Writing a novel (cos, yeah, so easy *insert eye roll emoji here*)

I am a flash fiction writer, a short story writer, a lover of concise, neat, clear prose, and I am trying to write a novel. I want to complete a first draft by the end of the year; it’s a challenge I have issued myself — can you actually do this? Nobody else cares whether or not I can, my friends and family will love me just the same. My job remains satisfying. My life rolls on, nothing changes. For me, though, I care deeply that I do this. I have been telling stories since before I could read and I don’t want to only tell the short ones. There’s nothing comparable to the pleasure of immersing myself in an engaging, layered novel and I want to see if I can create one of those. I have read lots of advice from successful novelists and they all tell of the crappy first draft — it’s essential, it’s necessary. For the first time ever I am ignoring my bad writing and resisting the urge to edit endlessly  — that way I get stuck and I must keep moving forward. I am taking part in #100DayofWriting and am grateful for the camaraderie around that. It’s comforting seeing other writers posting woes similar to mine.  

One giant issue is procrastination. I don’t understand why knowing I want to write I then spend ways filling my time so I can’t do it. The floor needs washing, there’s endless laundry, I’ll reply to this email and read subs for FLM and constantly chase this mythical FREE TIME when the conditions will be perfect for writing. Of course, we all know there are no perfect conditions. We have to make time. I tried free writing, handwriting (ouch), taking time off work, lighting a beautifully scented candle to trigger creative memory (which smells great and I did write when I lit it and dutifully extinguished it at the end of my sessions, but I don’t want to need a candle). Anyway, as my Day 42 of 100 Days post, I thought I’d share the very ordinary solution I have found. I used to be a late night writer. I would stay up and write and write in the solitude, darkness and quiet of the night, but now I am middle-aged and I get so damn tired. I have nothing much to offer in the evening creatively, so I have flipped everything around. Instead of spending the day racing through chores to get to the time I can write only to find I am exhausted, I write first thing. I don’t open the curtains – I keep the cosy darkness. I try to avoid the morning gubbins that goes on in my house with three adult males getting ready for work, but even if I do get sucked in, it’s ok. When they leave I head back to bed with my laptop and sit in the dark and write. I don’t get a huge word count down, 500 words or so, but it’s something. I am inching forwards. It takes the pressure off the day too. I have done my words, it’s all fine. Today I am not a failure. Tick. If I have time later and I want to write more I can. If I don’t, I have still succeeded. It feels like I trick myself into writing before I have a chance to worry about it. I go to sleep wondering what happens next and if I wake in the night I chase my night terrors away by thinking of where I’m going with the novel. None of this is groundbreaking, everyone has to find their own groove, but for now, I feel like I can get this first draft done. This fits with my work shifts as I work afternoons/evenings most times. The day I start first thing I struggle to get any words done, but hey, that’s ok if the rest of the week I do. I know where my characters are heading, I’m not entirely sure how they will get there. I’m not a planner, hey, I’m making this up as I go along, which, y’know, is what it’s about, right? 

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Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

I’ve just finished reading Harriet Lane’s debut novel, Alys, Always. There have been many positive reviews and this is a book with a buzz and a big promotional push behind it. Lane was, maybe still is, a journalist, and I suspect she is rather well connected. She writes beautifully. By which I mean she describes things excellently. Looking through the cooly appraising eyes of her first person narrator, Frances, we see, as she does, the objects and decor, the books and foods, the lives of her family, colleagues, friends, and the Kytes, and they are brought to life for us in this way. 

“My parents have set up a picnic table in the garden. ‘Isn’t this glorious?’ my mother says, unpopping foldable chairs and disregarding the rather stiff breeze that is sending the paper napkins fluttering like giant yellow butterflies into the euphorbias.” 


It reveals so much about the mother it’s really wonderful. Yet at other times the prose  seems overdone.

“Just for a moment, as I stand by the sink peeling a long rosy spiral from the yellow flesh of an apple, I think about all of this and what it means to me.” 

Do we really need both the “rosy spiral” and the “yellow flesh”? Perhaps we do. I’m a far plainer writer, more likely to write “…peeling an apple…”

The story opens interestingly enough, with Frances driving home from her parents and coming across a car accident. She keeps the dying driver company whilst she awaits an ambulance, and becomes the last person to speak to Alys Kyte, wife of famous author Laurence. From this moment on Frances becomes involved in the Kyte’s lives. 

