I found myself writing a novel in October last year. I was trying to write a thousand words each morning before work. I start at ten and work’s only a twenty minute walk away so that’s not quite as impressive as it sounds.
I’d been working on various short stories - usually have several on the go. One morning I wasn’t sure what to work on so, just for the sake of writing the thousand words, I wrote about a character from an under-five-hundred-word flash I‘d written and submitted to my MA workshop earlier in the year.
Just from reading back this one piece of writing I realised I was working on ‘a project of length’, as a writer friend referred to it. My main character seemed to have a life, location and backstory. I was starting to think about where the story might go. Was it an extra long short story or could I really say I was writing a novel?
The majority of my MA group had spent most of the year writing novels but it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do. I wrote short stories, a play and a few poems but there was never an inkling of a novel. Novels were for other people, not for me. Not that I didn’t read them.
Within a few weeks I’d written some more pieces and started to plan where I was going with the story. One of the short stories I had started around that time happily became part of the novel too. I had my two main characters. I worked out a vague chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Those original twenty chapters have now expanded to thirty-six and I’m still working on all the chapters simultaneously.
Maybe most novelists will start at the beginning and write through to the end, some knowing where they are going, others not having a clue. However, this is really just how I work on a short story but on a bigger scale. I’ll write the bits that come to me and just keep editing, adding and expanding until it’s complete.One advantage of working like this means I never get stuck because I can just move from one chapter to another. Some days I’ll be closely editing a chapter and others blasting out another thousand words or more. It also means that I have an overview of the whole thing. I am keeping an obsessive word count of each chapter. My total stands at 67, 688. Getting on for novel length but still lots of things to sort out. I’m sure I will procrastinate a lot as it comes to the finish as I will have to face up to showing it to people if I want to take it any further.
A lot of what I’ve written for this novel I feel I’ve only managed to write because, for the time being at least, I wasn’t showing it to anyone. As much as I loved submitting work to the MA group every week there are chapters I’ve written for this novel that I could only write by convincing myself that no one would ever read them. For now, I was experimenting.Perhaps there are as many ways of writing as there are writers. One tip that’s helped me is to decide early on who you want to play who in the film/television drama adaptation of your story. What started off as an idle fantasy has really helped me picture my characters and to know their expressions and the way they speak and move.
This month I’m thrilled to be in the latest (& 50th) issue of Mslexia with my little monologue. This has brought my ‘grand’ total money-made-from-writing to £208 since 1986. (What do you mean that’s pathetic?) I also have a story on The Pygmy Giant called Takeaway - my answer to how some Chinese restaurants manage to make their food so hot.
There were times when I wasn’t writing, when I wanted to give up. There were times when I wrote loads and no one ever saw it. A friend said I would write even if I were the last person on earth. I’m not sure about that but as much as I like being alone and doing my own thing I don’t really want to test that out.
One thing I do know is that if this novel is never read by more that a handful of people then I'll still be glad I wrote it. This is mainly because I’m really enjoying the process.
Yes, that would be my other tip – if you enjoy the process of writing then just carry on doing it.