Writing is hard. Creating something from nothing, from the recesses of your imagination, can sometimes feel a bit like pulling teeth. Your own. But when you’ve overcome that painful first stage of the process and you have pages of words in some kind of structure, you can sit back and reflect. Then start editing.
I love editing. It’s fun. It’s all about refining and sculpting the words until you have the perfect combination.
Rewriting, on the other hand, is different. And for me this often comes after work has been submitted to a third party, such as an agent or publisher. This is when you get feedback that indicates that some substantial work is required to improve the piece and make it acceptable for publication. I always groan when this happens. Rewriting can be like unpicking knitting. And a bit like doing a cut and paste in your head. A mental jigsaw puzzle.
It is especially tough when you might have to sacrifice that special sentence that you felt so pleased about because it no longer works, or rewrite – or even delete – the character you were so fond of. Or restructure the first section of the book. The thing is, each change has a knock-on effect for everything else in the story. You might solve one problem, but create another.
But then, writing is all about problem solving, especially in fiction. You invent the characters and then set them into an imaginary landscape with a host of issues and situations that will change them and their lives. But you do it with love.
I often think of writing a novel as a bit like creating a patchwork quilt. You have the pattern and you have selected the fabric of your story, and now you have to patiently connect everything together, piece by piece, blocking and layering the colours and textures of your characters and their journeys, until you have created a beautiful, unique work of art.
Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers) are available as ebooks on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
Matty and the Racehorse Rescue is FREE TO DOWNLOAD from 23rd-27th November!
I know, I know; who isn’t? Go into any overpriced coffee-delivery chain-pit in the world and you’ll be able to spot at least three people with Moleskine notebooks, or typing on Macs, who when prompted will spew words at you about their novel. About how it explores the deeper significance of caramel biscotti, or it’s about non-conventional love dodecahedrons in tribes of scholars living in log cabins in Alaska, and every character is called Jim, even the women, because conventional naming is just holding us back, man.
These people will usually be wearing tweed ironically or skinny jeans un-ironically and all of them will be plastered with that smug look that makes your rage-glands twitch. Some of them might even close their eyes as they describe a scene from their novel in great detail, like it’s transporting them to their own personal Nirvana and they can’t bear to look upon the real world while they frolic in it. This is your cue to punch them as hard as you can right in their awful neck, pour their mocha-frappe-London-fog-flat white-fuckwit-latte onto their Macbook (because it will be a Macbook) and run, howling, into the misty night.
Except in November, when you might just spot a nomadic tribe of Wrimos, bedecked in nothing but pieces of fruit; weary, harrowed eyes; frantic caffeine jitters and normal clothes.
‘Wrimos’ are what people refer to themselves as when they are participating in National Novel Writing Month, which I’ve mentioned before. (You can see it by clicking the second instance of the word ‘here’ in this sentence, here.)
So, as I say, I’m writing a novel, but far from taking me years to craft a pretentious masterwork with infinite layers of detail, none of them funny, I have precisely thirty days to write 50,000 words. Any less and I have not ‘won’, any longer and I have not ‘won’. I have one of the harshest deadlines ever levied on a person, and it’s self-inflicted. Not just by me, either; there are currently thousands of Wrimos busily scribbling or tapping away at their own 50,000 word minimum and at this exact point in time (which I suppose is in the past, from your perspective) there have been precisely 942,626,284 words logged by everyone combined. To put that into perspective, the entire Harry Potter series comprises some 1,084,958 words.
We are eight days into November.
It’s mind-boggling the amount of people who throw themselves at this challenge, and the enthusiasm with which they metaphorically flagellate themselves with this ridiculous deadline.
So far I’m 7,845 words in, which at this stage is ok but not great. The average by now is about 11,000 but I spent a weekend doing things with my friends and a day training someone at work (I essentially have to write at work, since it’s all I do during the week), which is three of my days spent not writing at all. A couple of days I wrote about 1000 words, some days nearer to 2000. I’m writing a near-future-sci-fi-murder-mystery. Not by conscious choice; it’s just that when I started writing my main character (a journalist. Write what you know.) found himself at a crime-scene and some facts didn’t click together properly. I thought I was going to be writing a pulp sci-fi drabble, all smooth chrome spaceships and laserguns and whathaveyou. I’ve ended up with a subcity slum under London, twenty minutes into the future in a subtly totalitarian police-state.
