What ho! I return ladies and gentleman. After a month-long off-the-blog sabbatical in the name of writing, I’m back to tell you all about it.
I’m writing a book. Well, I think I’ve written a book. Well, I’ve written a book, but I’m polishing it up still, so it’s not quite done yet. At the end of 2010 I moved to Barrydale to write a proposal for a project I had in mind. The project was attached to this blog, and I wanted to write a manifesto to put on the blog, to attract readers and get my name out there. So, whilst writing the proposal, I started putting down some ideas around what I would put in such a manifesto. It became a ten-pager, and although it was all a bit rudimentary I was very proud of it.
Then the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome set in big time, which kind of put a spanner in the works. For the time being I was going to have to stay in Barrydale, and the only thing I could really bring myself to do with the energy I had available, was to write. So that’s what I did. I wrote about my life. I wrote about ideas I had, things I thought about, recurring themes in my life, and the more I wrote the more the pages started to heap up.
Most of those pages were absolute bull crap, but that didn’t matter really. The mere fact that I had managed to generate such an enormous amount of stuff was enough to keep my spirit going for quite some time. I’d always wanted to write a book. I sort of promised myself I would, and so the more information started coming out, the more I started looking for ways in which I could possibly assemble all the information into one document. Slowly – very slowly – all the information started to gravitate towards each other, until finally now I can say: “I think I’ve written a bloody book!” I’m practically a parent people.
Now, in terms of my writing process – I’m afraid I’m probably not going to be of much help. I had the most roundabout, illogical, crazy writing process anyone has ever heard of. I wrote about whatever I liked on any given day. The entire shape and premise of my book changed a number of times. It went through a vast number of changes, as I changed, and the book process in some ways clearly reflected my own personal process in Barrydale. I hope that if I ever write another book, it won’t be anything like this. Most often, it felt like I was stumbling around in a dark room and trying to find things to hold onto. Yikes.
Every time I thought about quitting, I would get on the internet and re-read her story for some inspiration. I’m wildly inspired by her. Cathryn wrote the number one bestselling book “The Help”, and a film was made of it as well. Like me, she initially spent a year and a half writing her book, and then she decided to send it off to a publisher and she got her first rejection letter. She was expecting this – publishing a book these days is quite a feat – and so she made some improvements and sent it off to the next publishing house. Over the course of five years she sent that damn book to sixty publishers who all rejected her. Number sixty-one published it, and it became an international success. Can you imagine if she’d given up on her sixtieth rejection letter??
In his beautiful book “What I talk about when I talk about running” Murakami talks about his own writing process. I think he sums it up perfectly when he says that there are two things that you need to succeed as a writer: You need be able to focus on one thing for an extended period of time. Secondly, you need endurance. You need to keep writing every day, year in and year out. This is the dividing line between people who want to write, but don’t, and people who do. The people who do aren’t necessarily great writers, but they have the ability to endure – to continue, against all the odds, to keep going and trying, even when the whole world tells them that what they’re writing is a load of hog wash. (cough-cough) I keep returning to this wonderful article on 99% for inspiration.
Hands down the most difficult part of the writing process has been the isolation it requires. Essentially you have to be really comfortable with spending vast amounts of time alone in a room with the music off and the door closed. Personally, I can’t wait to finish so I can go and be out in the world again for a change. Wow. Other people. There’s a concept for you.
I’m just going to put this out there:
I’ve been on a couple of writing courses that purported that I could write a book within two months or the like. Those courses helped me a great deal with learning how to structure a book, how many words you require (at least 60,000), how many chapters that is (12 chapters with 5,000 words each) and how to go about conceptualizing your novel. Yes, it is possible to write a novel in two months! If you can put 60,000 words down on paper in that time, voila, you’ve written a book. Whether or not that will be a good book – a book other people will find valuable and want to read - is a completely different question. In my experience that takes a lot longer. It takes persistence, constant re-writing and re-working, massive amounts of commitment, and an unwavering belief that what you’re doing is valuable – at least to yourself.
Lastly: If you need some excellent, light-hearted writing advice, I strongly recommend the pen-monkey Chuck Wendig over at TerribleMinds. He has kept me sane often when I thought there could be no more hope for me.