On Writing

woman_typing_vintage

One month into my first determined effort to write a novel, things are going quite well. I’m not convinced the book itself is going to be particularly fantastic, but my priority is actually less about producing a beautifully written, marketable book and more about getting to the completion stage. Ever since I was a small child, I was obsessed with writing stories. I would spend my weekends writing terrible tales about idyllic families and countryside exploits that took me far away from my suburban world. These stories were not particularly long, spanning perhaps six or so A4 pages, and I never actually managed to get to the end before getting discouraged and giving up. Since those early attempts at creating an imaginary world on paper, I have tried many more times to write something meaningful, but always without actually getting to those two magical last words: ‘The End’. I took creative writing classes in my early twenties, which I hoped would help me with this problem by providing me with the knowledge of the structures and processes behind writing a longer piece of work, but unfortunately it just left me feeling frustrated and even more inept. As I listened to the wonderful prose being produced by my classmates, my own seemed so amateur in comparison, and I lost my confidence in myself completely.

Shortly afterwards, I started blogging as a way to try and resurrect my love of writing. Rather than the panic and embarrassment I had felt about sharing my writing in front of the other members of my creative writing class, I felt empowered and freed by the notion of publishing my work anonymously. I could receive honest feedback, both negative and positive, and take time to reflect on what could be improved in my writing. I could write about whatever I wanted, at whatever length I wanted, and each post was a finite piece of work that allowed me to feel a sense of completion and achievement every time I pressed ‘publish’. Over time, as I built up a readership and found my own distinctive voice, writing became something that was a real pleasure and a way for me to truly express myself, and I came to love the times when I would sit down to plan and produce a new blog post, crafting my sentences and choosing my vocabulary carefully to create the perfect response to a novel, a trip or whatever else I was writing about.

Blogging really gave me my confidence back, and for the last few years I have been increasingly thinking about writing something longer. I have occasionally started a novel, but have always given up after the first few pages, convinced that it was absolute rubbish and that I was being stupid by even trying to write a book in the first place. However, I went on a course at work just before the summer holidays that was all about focusing on personal goals and putting plans into action to ensure that they are achieved rather than remaining pipe dreams. We were given plenty of time to reflect on our own about the things we would like to aim for in our lives, and the first thing that came into my mind was writing a novel. I have been so passionate about writing for so long that I know, deep down, I will never be satisfied with myself unless I genuinely give writing something for publication a go, and so I sat down over the summer and planned out the book I am currently writing. For the first time, I have an entire plot and a cast of characters fleshed out, and I am, as of writing this, at 30,000 words, which is a record for me and feels like an enormous achievement. I am making myself write something every day so that I can reach a goal of 30,000 words per month, and while it is a challenge to fit this in around work and social commitments, it is such a thrill to see the word count creeping up and my story coming to life on the page. I am finding many of my thoughts becoming possessed by the characters I am creating, and it is adding a real excitement to the usual routine of my every day life. Even if nobody but me ever reads it, I don’t care: at the moment, I am just thoroughly enjoying the process and I cannot wait until the moment when I will finally write ‘The End’!

46 comments

  1. That is thrilling! I am so happy for you. I don’t know you but I enjoy your blog and I am quite certain your end product will be read and read again. For years I wondered if I could be a writer, if I would be any good at writing, if I could make money at writing…etc. etc. The reality is that if we keep writing, in spite of setbacks, disappointment, obscurity, self-doubt; that is what makes a writer. Getting back up and giving it another go, in spite of the fact that, no golden eggs have been laid. Yet. :o) Writers possess that indefinable drive that plays itself out in the actual act of just….writing.

    1. Thank you so much! You are exactly right – it’s keeping at it, and just enjoying the process that’s important. Even if nothing comes of it, I’ll have loved the art of getting words on paper!

  2. I feel that I know you quite well now from following your blog for a number of years. It seems quite unfair, because you don’t know me! I think I would have liked that course too. 30,000 words seems huge, the students balk at 2,000 for a controlled assessment. Positive thinking- it sounds like your goal for this one was to get to ‘the end’. If it happens to be a best seller too, you could be quids in. Good luck, we are rooting for you.

