Sunday 14 February 2010

Am I in love with writing or is writing in love with me?

Writing a novel is like a love affair.

When at first you get the idea for a novel you are attracted, not able to think about anything else, but still only partly seduced by the plot.

Then you start to be obsessed with the characters and worry whether you can carry the idea through to the end. You do some research and the more you find out about the subject the more fascinated you are with it. But are you the right person to tell this particular story? Whether you are or not, you can't help yourself, you jump in and start writing.

Aaah. The first few weeks of frantic activity is bliss. Your fingers can hardly keep pace with your head; the words are coming thick and fast. You laugh and cry at the characters you've created. You feel the plot is absolutely faultless, the wonderful scenes you see in front your eyes are perfect, they convey precisely the right emotions. You chuckle to yourself when you imagine your readers enjoying your words. This is the best work you've ever created. This will be the one!

At about 3rd way through there's a problem with the plot. You begin worry about one or two characters. They start to do things that aren't in the plot. They start to get annoying. Oh, but you've been here before. A little time out is needed. You know you just need to take a day or two off. You know it's just a lover's tiff. But you're upset all the same.

You get on the internet and start to do more research. This only makes matters worse. You remember how wonderful your original idea was.

People close to you ask what's up with you. 'You look tired. Has something happened?' No, you tell them, or you invent other problems in real life because all you want to do is shout at the characters in your new, lovely, wonderful manuscript. The longer you are away from the text, doubts start creeping into your head: perhaps the plot is flawed? Perhaps the characters aren't real after all? Perhaps the voice is wrong? Perhaps you should introduce a new narrator, change the point of view? Perhaps 1st person isn't right? Should you try something completely different: an omniscient point of view?

Weary and fearful you return to the manuscript. You've got this far, surely if you just try hard the plot will sort itself out, the voice will improve. And when you read it through, you find it's actually quite good. You allow yourself to be enchanted by it again. So what if there are a few problems? There's the long editing process to come after all. You remind yourself writing is a shitty job. It's the worst idea you've ever had in your life to try to be a writer. But you still love this story, and it makes you so happy to finish a scene, a chapter. You get obsessed with the word count. You start to count the days, months it'll take you to finish the novel. You set up a strict schedule and promise yourself that all else in your life: Eating, Daughter, Son, Husband, Dogs, Cats, House, Earning Actual Money, Sleeping, have to wait. You are a writer: writing is what will have to come first.

You forget to tell your family.

When you get to 50,000 words you hate the plot. You abhor your characters. They're all stupid, over-emotional creatures who refuse to act in the way you've decided. They keep injecting new scenes, use different words in the dialogue from the ones you've designated before you started that day's writing session. But, you remind yourself you're on the downhill now, it's nearly done. It's nearly over.

But the story drags on. At 75,000 words (your designated end point) the plot is still not concluded. The characters you've decided will die/fall in love/out of love/move out of the country/change their lifestyle/change their attitude just won't get on with it. In the dark hours of the night when you lie awake thinking about the characters you realise you don't want to finish the book. You never want to the leave the place you've created. You're truly in love: you want to spend your life with the manuscript.

You drink so much coffee your pee turns black.

But end it must, this love affair: with tears running down your face you write the last scene. Off your characters walk into the sunset. You know you should celebrate, but it feels more as if you should be in mourning. You sleep through the night first time in months.

You know you need all the physical strength you have and all your writing experience to start the editing process. You'll have to awaken the old love affair and start living with it again.


Wildernesschic said...

Great post Helena .. does this mean you have finished your book ?

Unknown said...

I wish, Ruth. I'm on stage 2, ie 3rd way though the current manuscript and the time out is becoming longer and longer. Keep thinking should sell the two complete manuscripts languishing in a drawer first. xx

That's Not My Age said...

Blimey sounds like hard work - and the black pee can't be a good thing - but I'm sure it'll be worth it in the end. Keep on keeping on!

Style At Every Age said...

Bloody hell, sounds like hard work! It is a great post to give aspiring writers hope that they will get there in the end!

North West London Girl said...

I admire your motivation to stick at it and not give up, to try different strategies and look at all the angles.

I can now see that I would never have these qualities to even attempt a book.

I look forward to the final work..

tedsmum said...

Oh I wish I could! The times I have begun. How do you keep going, any tips?

Unknown said...

Tedsmum, sorry I've been meaning to reply to do I keep going?

I wrote 40,000 words (about half) of the first manuscript (Pappa's Girl) as part of my MA in Creative Writing and just felt compelled to finish. My tutor was also very helpful and saw me through to the end even though the course had long since finished.

The Red King of Helsinki was quite easy to write, and I had a lot of support from writer friends and family who all enjoyed the story. I also had to do a comprehensive rewrite of this manuscript for an agent who then didn't like it after all...that was difficult and I'm still reeling from the experience. Blogging helps!

I really like the follow-on from the Red King, which is the current project, but am finding it harder to get motivated. So in summary, support of friends, family and just plain stubbornness combined with love of the story. You've got to be in love with your tale.

Hope this helps & good luck & come back and tell me how you're getting on.

Helena xx

Hunter said...

This sounds very familiar indeed. Great post!