Last year I decided to rewrite my novel from scratch again – all 140,000 words of it – before I’d be happy sending it to agents. I’m not a natural completer-finisher, so concluding a very long project is a journey through darkness into (hopefully) light. This is me noodling after each novelling session about how it went.
17-23 October 2016
Monday 17 October (writing time: 13.30-15.30, words edited: 325, words written: 0)
I don’t like Mondays, as the song goes, and tend to gather momentum as the week progresses. By Friday I’m bowling down a hill and find it hard to stop for the weekend. The momentum’s so strong I’m like a cricket ball hitting a fence.
After two weeks on the road to take part in the Durham Book Festival, the Birmingham Literature Festival, and attend courses and conferences when it’s been impossible to do any novelling, I was looking forward to day one of being back in one place, to taking a deep breath and beginning again on my novel. Although I did get to the desk as planned, I felt fuzzy-headed from the late nights and the intensity of it all. Emotionally and spiritually I’m reinvigorated by the performances I’ve done and heard, panels I’ve taken part in, and people I’ve met; physically, I’m knackered and in need of daylight and fresh air. So today was a later and gentler start than anticipated.
One of my rituals for starting after an enforced break or when I find myself stuck is to read a chapter of an inspirational book to warm me up. I close my eyes, shuffle the book and pluck a chapter at random trusting that it will tell me something I need. Today this meant reading a section in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way about the importance of giving our inner artists time to play, and about artistic success: if a piece of writing needs to be written it must be written regardless of whether it will be popular or sell.
That done, I fired up the laptop, opened up the novel and read and edited a recent chapter. Then I annotated on paper the chapter I’m working on next. It’s daunting that this enforced break happened just as I was about to rewrite the main climax scene in the book. The book has built up to a fight and we find out who wins. Gulp – am I ready for this?
Tuesday 18 October (writing time: 10.15-14.15, words edited: 594, words written: 204)
I knew last night that this chapter wasn’t yet in my head or body. I couldn’t see or feel it and knew I wasn’t yet ready to rewrite it – writing for me can be like watching a film and capturing the frames. So I spent most of the session getting it under my skin.
It takes time to do this skin soaking. It’s immersing in this point of the story: what comes just before, what comes just after. What do the characters want? How and why do they react to such and such a thing? I jotted down a few questions and answers in my rough notebook to go over the deeper story, which comes into play in this climactic section (the novel is set over 14-15 days but there is a back story going back to 300AD).
There’s also a lot of magic in the book. I checked the rules of my magic as relates to this part of the book to make sure it all adds up (next time I’m writing a simpler and a shorter book – famous last words …). Other things I did were tweak preceding and succeeding chapters, go over the purpose of the scene: how does it move the story forwards? Then I did a few minutes of fast, ‘down-the-page’ writing to capture the essence of it.
All set, I started in on the actual rewriting but was pretty knackered by this point. It takes time after a break to build up stamina too. Tomorrow, all being well, it should be quicker than today to get back in.
I also did a visioning exercise where I ‘talked’ to this novel and the novel and I want to write next, which has been on ice for 16 months. Phew, it tells me it’s still alive.
Wednesday 19 October (writing time: 12.10-18.10, words edited: 544, words written: 1,401 )
Today was hard won. I made a meal of it or it made a meal of me. Sometimes it’s like that. It’s about pushing everything aside – the urgent voicemails, the deadlines, all the do’s, even the money-earning stuff – and sticking at it, battling my own unwillingness to really, really get down in the pit of the book and grapple with the thinking and feeling of it, until I have reached the other side. Then I glide out feeling good about myself and can pretend it was easier than it was.
When I close my eyes, I see this novel as a red steam train. Last night I checked in with this image and my red steam train was going up a steep hill. It was full of power, puffing away, but needed a huge effort to get to the top. That’s what I did today – I put in that huge difficult effort. My steam train is now on a level and panting like Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s got its momentum back.
Here’s a line from today’s writing: ‘Stephen sighed with frustration and wiped his liquid brow’. Feels about right. Tomorrow will be different. It may be easier. It’s unlikely to be worse. Let’s remember this is hardly going down a coal mine. It’s throwing words about on a computer page. But it was a luxury after the hurly burly of recent weeks to devote a whole day to going within.
Meanwhile, all the to do’s have built up and are at my throat. I daren’t turn the mifi unit on. Only joking: here goes.
I reflected afterwards that since this was the big climactic scene of the book, it’s not surprising I battled with it.
Friday 21 October (writing time: can’t remember, edited: 0, words written on the ‘wrong’ project: 523 )
Yesterday I spent my writing time working on an important poetry commission. The deadline is about six weeks away. I enjoyed the session and was so into it that when I turned on the computer to work on the novel this morning, I wrote a poem instead.
This is a particularly inventive form of procrastination. I use my allotted novelling time to write something else that I need to write. I felt great for the poetry commission but bad for the novel as a result. When I mentioned the exciting poetry commission to a key member of my family last night, they said: ‘So you’ve put the novel on hold again?’ No, I’m doing them both. Wails and gnashes teeth.
Sunday 23 October (writing time 08.10-09.10, words edited: 1,009, words written: 0 )
Rose uncharacteristically early for a Sunday and annotated my next chapter with a red pen while leaning on a clipboard and sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas, which felt pleasant. Did a few more tasks, made a veggie cooked breakfast and went back to bed.
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