ve finished writing. So many questions and so few immediate answers. I’m sure if any novelists are reading this, you are either thinking, oh yes, I remember how difficult the first one was, or, oh dear, she really doesn’t have a clue, poor thing. Oh well, either way, I’m loving the journey so far.
Back to my earlier point, about the questions I have been asking of myself. There is an element of guilt to indulging so much time on a pastime that is only for me. Surely, being currently unable to do my usual job, I should be decorating the house, deep cleaning, baking, clearing out the attic/shed/wardrobes? Am I neglecting my wifely and motherly duties while I hide away on my laptop for a few hours here and there? Are my efforts taking me anywhere meaningful? These thoughts did haunt me at the beginning of lock-down, but now I think, no. Stop questioning my motives and worrying about what other people might think. Start realising the dream I have been chasing, however slowly, for many years. Yes, this is a little self-indulgent, but I think I’ve earned it. I can do this thing; I am a writer; I am enough just as I am.
I wonder if you can guess what my next post will be about. I’ll give you a clue; it’s very relevant to my book, and date specific. Hopefully I’ll see you then.