I’m baffled by the praise heaped on what seems to be a rather shallow novel. Touted as a psychological thriller it’s really not. I was waiting for a twist or reveal to force me to rethink the whole thing, but it never came. It’s a not terribly exciting story about a woman who aspires to be more, and have more, but she’s not exactly awful about it. It’s more a case of worming her way into people’s affections with flattery and faux interest. Hardly thrilling. There’s a weird bit where she becomes a reader for the same woman that Alys was a reader for, and the whole part feels entirely bolted on as if an editor advised there should be some additional stalky creepiness. 

The prose is delicious but is steeped in the kind of ultra middle-classness that made me think of those times a Daily Mail columnist bemoans the high price of cashmere or something and the whole of twitter mocks mercilessly. As for Frances, well, she’s so chilly it’s impossible to warm to her. It’s ultimately a novel that I found difficult to care about.



By the way, I have no idea why some of this post is double spaced and one quote is highlighted white. I’ve tried to look at the html but can’t make head nor tail!

Another post about my mac because I am soooo interesting

Not having my laptop is weird. I am online much less, and it makes me see how much time I usually do spend doing bobbins really. I am a scattergun writer, perhaps. I browse online, I visit facebook, blogs, FW, zoetrope, Lowculture, read emails, shop, and in-between I switch to word and write in short bursts. I don’t know if I am able to write more solidly, because whenever I attempt to, I distract myself, if not with online stuff, then with real life business; phone calls, cleaning, eating, lots of staring into nothing, anything really. Even just writing this I suddenly jumped up and changed my top. I need to work on staying focused I think.

I have to ring the mac repair peeps soon and get a verdict on its health. I think it’s gonna be bad news, as the guy shook his head and whistled at it. I think I have lost everything, which I didn’t think was too much of a problem until I remembered all those little pieces of work that i didn’t back up because they were to be worked on. And lots of photos that I had seen so often I was bored with, but now they are LOST I want them back.

I think I should set myself a time limit. Like, before the school run it’s ok to check emails quickly, but after, I should crack on and write the novel for a couple of hours. Then stop for lunch, after that scoot around online, and work on reviews, edits, flash etc. After school is boys time (but if they are on wii or ps it’s ok for me to play too!) Sounds workable. In theory. I always forget though that there’s so much other stuff to get on with, I think I find chunks of writing time and then realise that I am mummy too, and work part time, and need to do household stuff and paperwork and shopping and cleaning.

Making a small commitment

I know what my novel is. I have the synopsis, I know the story, know the main characters, I know the beginning, middle and end. But I have not been writing it. There is something that really intimidates me about attempting to sustain my fiction over the course of many thousands of words. In mad reversal I have been writing shorter fictions, and fretting.

BUT NO MORE!

In a genius move I have made a commitment with Jo Horsman to write 300 words a day. 300! Pah! That’s super easy. No more worrying about the novel, I am approaching it in tiny bite sized chunks. I will write at least 300 words a day for the duration of the summer holidays. I will not edit and frantically shine my prose, I will push on in baby steps. When the twins go back to school in September I will read what I have done. I hope I will find some words to be kept. I will keep on pushing forwards.

The block I had on writing it is gone. Ha!

That January feeling.

People seem in general to be a bit grumpy arse!
I put it down to the after Christmas blues, winter weather, nothing much to look forward to and so on. Apparently today is the day that more people book holidays on than any other. Carrot/stick.

The boys went back to school today, protesting very loudly. Which means that I start work on my novel again today. Only I haven’t.

Oh.

I have however been extremely organised. I have sorted out paper work, bills, birthday presents, appointments, finances. So now I am clear to begin tomorrow. But I have appointments for blah things. (Dentist! Eeep!) Or the next day. Oh, but my brother is visiting, and then it’s my husband’s birthday. The week after then. And that’s how it goes, and the time seeps away, and I am determined that it won’t be like that this year. I will be new, improved, focused, serious, intent. I will not be distracted.

Right.

End of year reflections.

