half-face illness

A bits and pieces sort of post this morning.  Brain is not cooperating fully and is demanding eggs and fruitcake.

Working on novel yesterday – not the ‘finished’ draft, but the half-written novel I abandoned in order to write the other novel. I was so incredibly stuck with it when I gave it up, and couldn’t see anything worthwhile in it at all. A few months later and I have somehow once again found the thread of story and interest in it. The lesson I’m taking from this is that sometimes, you just need to back off from things for a while. If something isn’t working, maybe it just needs time.

Also I’m happy to say that finishing a draft of my other novel has given me the confidence to believe that I can finish a draft of this novel. And I hope it will be a somewhat cleaner draft, although that might be wishing for too much.

Finished reading Book 2 of 1Q84 last night. I think I’ll finish Book 3 before I pass comment, but there were a couple of things I found hugely disappointing and definitely want to blog about.

I am still lurgified, but now I have this weird, half-face illness, in which half my face is ill (running nose, swollen glands, headache, earache) and the other half of my face is totally fine. Bored of being ill now.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have something more interesting to say for myself. Am off to get breakfast and write more stuff.

a confession

I don’t know how to tell you this, but… I’m not writing a novel.

I know, I know. I’ve led you on terribly.

The truth is, I’m writing THREE novels.

I don’t know how I got into this mess. First, it was just the one novel, and I was totally devoted to it, but halfway through I got this feeling I just couldn’t ignore, and I had to go off and write something else. That novel, I finished the first draft of. But as soon as I had finished it, I started drafting out an idea for a totally different novel, and now that one has seized my imagination fully.

I’ve been such a fool!

When I write short stories, I usually have at least five or six stories on the go at once, each in a different stage of development. So I suppose I’m doing the same thing with these novels. IT IS SCARIER WITH NOVELS. Three novels = a hell of a lot of work. I keep trying to make myself choose between them, but that leads to despair and deep confusion. I think I have to write them all.

Somehow.

Meanwhile, I have decided to spend the day writing something completely different – a new short story. I have no ideas or inspiration for it, but I believe that if I sit quietly at my desk for long enough, the story will come to me. Let’s hope so, anyway.

writing is rewriting

So I plucked up courage and read the first draft. It was everything I expected it to be: sloppy, solipsistic, boring. But after reading it, I wrote a list of everything I liked about it, and there were FIVE WHOLE THINGS! So much of the story became clearer to me as I read, particularly towards the end. I realised that there were layers and layers to this story.

I also realised that it’s the kind of story that, if it is not done brilliantly, will be dreadful. It is difficult material and I am terrified of fucking it up.

But I’m working on the second draft, nonetheless.  Two thousand words today. Having the basic story already worked out, more or less, allows me to have a much more interesting time with the writing.

I hope that I can catch up with my short story writing soon, too. Novels are great but very time consuming.

the fear

I’ve got the fear.

It’s half-term next week, and it’s about two months since I finished the first draft of my novel. A good time to start editing and revising. That was the plan, anyway.

So this morning I printed out a paper copy, with the intention of reading it through once and taking it in. No notes, no criticism, just see what’s there and how I feel about it.  It was quite satisfying to see the big wodge of paper  sitting on top of the printer. I felt a little bit proud.

But when I went to pick it up, to take it in my hands and start reading – I couldn’t. I sat there, staring at it, trying not to read any of the words on the page. I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Part of a sentence: “…clattering out of slots…”. Awful words. Terrible. This whole thing is a mistake, I thought. Abandon ship!

At some point I am going to have to gather up my courage and actually read the damn thing. Writing is such a head-fuck sometimes.

how to write a terrible first draft

Yesterday I finished writing the first draft of my novel. It is a really terrible first draft. I’m not being modest. I’m not showing off, either. It sucks. The characters are weak and do things for no reason. They can’t even hold onto their names for the length of the story. The plot is unjustifiably baroque. There is much boring dialogue in which the characters say things like, ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ (I feel I ought to make them do a fish dance or die in pain as punishment for being so disgustingly dull.) Yes, it is that bad.

But you know what? I couldn’t care less. I have been trying to write this novel for years – this novel, any novel really. Since I was a child, I have been trying to write a novel, thinking that I should write a novel (how bizarre, really), and wondering if I ever could write a novel. And sometimes it feels like my whole life has been the process of failing to write, and learning to write, and failing again. In recent years, my novel-writing attempts have taken the form of a series of exciting false starts, which ended after 50 words, 1000 words, even 20,000 words and more, because I felt too lost to continue. I’ve tried detailed outlining (buzzkill) and total pantsering  (scary). I even tried telling myself that it would be ok to stop being a writer and become a normal person instead, because I thought I just couldn’t DO IT. And then I did it.

And by doing it,  I learned how to do it. Which is precisely the sort of annoying and unhelpful ‘writing tip’ I’d been getting from other writers all along.

Things that helped me:

– allowing myself to write a really shitty first draft. (Also see here.)  I found this so difficult because I like to think I am a good writer… a published author…  blah de blah… I forgot about how when I wrote my first short stories they were deeply, deeply shit. A first draft of a novel is not a novel. Writing is rewriting.

– trusting that the story would reveal itself if I just kept writing.  It did. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Trust the process.

– forcing myself to write a lot, every day. I mean a lot. Rarely less than 2000 words. My highest word count for one day was nearly 10,000. Getting the story onto the page fast was very motivating.

– never looking back. I didn’t allow myself to revise and edit as I went along – hence the terrible dialogue and name changes and so on. I felt that if I went back, I would get stuck trying to make things perfect (or just, you know, not terrible).

– letting people know what I was doing. I posted my word counts on twitter and facebook. I got encouragement (thanks!) and it made me accountable.

Now, I hope I’ll be able to re-write this shitty first draft into something better. Something that I wouldn’t be ashamed for others to read. Already I am filling  my notebook with ideas and thoughts for the second draft. I have a feeling this might be where the real writing of this novel will begin. In the meantime, here’s to me, getting closer to achieving an ambition I’ve nursed since I was a kid.