Monday 11 May 2009

On Writing a Novel

You may or may not know that I’ve been trying to write a novel. I started in January (this year) and I finished the first draft in the middle of April. Now I’ve got the formidable task of editing. The from-the-heart free-flowing creativity is over and I’ve got months of the from-the-head think-like-a-reader/publisher and make-it-as-good-as-you-can objectivity. It’s where I make sure that I’ve chosen exactly the right words in exactly the right order. And I need to do all of this without losing the essence of the piece, the heart of it. I don’t want to make it a science project; it’s a work of creativity, a piece of love.

It is my routine to get up and write in the morning before work. In those two hours at my desk with a cup of coffee I am taken to a different place and time; I am here in body but there in mind. The story plays like a movie in my head.

I planned the story for a couple of months before starting. I worked out who my main characters were and I started to get to know them (although it was only when they started living in the actual piece that I fully knew them). I decided what was going to happen, where and how (although things changed on the way to THE END), I worked out the best tone and voice, I did some research and I spent about three days trying to decide on the main characters’ names (names often take me ages to choose). Yet I still surprised myself with the things that happened. I had times where I was so excited that I couldn’t physically type quick enough to keep up with my imagination. The ending was planned to be in one place but it turned out that it took place somewhere else and the final ‘battle’ was both fiercer and more delicate at the same time, more emotional and moving, harder hitting. These things, the actions you didn’t plan or anticipate, can be very exciting.

I’ve started on the editing now and this morning I re-read one of the scenes which was a favourite to write. It honestly hit me deep inside when I read it back. I created that. It found the exact right tone and pace and emotion. And the final line of the chapter is just perfect. I was pretty proud with that. And the astounding thing is that when I re-read these things I have no idea how I created them or where they came from. It’s a mystery.

But writing is such an up-and-down kind of thing. Sometimes everything flows better than you can ever hope and you get the highest of rushes, a surge of happiness and excitement that can last for hours. Those ‘wow, did I really create that?’ highs are worth all the lows. And there are plenty of lows. The days when your fingers just won’t do anything. When your creativity is a vacuum. It’s the self-doubt, the ‘what’s the point’, the ‘this is shit’ (Hemingway - who I named my goldfish after for inspiration - said ‘Every first draft is shit’, so that’s some comfort.)

But I cannot not write. That’s why I keep this blog, that’s why I get up stupidly early every morning, that’s why I’m writing this now. Writing is like an addiction. But the creative process constantly fascinates me. The way ideas are generated (literally five minutes ago I thought of a new way to develop an idea I’m working on – I’m pretty excited by this little burst of inspiration already…), the way ideas develop, how the story forms on the page and how powerful words can be.

I truthfully don’t know if what I’ve got is any good or whether it is something that could sell. There’s a lot of work to do and lots of changes to be made. I need to work on character a lot, motivation, emotional drive, the whys and hows. I’ve got lots to do on the voice and tone. I need to make everything believable. I need to make an essentially bad character and his actions sympathetic. I probably need to do a lot more research, maybe talk to some experts about some of the stuff I’ve written about (I probably should have done more of this a few months ago rather than relying on an over-active imagination and wikipedia). I’ve got pages of notes to wade through and interpret and use. I also want to cut the words down and just make it sharper, cutting the flab. ‘Art is the elimination of the unnecessary’ said Aristotle.

Here’s to a few months (hopefully not years…) of hard editing and objective thinking (the plan is a quick edit followed by a few weeks away from it completely and then a comprehensive edit). I can’t wait to read it all the way through to see what I’ve really got. And if it’s no good and no one wants to publish it (a grueling task that I’m really not looking forward to!) then I’ve got my next few ideas ready to be worked on, including one based around a brewery…

I am aware that this post isn't about beer. I just fancied putting up something a little different. Plus I wanted to try and document part of the writing process for me and maybe learn about how other writers associate with their own pieces. If you come here expecting beer today then I'm sorry, but I will tell you that I had a simply glorious glass of Stone's Imperial Russian Stout in The Rake on Saturday. That is one helluva beer and if my story were to be likened to any beer out there then I think that could be the one.


  1. Wow! Congratulations on your first draft. I admire anyone with the dedication to come up with new stories to tell. It's something I can't even imagine doing, but I get great pleasure in reading them.

    Everyone seems to be writing books these days!

    The only books I've contributed to were dry pieces on archaeology and GIS. :D

  2. Cheers! I'm full of ideas it's just working out whether they are novels or short stories or screenplays or just utter rubbish!! Most of them turn out to be rubbish! I love trying to play with ideas though to see if they have potential life or not.

    Is it me or is there some gentle irony in the use of 'dry' and 'archaelogy'?!

  3. You have a point. The archaeology of Ireland is generally wet, and if it wasn't I was. But that's a long time ago...

    Sounds like you have fun playing with ideas at least! And do you have a publisher for this work? When should we expect to get signed copies? :D

  4. Haha, sometime in the near-future of my dreams!

    No publisher, I'm just trying to write the thing first and then I'll work on getting it picked up afterwards. The writing, so I understand, is the easy bit! Oh well, if all else fails I'll start a new blog for the story and publish one chapter every few days until it's all up, just to get it out there. Then I'd make the money from the inevitable movie deal for which I'd write the screenplay - It's all planned out but until then I'l continue to happily live in my dream world :D!