I have always been a sucker for a blank page, ooh preferably in a brand new notebook, lovely. A morning is good, a fresh week is better, a new year is glorious, just full of hope. I am forever full of the same resolutions that I first made as a girl: lose weight, exercise, write more, be a better person. Not much change there. This year has been all right though, I have made progress in my writing if not my weight/exercise/being a nicer person wish. And actually, screw the nicer person thang, I am nice, and a little fucked off with people taking advantage of that!

So, good things have happened with my writing this year, and I can go into the next knowing that some people like my words. I am aiming to finish my novel by the end of 2008, it is a huge goal, and I want to focus and pour heart and soul into it.

I have learnt a fair bit too:

Other writers can be the most generous, warm, supportive, nurturing people. (They can also be destructive, bitchy, thoughtless, harsh and argumentative. So many egos! )

I have begun working with The Fiction Workhouse, and it has been ACE!

I wrote something that I knew wasn’t working, and I showed it to the people I work with on-line at The Workhouse. They critiqued it so thoughtfully and shone light on its flaws, it really brought home to me how solitary it has been, sitting here, typing away, trying to create stories with real depth and meaning. I am not a lonely writer any more, thanks to them. There’s a place I can go for inspiration, advice, critiques, help with craft etc. (Hark, is that the Cheers theme tune I hear starting up?) Anyway, it has been an illuminating experience being part of this team. I look forward to working hard with them in 2008.

The benefit doesn’t just come from sharing my work. By reading and critiquing others stories I get to learn more about what works for me, what doesn’t, why and so on…Invaluable.

Through The Workhouse I have discovered Flash Fiction. It was entirely alien to me before this year, and now I find it exhilarating and wonderful. I am still learning the requisite skills, but whoo, it’s fun and a great way to spark out new ideas and learn how to hone prose so that each word matters.

One must not be too reliant on the opinions of others though. I was told that something I had written wasn’t right, and yet when I read it again and again it was exactly what I meant and I submitted it as it was, with hope, and had a significant success with it. This showed me that sometimes other people won’t magically know what is ‘good’. Perhaps they excel in a different style or area. I must trust me.

I have read a lot this year. Although looking at the reviews here you wouldn’t know that. I made a choice not to write reviews of books that I had nothing good to say about. It was a hard call. I am a stickler for honesty, what’s the point of a wishy washy review? I’d rather read some real vitriol. Hmmm. But, as a writer I know how devastated I am by criticism, and the idea that a precious publication could be trashed by an unknown blogger makes me uncomfortable. I am such a grumpy reader though, hard to impress, hence the lack of reviews!

I have been reviewing for other people too. Pulp net asked me to review some books for them, which has been brilliant, and I have reviewed for The Short Review. In the new year I will be reviewing for the Waterstone’s magazine as well. Anyone else want a book reviewed? Just holler!

I was commisioned to write a piece on being a part time writer too, which was a fascinating change for me. I really enjoyed writing non-fiction, and getting paid for it too made me feel very professional!

There’s some other stuff that is happening, but until it actually does I don’t want to say for fear of, I dunno, fucking it up somehow.

Anyway, I am going into 2008 so much more of a writer than I was coming into 2007, which can only be a jolly good thing!

I’m planning a best of 2007 round up in the next day or so, but just in case I don’t get round to it:

Happy new year to you all

It’s the difference that matters.

Rather depressingly it has become apparent to me that there are a substantial number of people who are women writing competent stories. What worries me is the notion that perhaps we are possibly interchangeable but for one or two quirks of style.

That sucks.

Are we going to spend the rest of our lives submitting our tales hopefully, and sometimes being validated by a publication which will feed our aspirations to be full time writers? It may well never be enough. Why me and not them? What makes my work stand out? I am looking at my words and as far as I can see there’s nothing to get excited about. I am feeling rather upset.

I think that my novel idea is good, exciting, and different. I am also terrified that I can’t pull it off. The necessary length of it intimidates me. I’m not sure that I can sustain a story that long. I need to be braver and at least give it a really good try. I don’t know how to reach into the feelings I have and wrench them out onto the page. So often I feel like an artist who attempts a portrait but comes out with a stick drawing. I know though that when it works, and the words say what I intend them to, that there is no greater sense of fulfilment. So I carry on, word next to word and so on.