It’s November, and around the world, vast numbers of people will set about spending it trying to write a novel. I won’t be one of them. I started a novel in November last year – not because of NaNoWriMo, but because I’d been pondering and planning for a while, and felt ready to start. It’s nearly a year on and I haven’t finished writing the first draft. I’ve written a lot, I like where it’s going and I could wish it had got beyond this stage by now, but at the same time, I’m not enormously troubled. It’s been a busy year.
In the same time frame, I saw a co-written novel come out (Letters Between Gentlemen) and started work on the sequel. I wrote ten new short stories and recorded them for www.nerdbong.com ‘s Splendiferous Stories for Slumber. Non-fiction title ‘When a Pagan Prays’ came out, and I’ve nearly written my next non-fic. I wrote a poetry collection, although am not quite sure what I’m doing with it, and a story that won me a place in Stroud Short Story competition. On top of this, I was a small part of the huge team effort that got Molly Scott Cato elected as a Member of the European Parliament, and took on managing two blogs for John Hunt Publishing. I spent a month working as a studio assistant. I’ve gone back to editing as well – the day jobs are many.
Alongside that there’s the more personal labours around being wife to a massively talented artist whose epic contract this year has meant he really needed me to keep the home front running smoothly. I’m also mother to a budding maths genius, with his rugby generated laundry and need for interesting and educational out of school options.
Along the way I’ve had several bouts of block with regards to the novel, a crisis over my creative work, and some serious run ins with depression. These are not unusual afflictions for authors, either. I’ve had patches where I needed to step away from the book to reflect on the structure, characters, and direction. I would not have had a clue how to finish it without some personal experiences this autumn that have made me realise what was missing, and what, therefore, will happen next.
It takes a lot of material to write a rich and engaging novel of decent length. I read all the time, I study people, absorb ideas and influences, and sometimes that radically impacts on what I was doing. What I set out to write is seldom what I end up with because I learn so much on the way. If I tried to write a draft in a month, I would lose all that space for learning and reflection. I would lose the real life events that feed into what I write. I know there’s a logic that says get something down and then hone it, but that doesn’t work for me. I need to like what I’ve written. It has to be good enough to justify the time and energy of a redraft. If I don’t give it my best the first time around, I won’t feel inspired to stick with it.
I notice that I do my best work when it can go at its own pace, when I can have a range of creative projects on the go – music and crafting, kitchen projects, learning things – at the same time. I write better when I have a good diet of creative and inspiring input, when I have time to read, walk, go to gigs, dance, daydream. To write a book in a month, and honour the day jobs, and care for my family, I’d have to write about 2000 words of fiction most days. Other things would have to give. What I’ve learned this last year is that when I give up that balance of things to focus on whatever is supposedly more important, my creative output goes down, and so does the quality.
We’re all different in terms of how we think, feel and create. If running flat out for a month at the expense of everything else works for you – fine. But if not, there are other ways. There are always other ways.