  5. Liam, if Wurst is one of your characters, I do expect royalties. You're a cool cat, but I draw the line there. If this is some great drama between me, Die Talismann and Avery, great! I prefer Pounds Sterling or Euros.

  6. Congratulations on the first draft and best of luck with the editing :)

    Its great to have you over on the boards!

  7. Wurst, you are the main man in my work! It's an evangelical think-piece about fighting the old system. You are the mastermind, Avery is the good looking hero and Die Talisman is the evil antagonist who you are hell bent on destroying. Avery's role, as the young King, is a detraction from the main action which is essentially your character vs. the bad guy - Avery also gets some steamy love scenes but end up dying a very dramatic and moving scene. Something like that anyway... :)

    As for royalties, I'll buy you a beer some time, probably when the world book promo tour reaches California!

  8. Good stuff Mark. I have been working on some fiction as well, well mainly just train of thought into Evernote (you should use this, its brilliant). I have not thought to much about story and so on, so I will be starting a new blog and posting it as I write on a weekly basis. I'll post the short prologue later this week.

  9. Wurst and Mark, I can imagine some sort of Mills and Boon/Barbera Cartland beer based love story between beer bloggers.

    Only their love is prohibited as one is a member of CAMRA and one of the APRK.

  10. Fascinating insight Mark and my congratulations too on finishing the draft.

    It's your true dedication to your writing that sees you get up hours before you need to that I just cannot relate to! Hence why for me the blog was the first thing to go by the wayside once life became 'too busy'. As I wasn't prepared to just randomly type and post without making sure I was happy with what I'd written, it became a chore rather than a means of escape. In other words, I'm just a lazy git.

  11. Tim, I look forward to reading your new stuff. I've thought a little about starting a blog with some fiction on it but never have. I try to get creative with some of my beer blogs instead when I can.

    Pete, interesting... not sure what the market will be for it though?!

    Dubbel, it's just routine now, that's how I do it - I do find it tough rolling out of bed really early, although it's easier now that it's lighter! If I don't do it in the morning then I won't be able to do the beer stuff in the evening. And I had noticed a severe lack of posts from you recently!! Pull your finger out!

  12. An inspiring post about an aspiring author. I've dabbled in short stories and the like in the past, and part of what drew me to beer blogging is keeping up with the act of writing once I graduated from college.

    It's great to hear you're putting your talent to (another) good use. Looking forward to perusing a copy of your work in the near future!

  13. Put me down for two copies - one signed and dedicated and one to keep in a glass display case in mint condition for my grandchildrens' education in decades to come.

    I'll have a sneaky beer tonight to toast the success of the first draft and several more for luck with the publishing. If all else fails you can use an on-line printer, get the work published and then flog the book yourself!

    Prof. Pilsner

  14. Cheers Prof. I hope it was a good beer ;) I'll keep this comment for when I do try to sell it, at least I'll be able to guarantee 2 sales, and both in the overseas market!

    As for saving it for the Grandkids... it might not be child friendly, some of the stuff might scar them for life!

  15. Have you looked for an agent yet? A good agent, leading to a good editor, could work wonders for you.

  16. I haven't looked for an agent yet. From what I've read and learnt I think I need to have a more polished or 'final' piece before I try and take the next step. Especially at the mo when fewer books are being bought and published.

    When I'm closer to finishing a later draft then I'll start on the lookout for an agent. But I have to work out if it's any good first!!

  17. Mark if you haven’t already, get a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook – it’s a must.

    Remember you need to write a good blurb for the back, the bit that really hooks the reader. Oh and a sharp synopsis is a pre-requisite. Also agents and publishers receive thousands of drafts a week, you have to be able to sell yourself before they’ll think you can sell a book, so a short and witty CV is always a good idea.

    Finally and on more positive note, every writer that has ever been successful has received countless rejections slips – it comes with the territory. Harry Potter was rejected eight times before a publisher took it upon themselves to print a small run of just 500 copies and The Lord of the Flies was rejected over thirty times.

    Still it sounds as if you really have the writing bug so you should be able to deal with the inevitable rejections – keep the faith and you’ll succeed.

    Good luck mate.

  18. Thanks Dave. I will be getting a copy of that, I've been holding off until I'm ready to get 'out there' so i get the most recent copy.

    I'm trying to prepare myself for the inevitable rejections. But for now all I can do is write the best thing I'm capable of and then see what happens with a bit of hard. Cheers for your comments :)

  19. Rockin'! Lots of people feel they were born to write, but not all of them are writers. You are one of the few. I wish you the best of luck revising and getting the work out into the world in whatever way you can. (I've written three books so I know that first draft angst/glee well!)

  20. Thank you IM, that means a lot :) And I didn't know you'd written three books?! I think you can now anticipate some emails from me ranging from delirius joy to stricken grief - just entertain me!!

    To Everyone... You know, I nearly didn't put this post up because I didn't know what kind of a reaction it was going to get. To be honest I didn't expect any comments at all and thought I might lose some readers, so it's been great and quite humbling to get so many cool responses. It's certainly motivated me some more too! Thank you all. You can expect a few updates as I struggle along with this and need some more love!

    (p.s. I was going to just paste the final line as a teaser but reading it back it would massively spoil the whole story so I won't!!)

  21. Hey Mark, I will try to help in any way I can and would welcome hearing about your process.