Last year I made a huge breakthrough. After years of writing short stories, suffering from writer’s block and procrastination, I had finally managed to write an 80,000-word novel. I put it aside afterwards, to allow some cooling off time, before embarking on the redrafting process.
I began the book with an idea that was close to my heart and developed it as wrote. I didn’t stop to think, in case I was tempted to give up, because I’d never written anything that long before. The centre of the story changed many times, even though I eventually developed some aims and made a note of plot problems. I was a different ‘Hannah’ at the start of the process than I was at the end, and that leaked into my characters and the plot, resulting in a lack of overall focus.
There are many ways of writing a novel. Some people launch straight in and work out what their story’s about afterwards, which makes for a hefty redrafting process. Other people plan everything to the letter beforehand. I imagine most writers are somewhere in between. Some people start with characters, others with theme, or location, or an image…
The way I wrote my novel was the only way I could at the time. I was tackling a confidence issue: I doubted that I could complete a work of that length. I wrote as quickly as I could, numbing the perfectionist streak that is a huge part of my character, and aiming to get to the end.
Of course, I wanted it to be a great story. It was important to me and still is, in a way. Yet there was a nagging feeling every time I thought about the book. When you come up against an obstacle you can either climb over it or move in another direction. My default setting is always to carry on, and to do what I’ve set out to do. Yet sometimes the nagging feeling won’t go away and it demands a change of course (this is something I discuss in my post ‘Running before you Can…’).
In the end I found that there were too many issues with the story, and I wasn’t convinced I could make it into something satisfying even with my best efforts. I have realised that, even from my point of view, the story isn’t important enough for the amount of time it would take. Perhaps it has served its purpose: I now know I can write a novel, and I learnt a huge amount in the process.
In order for a book to work you can’t overlook the structure. I now know that it’s crucial for me, personally, to plan much more carefully before beginning a long writing project – I’m a planner by nature, so I should have realised this sooner! I give my short stories so much detailed attention; I almost become the characters before I attempt a first draft.
So, for the time being at least, I’ve decided to put the book aside. I’m in the planning stages of another novel and I’m excited with how it’s going so far. I’ve flexed my writing muscles and feel much more prepared this time…
Watch this space!