That’s the trouble with this kind of writing. There’s no time to force your story back onto the track you picked for it. It’s a brilliant exercise in compromise. For example, there’s a character who I intended to be throw-away, maybe two or three lines of dialogue, but she’s ended up building a nest in my head because I like her so much. I have resolved to kill her at some point, purely so she doesn’t derail the story. Her fate is sealed, as far as I can tell, but characters can be fickle.
There’s also the need to kill your inner editor. If a sentence is clunky or overwrought you have to leave it. There’s no time. You can’t listen to the voice in your head telling you something is stupid. I had to slip in a justification for something that happened pages later because I couldn’t go back. That’s another interesting exercise; you have to make things fit together coherently without being able to go back and rewrite sections. Murder-mystery lends itself to this, luckily: Agatha Christie used to just write the whole story and pick the least likely character to be the murderer, making all the evidence fit together right at the end.
The last thing I wanted to discuss before I stop writing this and go back to writing that is that I’ve gone bloody mental.
Only really in terms of writing (maybe you’d noticed?), but still it’s almost a problem. For example, I was just skimming my work and noticed I’d written the word ‘corners’ as ‘carners’, but instead of actually realising there was a problem I proceeded to read the rest of the paragraph giving the voice in my head an Irish accent.
I spent an entire paragraph explain how ‘regarding’ and ‘looking at’ are different.
I was physically unable to stop myself from writing an awful pun, then giggling at it like a schoolgirl.
One of my recent Tweets reads: ‘The Information Superhighway has no cycle-lane.’ I don’t remember why.
While typing the above sentence literally milliseconds ago I put my electronic cigarette down and now I have absolutely no idea where it is.
I’m not sure if I’m coming out of this unscathed, but at least I’m having fun.
That’s 978 words I could have typed for my novel. Oh god, the deadline is coming! It’s almost here!
We’re fast approaching November, which is important for a number of reasons; It’s almost December, which means Christmas and New Year’s Eve are coming up, bonfire night is always good fun and it’s National Novel Writing Month.
Admittedly, if you’re not a writer the last one probably isn’t that important to you, but for those of us enamoured with words it’s a pretty huge deal.
A quick jaunt to NaNoWriMo.org lets you know what’s going on: you are encouraged, by what is essentially a charity, to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Any genre, any plot, almost anything you want (although I think erotic fiction is out, I’m not sure) in thirty days and nights.
This is a tall order, as anyone will tell you; some people, usually the less writerly-types, will baulk completely when they spot ’50,000 words’, but it’s a fantastic creative exercise in that you essentially have the freedom to do whatever you want and a very tight deadline in which to do it. You must cast off all frivolous thought in order to produce better frivolous thought. Interesting.
I haven’t done one yet. I signed up (for free) just after last year’s ended, so I’m looking forward to this year’s immensely.
Here are my worries, though:
Do I start planning the story in my head now, a month before writing begins, or do I wait until November 1st and fully commit to dreaming up, planning and writing a novel in exactly one month?
How can I split my time effectively to make sure I maximise the amount of words I write per day? Should I splurge 10,000 in one coffee-fuelled all-night binge? Or should I do a more manageable couple of thousand every other day or so?
It’s a lot to think about.
I urge you to take a look at it anyway, even if you don’t consider yourself to be writer. You never know what may come flying out of your head when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and everyone has a story to tell, whether they think they do or not. Don’t be put off by the projected word-count; it’s not set in stone after all and as most writers will tell you, if you hit on something you really like, a scene, a character or a whole story, you’ll eventually glance at the clock and notice it’s four in the morning and that you’ve written sixteen pages. You’ll also be dimly aware that you’re starving and that you have to be up for work in four hours.
It’s a labour of love.
I look forward to reading yours.
By James Bovington
Now I must ask something of you:
I have awful trouble naming characters. I try to avoid using the names of people I know, on the off-chance they think I based the whole character on them (which is only sometimes true), so I’d very much appreciate it if the lovely readers of Creatabot (or the lovely contributors, anyone really) could leave me some suggestions down in the comments below. I’ll probably even credit you as ‘The Namer’ or ‘The Name Giver’ or some such needlessly grandiose title.