I remember finishing the first draft of my first ever novel. I’d done it; and that was it. I sat there stunned for a few minutes. Believe it or not, ‘The End’ can be a very anti-climatic moment. There is no spontaneous applause, no balloons suddenly appear and no-one in the world knows what you have just achieved until you share it with them.
Completing a novel is such a personal, private affair that often occurs in silence and seriousness. There is the weight of all that you have done on your shoulders and the fear that it will not live up to what you believe it could be. Yet, there is also pride and satisfaction in knowing that you have done what you set out to do, that you stuck with it through the difficult times and now you have something whole to show for it. Not to mention that now, thanks to the advent of modern technology, you can shout your success from the rooftops and share in your glory with others who know just how it feels to write those final words.
I’ve completed several manuscripts since that first one. And with each one I’ve learned something new about my writing and my approach to novel constructions. It can take me a long time to be able to read the story back and determine the best route for my characters. So many changes are made on the way, not just in my narrative. I’ve changed too.
Since starting my first novel in 2011 I have written seven others. These include a fun draft for a young adult novel and a first draft intended to be a sequel to that first one; That which is left is lost. In part, writing these made me really question the quality of my first novel and led to me to rewriting the whole thing. I spent 2013 trying unsuccessfully to edit that story, it wasn’t until I sat down to tackle the rewrite that I really discovered all the issues that it had. Half-formed characters, unknown motivations and lapsed story threads plagued my original draft and even the sections I had attempted to edit were lacking the pace and narrative structure to adequately tell the story I wanted to share.
In the rewriting of that novel I had more control. I knew what was supposed to happen when, who was integral to the plot and why they were involved to begin with. So many more things were clear to me during the rewrite and I think that is because over the past few years I’ve developed my skill as a writer. I still probably have so much left to learn. But I know this much: writing those two novels in between this draft and my original copy of That which is left is lost, really helped me to understand story structure and to develop character. Now I truly understand why it is so rare for a debut novelist to be published with their inaugural novel – because good writing, storytelling and description take time to develop.
A novel needs nurturing and caring for; the idea needs time to sit and ferment. I think writers can get drunk on the possibility of new ideas and then, when they emerge out of the other side they realise, in a hungover state, that perhaps it wasn’t such a genius plan after all – that they’ve written themselves into a corner or lost the spark that they believed was the glint of literary gold. Ideas need work, and so often that takes longer than we want it to.
The process of writing a novel is not something that can simply be taught. People can advise and suggest ways for you to get started or to keep your motivation going or even how to celebrate when you finish. But they can’t write the book for you, nor can they tell you what is best for the story you are trying to tell. All of that has to come from you.
Even as a Writing Coach I can only make suggestions and help writers navigate the choices they need to make; not give them the answers. What I can do, however, is champion your writing efforts, support you as a writer, and guide you on the way to your particular novelling success. I help writers write their novel, in their own way so that, in ‘the end’ they don’t have to waste months, or even years, trying to figure out what that looks like. I took that route, and now it’s ten years later…!
Wherever you are on your writing journey, know that what it takes to finish writing a novel is, when it comes down to it, pure perseverance. Keep going, keep writing, keep editing, and one day you’ll sit back and realise: “I just wrote my novel”.
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