It’s January and I am a quarter of the way through the first draft of my new novel. That sounds really a lot better than it should. I conjures up ideas that make it seem like I might be finishing said draft by the end of April. No, it’s taken most of 2008 to get a quarter of the way through the novel, which is a bit of a long time. The problem is application of course. It takes an awful lot of time to write a novel and time is something that I don’t seem to have an awful lot of.
My work day is 8am to 6pm which rules out quite a large chunk of the day. Especially as my commute is another hour and a quarter on top. Writing in the night is difficult. I agree with Gunter Grass who said, “I don’t believe in writing at night because it comes too easily. When I read it in the morning it’s not good.” So I must write in the morning for an hour before I go to work. That means I get up at 5:30. Start writing at 6am and then leave the house at seven. Normally I get home again around eight because leaving work is harder than it should be, which means I have about an hour or two before going back to bed. And because that plan is so crazy, it has tended not to work as well as it might. I could try a different plan. That’s possible, normally when something doesn’t work, it’s best to go back to the beginning and try a different tack. But I just don’t see how I can. So this plan is it. Perhaps the next quarter will be faster?
When I ever mention that I am a certain distance through a novel or a piece of work I am often asked how I know. Well the simple answer is that I don’t really know of course. A page might take a week to write in first draft or it might take 10 minutes. And that page that took you ten minutes to write might change the course of the novel and add another chapter or subtract one. It is an imprecise measure. I haven’t done as some have and tried to come up with a number of words for a novel and then fit that. I think that doesn’t really work because every novel has a different pace and speed. I know it will be roughly a novel-length story, which is, I suppose, somewhere between 65,000 – 150,000 words. But that is a pretty big somewhere. The safest way I know is that I have an idea of all of the scenes and moments that I want in the novel. I have a list of them and to try and keep myself on track I have marked them as short, medium and long. This helps with the pacing while I’m in the trenches. Do I need to make this a fast punchy bit to get somewhere else or should it be slow and relaxed so that an emotion can be drawn out? Once I had the first few versions of those short, medium and long scenes done for this book, and I know how many of them there are I can tell how far I am through the book. That’s my method. Your mileage may vary.
The second thing that people ask me is always, “what is it about”? And the answer is, “I’m not telling.” I have to keep it a secret so that people don’t accidentally influence it. It’s hard enough second-guessing my own brain, let alone all of yours. Imagine I told you the book was about fish. And you said, “Oooh, I like books about fish, I always like it when books about fish have bits in them about the swim bladder”. That sounds like a perfectly natural thing for you to say (well, maybe not quite). The problem is that while I’m writing I’m always going to be trying to get that dang swim bladder into the story, even if the story would be much better without it. And even worse, the other way around you might say, “I don’t like books about fish.” And that doesn’t help at all.
So a secret it must be. But I feel like by telling you that it’s being worked on, I might keep the pressure on me to finish it. I’ll let you know when I’m half way.