The writing of a book: part 2

I don’t think there was a time in my life when I didn’t want to write a book. I vaguely remember learning to write, although it feels like I’ve always known letters and words. I remember learning to form the letters, but at some level I’ve always recognised meaning in letters and words. It’s the most innate way of communicating for me, which sounds totally bizarre, but it’s true; speaking is fun and often fluid but doesn’t feel as natural as writing for me.

I’ve had ‘the idea’ running around in my head for about five years now. It has morphed a bit, but it’s been there waiting to be written. There are some other ideas that have been hanging around for longer than this one, but I know this is ‘the one’ for the moment. I’ve known for a while.

Recently, after getting a copy of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent to review, I was reading up on Hannah and her journey to becoming a published author (and apparently securing a kick arse publishing deal!). I found a fantastic piece on the Kill Your Darlings literary journal where she talks in detail about the process, from the time she first stumbled upon the idea for the book ten years ago on an exchange program in Iceland, to the days she spent holed up in her writing room despairing at ever getting this thing done. She seems to have read the same ‘How to write a book in 30 days’ series from the Guardian that I’d been poring over for a while. Oh how inspiring to read this honest account of writing a first novel! She is clearly a very talented writer and has been working on her craft for a number of years, given the book is part of her PhD in creative writing. Her promise to herself to write 1000 words every day really struck me; while I can’t realistically do the same, I can get pretty close to it. After all, most blog posts I write (this isn’t one of them, by the way) just flood out and suddenly I look down to the discover I’ve written 800 words without even blinking. I’m not saying they’re ‘good’ words, but it proves I can churn the writing out when I knuckle down, which is essentially the way one writes a book.

So I began. I plotted a bit of an outline, although I’m not referring to this at all. It became a way of organising my thoughts, or sort of releasing some of the rubbish that was clogging up my head. And then I began writing. I did my best not to second guess myself or edit along the way and I tried not to think about how awful the writing was in some parts. As I progressed beyond a measly 2,000 words, I started to feel disillusioned. The writing was getting worse! I couldn’t even continue much beyond that, so I left it for a day. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. The only reason I didn’t give up on the spot is that I have been here before; I know my inner critic very well, and I know she likes to find ways to stop me. My high school English teacher, Mr P, used to say it was good practice to get up earlier than you normally would and write while you’re half asleep; the inner critic isn’t a morning person. Of course, I never managed this as I’m definitely not a morning person, and now I have become one through becoming a mum, I never get a chance to get up early enough to beat my son to it and have any time alone to write.

As it was whirling around in my head depressing me, I mentioned to Mr Chewbacca what had happened to my writing. We’d spent a few minutes in a coffee shop the week before having a thoroughly enjoyable and motivating conversation about my future book and how I might structure it, and although he’s not a writer, he is highly intelligent and very good at ideas and concepts. He also gives excellent feedback. This time, when I complained about stalling so early on, he hardly said anything. Just by talking about it, I realised that I needed to keep going. I realised that all the crappy writing needed to come out before I could get to the good stuff. It had to come out sometime, why not now? It’s seriously so awful. But in amongst it, there is some lovely stuff.

So I’m going to have faith that the crap will eventually be cleared out and it will make way for some goodness. I’m going to keep writing. My goal is an arbitrary 100,000 words, although I suspect, like Hannah Kent, I might just stop one day and realise that the book is finished.

I’ll be writing many more parts to this ongoing saga until the book is actually finished. Given I’m only on about 3,000 words now and most of it is utter garbage, there will be a few more posts yet…

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The writing of a book: part 1

I’ve always planned to write a book at some point in my life. I remember at about age eight or nine planning novels. I’d beg my parents for a nice new exercise book, a big fat one, 360 pages, and I’d flick that thick, fresh wad of blank pages through my fingers a few times, just to enjoy the clean, chunkiness of it, the possibility. I’d imagine seeing every page covered in writing. Pages get thicker somehow when they’re written on.

I had plans. I had ideas. I knew my characters’ names. I’d agonise over a nice title and toy with various pseudonyms or ways of writing my author name. I’d plan out the chapters, often numbered so there would be an equal number of pages in the book for each chapter. So 12 chapters in a 360 page book would mean 30 pages per chapter. I’d then have to recalculate, realising that I needed a few pages for the title page and table of contents. Once calculated, I’d write out the title page and table of contents, then go through numbering the pages and writing the names of the chapters on the relevant pages. Finally I was ready to begin.

And suddenly my ideas seemed stupid. I might sometimes write a first page. Usually a few sentences. Sometimes just a first word. But as soon as my story began to be transferred onto the page, it didn’t seem to work any more.

That still happens. Not quite to that extent, but my inner critic is my worst enemy. Being told once about age 14 by a well-meaning but tactless teacher that my writing was clichéd didn’t help quash this insidious voice of shame forcing itself into my thoughts. I knew my writing was full of clichés. I knew it was too wordy. Unoriginal. Clunky. Rough. Awkward. But at my very core I have always known I could write and I would go unfulfilled without expressing myself through words.

So how can I be this giant contradiction? On the one hand, I can’t come up with solid output. On the other, writing is my soul. I have no answer to this question. But I do know that I have an awesome idea for a book which has been hovering about for the past two or three years at least. And it won’t go away without being written. The question is, how will I manage to motivate myself enough and kill off the inner critic so it actually gets written? I know that, done well, this book has mass audience appeal and many original aspects, which is a kick arse combination. I just need to write…