    1. Thank you! You’re very kind! I love it when people feel like they have got to know me – you probably have, as I am quite frank on here! 30,000 words does feel massive to me – I still can’t believe I’ve written so much! Getting to the end is the goal, yes – if anything else happens, I will be deliriously happy, but just finishing will still make me very proud!

  3. I just wanted to say that your blog was one of the first I ever started following and I really enjoy your writing. Thank you for sharing this special post.

  4. Well done you! I’ve been doing the same — my goal is to do a two-months-on-one-month-off sort of thing where I write 1000 words a day. It is going well so far! Though I admit I am relieved to be in an off-month so I can do some research and queue up all my ideas for doing it all again in November.

    1. Thanks Jenny – well done you too! I am planning on doing research after I’ve finished and going back and editing – but your method sounds very effective and I hope you can get finished and write a fabulous book!

  5. Enjoying you blog and admiring your stylistic flair, I look forward to reading your novel. As you are a keen and observant reader and reviewer you will know how a good story is told, and how a story is told well (and you will know how ro avoid the pitfalls of an unredable novel).

    It is an interesting and rather recent phenomenon in Scandinavia – and I suppose also elsewhere – that an overwhelming number of first novel writers have attended university courses in creative writing, learning the tricks of the narrative, points of view etc. which one would have had to read Henry James, Percy Lubbock, E M Forster and all the other well-known authorities – most recently james Wood – to grasp. (Bertil Romberg´s Studies in the narrative technique of the first-person novel, 1962, which I am sure is unknown to you is interesting).

    But then, on the other hand, consulting secondary literature of that kind may only slow you down. I hope you´ll keep going at a steady pace.

    Richard Hughes wrote only four novels (but eminently successful ones) during a long life as an author. The first one, A High Wind in jamaica, was completed swiftly, as was the second, In Hazard. But well into his The Human Predicament series (The Fox in the Attic and The Wooden Shepherdess) he became cripplingly self-critical. It is a bit depressing to see among his papers, now kept at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana, the heaps of varieties of the same few sentences when he got stuck (if he had had a computer, it would have been easier for him, and less a waste of paper).

    His secretary Lucy McEntee has told the story of how he one morning came out of his study, full of surprise: “Mary has broken her neck!” (Mary being the sister of the main character in The Human Predicament).

    Have you reached that point yet, when your characters take over and you are just in their command and follow their beckon?

    1. Thank you, Ivo – what a fascinating comment! I agree, many people here seem to be going through MAs in Creative Writing at the moment, but personally, I don’t have the time or money for such a course and I’d rather just get on and write and see how I manage by myself. I’m not entirely convinced of them being useful for technique – I would imagine they’re more beneficial for the contacts they provide. My characters haven’t quite taken on a life of their own yet…but time may tell otherwise!

  6. I’m so delighted to read this post as I completely understand your feelings on the issue. Part of the reason I started my own blog was to start the writing engine again. I’ve started and abandoned several novels over the years but have never committed to the process.

    I’m starting a writing class tomorrow and intend to compete in Nanowrimo this year. I’m doing almost anything I can think of that will force me to prioritise putting fingers to keyboard.

    I want to send all my encouragement over the interweb to you as this is a lifetime goal that is also dear to my own heart. I hope you will reach your monthly targets and have a wonderful novel completed in no time. Good luck.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, and good luck to you too! I hope the writing course will prove to be inspirational and that Nanowrimo is a success. We’re all in this together!

  7. Taking this chance, this opportunity, to write. . . Wherever this piece of writing may end up, your life will be the richer for having taken the chance!

  8. Bravo and the best of luck in completing your project! I think that’s the right attitude to have at the moment, until you write The End – don’t allow yourself to doubt or ponder, just stick to it. As for me, I’m far better at giving advice than sticking to it: I also started my blog in 2012 as an incentive to keep writing, but so far my novel hasn’t progressed much (I have started writing lots of poetry though).

    1. Thank you very much! Just sticking to it is an achievement in itself I think, because it’s so easy to give up and get discouraged. I hope you will manage to pick up a novel again soon!

