Thursday, 26 August 2010

Becoming a novelist

For many years I've called myself a writer. I've written short stories, won a few competitions, placed in a few others and had a lot of fun with my writing. I wrote under the concept that all I had to do was put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and the story would form itself, and in many ways - that worked. I had no planning, no notes, just wherever the words took me - I went.

For writing short fiction, this worked a treat and I could crank out 5000 word short pieces with no real issue. But I became bored of that, and worried in a way that I'd never be able to write long fiction. So I tried to write long fiction, my sole success was a 20,000 word story about a haunted house which during a spate of dying computers and no back-ups, I lost. It was a story that took me a lot of work, and one which I really liked - but still, it was a short story.

I tried then for the first time to write a novel, I started around 10 different ideas, and with each I'd reach around 10-20,000 words and hit a brick wall, that was if I made it that far. Sometimes I'd run out of ideas, but mostly I'd run out of confidence. Still, I kept trying, determined that a story would write itself, that I wouldn't be resorting to somewhat traditional methods of God forbid - research and skeleton drafts.

That was around 8 years ago, and given I have no novels written - you can see how that went.

In 2009 I started a novel, tentatively titled "New World Order" - a post-apocalypse piece dealing with a number of issues I've covered in a lot of my work, issues that both worry and inspire me. This time - I made notes, I started a notebook and worked hard - and I got somewhere, but I didn't do enough. When in Summer 2009 I started the first draft of ''New World Order'' I got around 5000 words in before I wrote myself into a corner. I didn't lack ideas, what I lacked was confidence. Was what I was suggesting believable? How did X work? How would I make A go to B? Quickly I realised that I wasn't going to write that story at that time, and with sadness, I shelved the project.

Come 2010 I decided that I needed to start small, a workable and non-complex idea that I could fashion into young adult novel. Having long admired the concepts behind ''Battle Royale'', and more recently, "The Hunger Games" - I decided I'd write a novel that dealt with this, that wouldn't be difficult -after all, I controlled the setting/arena - and having a controlled environment made things easier to manufacture plot-wise. Happy with that idea, I started making notes.

My original notebook has now fallen apart, and despite it being a relatively short time since I started taking notes (I started around February 2010) - I marvel at my original notes. Written in pencil, they are the very bare bones of my idea, with unnamed characters - ''big guy'', ''the ned'' etc and scant details on how things happen. Of course, nothing is ever simple and it wasn't long before the idea behind my story grew legs, and spawned sequels. Which to me - struggling to write my first novel, having just decided I was writing a trilogy seemed somewhat insane. But - the idea was sound, and not only that - it was a trilogy or nothing at all, the background I now had didn't work with a stand alone novel, so that was that - suddenly I was writing 3 books instead of one.

I quickly became very enamoured with the story of the second novel and in great detail wrote the notes to it, filling hundreds of pages of A5 spiral bound Tesco notebooks with black biro notes and rough diagrams. I stopped to fill an entire A5 notebook with character background/development. Suddenly - I knew my characters, their histories, their motivations - and I wanted to write their stories, I wanted to bring them to life on paper. Within a few months, I didn't just have a few notebooks worth of notes, I had a writing bag, filled with notebooks and pens with no ink left in them.

I'd made the change from the writer who worked by the seat of her pants, to the one who almost knew too much. I felt like I'd already written the book, and that almost stopped me writing for awhile - then when I started I discovered something else, whereas I would normally write the start and go from there - I wanted to write the exciting part of the book, and what I had of my start was taking me forever to write and I wasn't happy with it. So, I started in the middle, with a lot of trepidation which vanished after the first 5000 words flew by - suddenly, after months of note taking, map drawing - I was writing a novel, and writing with a confidence I'd never known before.

I am still writing, my speed isn't as fast as I'd like - I'm discovering there are things I don't know, but I'm no longer writing myself into corners - I know what happens next, I know how my characters will react - and I'm enjoying myself. No doubt I still have stumbling blocks ahead, but if things continue as they have been, I expect to overshoot my estimated 80-90,000 word count, and hopefully saddle a professional with the job of editing.

In short, I've made the transition (I hope!) from short story writer to novelist, it's a learning curve and one I had to teach myself. I hope one day soon people reading this, will also have read my work. However, as many novelists state in their completed and published novels, writing is not a solitary achievement, and already I have a number of people to thank - Paul, who listens to theoretical discussions on a regular basis, Gemma, who reads everything regularly and serves as my boost and most brilliant test reader and Jim and Phil who read and spot errors, and give advice that is invaluable. Thankyou ~ Kitty

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