The process of novel writing

April 12, 2010

I’ve been hiding under a shell lately, trying to finish my novel The Memory of Blood. It’s currently at 68, 000 words and counting. I’ve been asked by a few people of late what my process is, how I write and put together something so big. I’m by no means an expert, as this is my first novel, but many writers find it helpful to hear from other people working on big projects. So here’s my friendly, amateur advice on novel writing.

Writing is much the same as climbing a mountain. At first it’s easy and exciting. Then, the air gradually thins, and as you get further into the story you start to discover obstacles that could potentially destroy your novel. You have to overcome these. Once you begin to reach the summit, the air is so thin that you can hardly breathe and it takes an hour to brew a cup of tea (stop procrastinating!). But when you reach that summit and finish your book, it is the most glorious thing, looking out upon the view you have created. After that, it’s all downhill from there.

I started The Memory of Blood in January last year, and was hoping to have it finished by December but that didn’t happen. At present I have most of the novel written, and I’m currently fleshing it out. By that, I mean that I have written the whole thing, but I leave gaps when writing so that I don’t lose the flow of the book. If you start getting bogged down in certain sections on the first run through, it makes it very hard to finish. The key is to keep writing.

One of the biggest questions I get asked is how do I get motivation to write. I’m a generally disciplined person, although I never think I am disciplined enough and have my fair share of lazy moments. You have to sit down, turn off all distractions and write. I normally write without music on, or a little classical/film score music as there are no lyrics that can get into my book somehow. The best time for me is early on a saturday morning when all is quiet and my husband is still asleep. I get a lot of work done before he wakes up. Any aspiring novelist should find their quiet place to work. In the words of Virginia Woolf, ‘a room of one’s own’.

Writing a novel is much bigger than writing short stories (duh). This means you’ve got to think big about what you want to say and achieve in the space of 70,000-100,000 words. I see too many writers waste space with stories that don’t go anywhere or nothing exciting happens. You can either write one hundred pages about your grandma’s rose garden, or in the same space defile the Mona Lisa and escape from the clutches of an evil albino monk. I can tell you which idea made more money.

I begin writing by coming up with a start and end point. This is the same for any of my short stories or non-fiction pieces. If I know where I want to start and where it will finish, I’m able to make up my own way there in between. As TMOB is based on the Dracula story, it wasn’t so difficult to make up the in-betweens, but I was forced into an already created structure. People ask me if I have a plan. Mostly I do not. Stephen King refers to it as excavating seashells on the shore; you don’t know what you’ll find once you start digging.

Once you get to the editing and polishing stage it is hard slog. I won’t lie. But doing it is a compelling achievement. I am proud to have written so many words. Just the knowledge that I am capable of such a feat spurs me on to more writing. In fact, I think I hear another mountain calling.

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