  9. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, Rachel. You’re my inspiration, and I absolutely love your blog. I also have such a dream to write a novel, and time gets away so fast. I am going to bookmark your post to remind myself to just keep chipping away, write something every day, and keep going. Best wishes🙂

    1. What a lovely thing to say, Gillian! Thank you! You need to just keep chipping away – just writing a few words every day soon starts to really build up, and before you know it, you’ll be on your way. Good luck!🙂

  10. How exciting! Looking very much forward to your finished novel – hope you will let it see us in one form or another?!
    That course you visited must have been inspiring. I admire how determined you are. And it’s great you just started – that’s the only thing to do.
    Being far from ever writing anything seriously, let me tell you something anyway concerning creative processes: I am convinced it’s like in music, my field, that you need years of just doing it and doing it every day, without judging your work, to become fluent and “literate”. You just need the experience of doing your craft with your own fingers. Finding your voice can mean that you have to create an awful amount to know how you want to do it, even if you delete most of it afterwards or don’t want to see it ten years from now. You described this process wonderfully when talking about your blog. And there it is for all of us to see: your voice, your style. I think it was a wonderful experience to find out how you want to write, and now you can put the blessings from this process into your other writing.
    30000 words a month is quite a number, though…
    And now: keep going and enjoy it!

    1. Thank you, Martina! Yes, I’m thinking of posting little snippets once I’ve edited it, so there will be a chance to see something. I’d love to have feedback so I am considering how I can go about doing that. You are exactly right – this is the key, I think – just plodding along and practising and refining are so important and even if this book doesn’t go anywhere, it will be a step on the way to somewhere else. Thank you for your encouragement!

  11. Sounds like you are doing marvellously! Certainly in the best frame of mind. The first draft doesn’t need to be well written or perfect, that’s what editing is for.

    Good luck, I wish I had your determination.

    (Also, I am sure people will want to read it!)

  12. I’m really inspired by this post. In recent months I started blogging as a way or resurrecting my desire to write. I constantly walk around with bits of stories in my head, and have a number of unfinished ones on paper. Do carry on with your novel, very impressed by your word count🙂

    1. I’m really glad to hear that, Angie – you just need to crack on and give it a try! I’m going to plough on until I get to the end – there’s no going back now!

  13. Such a great post on writing! I’m so impressed by your drive that has already seen you complete such a significant portion of the book. I’m loving reading it so far – I think it’s fantastic, and I’m amazed by how polished the beginning is already! Can’t wait to read more this weekend🙂 M xx

  14. I am so proud of you for doing this. I have often thought of writing because there are stories just running around in my head. I apparently don’t have the determination that you do. I get an idea and then get all bogged down with the mechanics and trying to figure out the end before I have done well with the beginning. You on the other hand, seem to have what it takes. Good for you!!!.

    1. Thanks so much, Janet – I hope you will get some writing done one of these days – it took me ages to get past all the technical stuff and plan out a workable story, but once that process has taken place, I was off!

  15. I agree, blogging does help to increase one’s writing confidence. I enjoy reading the thoughts you share here. I wish you all the best with your novel.

  16. I think that is the best goal ever. I just finished writing an academic article and I’m not sure it is any good, but I’m sure it’s finished and I did it and it makes me happy! Best of luck with your writing and keep that optimism and energy up🙂

  17. I’m really glad to hear blogging helped you to find your voice. I started my blog a few years ago and the main thing it helped me with was having a routine for writing. Happily, it was that which helped me to finish a novel (although it still took a couple of years!) – after that it was a lot easier to go onto new projects. I really do think just knowing that you can get to that finish line and being able to say you’ve completed a novel makes everything else easier. From one (suburban) Londoner to another, best of luck with it!🙂

    1. Yes, it’s the finishing that’s the achievement for me, definitely – even if nothing comes of what I’ve written, knowing that I CAN finish something is so encouraging and makes me feel that I can go on developing and improving because I have the ability to write more than I thought I did. Thank you – I wish you luck too!🙂

      1. It sounds like you’ve been going really well so far – I’ve just started NaNoWriMo this year (something I’ve always been seriously dubious about in the past) but even with this, I’m not sure I can write in such concentrated bursts! I think slow and ponderous might be my style, but knowing you will get there certainly makes that easier!

  18. See you, and many fiction writers, were always writing stories. I have never been inclined to do so. People tell me to write a novel, especially after writing the history of a 19th century insane asylum. But I have no story in my head. Not even a whisper of one. I can conjure no characters and my life isn’t interesting enough to pull off a David Sedaris.

    Good luck!

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