I’ve had some interesting conversations with various people recently, about my attitude to my writing.
I now have what one might call a ‘standard process’ for approaching my novels – and it’s still astounding to me that I’m in a position where there are enough of them for that to be the case.
But there seems to be a worrying trend for my first drafts to come in short – and it’s getting worse! For novel number one, it was 70k words, which is close enough to proper novel length that it wasn’t too hard to expand it. For number two, it was 60k words, which eventually resulted in a short-ish novel of 70k words. But number three was 50k words, and number four was 40k words, which is going to be a significant hurdle to overcome, if I want it to actually work as a novel. (I’m currently tweaking and proofing it for an upcoming novella submission call, but that’s another story.)
My editor recommended some books about how to deepen storylines, and how to outline so that your stories are layered and complex, and I’m looking forward to reading those, to see if I can develop my outlining process to incorporate more into the initial stages. This will hopefully mean I don’t have to spend as much time trying to expand them during revisions.
But, it’s prompted me to look at the whole process of writing a novel, and how I feel about it. At the moment, I’m excited to get back to work on novels three and four – because they’re both at the stage of collating and compiling feedback, in order to build a revision plan. I love this stage, because it involves reading comments from editors and beta readers, and then using lots of notebooks and charts and lists and different coloured pens to organise the information into something I can use.
I’ve also started to love the initial outlining stage, mostly for the same reasons, since it’s about organising information and making lists.
However, when it comes to the actual writing – I tend to lose motivation. Maybe it’s because the ideas don’t seem new any more. Maybe it’s because it’s much harder work to put words on paper than it is to play around with coloured pens. I think, at the end of the day, I’m just lazy.
But, since the majority of time spent writing a novel is taken up by the actual writing – might this be a problem?
Another aspect is that my world-building is always lacking. My beta readers always want more detail about everything – what things look like, where scenes take place, how the society/world works, what the history is – all that good background information that makes a fantasy story interesting.
But, in terms of developing it all, it’s not all that interesting to me!
I gravitate towards writing fantasy novels, because they are what I like to read, and I enjoy the freedom of making stuff up, without the risk of being criticised for getting it wrong. But, while real-world stories require research, fantasy stories require world-building, and I’m not very good at getting into the nitty-gritty of that. A friend suggested I might be better of doing ‘real world with a twist’ stories (like my second novel) because that allows inconsistencies and anachronisms to be explained away by it not actually being the real world. But the basis of that world is still already there for me to play with.
It was an interesting thought, certainly – but all the ideas on my current list of potential future novels are fantasy stories, based in entirely different worlds, and it was be a shame to have to abandon them.
Another conversation I had recently revolved around whether it’s the overall required length of a novel that’s the problem. I do write a lot of short stories, which are much more forgiving in terms of length, depth and background information. Perhaps I should just stick to that? But short stories don’t require all the planning, organising, listing, etc, which are the parts of the novel-writing process that I love!
So, as happens on occasion, I’m currently wondering why I do this writing business at all. I know I’m not going to give up on it altogether, since I’ve tried that in the past and it never sticks for very long. And, indeed, after taking a couple of weeks off, I’m really enthusiastic about getting stuck back in to novels three and four. With three, I think I definitely have something that can work, without (hopefully) too much extra work – though I haven’t actually read my beta reader feedback yet, so we’ll see… With four, I’m keen to find out what my editor thinks about its potential as a fully-fledged novel, and I’m prepared to do some work on my outlining process to see if I can build it up into a more robust story.
Right now, therefore, I have plans to complete and get published at least two more novels – though I suspect my motivation levels will drop again, once I have to do the actual hard work of adding new words to them. After that, who knows? I have at least eight other ideas for novels, two or three of which I’m pretty keen to develop.
But I came to an interesting realisation last week, when someone asked me what I would tell my younger self, if I had the chance. What I came up with was: you *can* write novels, but you don’t *have* to.
This was quite revelatory, in terms of acknowledging both my ability in this area, and the fact that nobody is forcing me to do it! I suspect I will carry on, but perhaps putting less pressure on myself with deadlines and expectations for the finished article. I’m definitely still learning and developing as a novelist, and I’m keen to work on my process and find out how I can make it better, easier and more fun.
So, we’ll see…