Around a year ago I embarked upon a module called Planning The Novel for my Creative Writing MA. It was at this point that I began to think about the characters, the setting and the plot of my novel to be. This was when I wrote a detailed study of my protagonist’s goals and the obstacles that would stand in her way. This was when I tried out her voice. Indeed, this was when I had two protagonists and then ditched one of them. This was when I began to set down the first tentative lines of my novel. And the first tentative chapters.
A term of one-to-ones with my tutor followed. Much use of printer paper and ink cartridges on my part. Much use of pencil and sharpener on hers: comments, squiggles and question marks in the margins, as well as the initials DB dotted liberally over every page, standing for Do Better!
By September, my 37,500 word dissertation was ready to hand in. Vowing not to lose momentum, I set myself a target of 5,000 words a week and managed to complete my first draft at the start of the New Year.
Not bad going, huh? Not bad at all.
But now that I’ve started working on the second draft I find novel fatigue setting in.
Firstly, it’s much harder to set targets now. Word counts don’t make much sense when some words are added, others taken out and others substituted every day. At the end of the week it is difficult to judge how much I’ve actually achieved.
Secondly, whilst starting to feel distinctly tired and jaded, I know I have an awfully long way still to go. I remember how hard I had to work in order to turn the first draft of my 37,500 word dissertation into something presentable. Now I have to do the same with another 37,500. And another 37,500 after that.
It’s at this stage that I start to wonder, what’s the point of it all? Why am I bothering? What exactly do I hope to gain from this?
Let’s be clear. I am not in the business of writing a ground breaking masterpiece that will smash the conventions of all that has gone before and change the literary landscape forever. I am not in the business of producing a seminal text for study at GCSE or A level. I make no high claims for my novel. The most I hope to achieve is to provide the reader with an entertaining, perhaps vaguely thought provoking, read. To engage their attention from beginning to end, and hopefully to evoke some emotions along the way, such as amusement, curiosity, sympathy, surprise, dread, and a decent dollop of revulsion.
That’s if it ever gets published, of course.
How long will it take the reader to read my book? I’m not sure. But in proportion to how long it will have taken me to write it, the answer is NOT VERY LONG.
The return on this investment of mine starts to look pretty paltry. A few hours of entertainment for somebody else in exchange for at least two years’ hard slog on my part. I must be mad. Why don’t I just give up writing and get myself fit instead?
And yet I can’t stop now. I’ve invested too much time already. And I want to finish this novel. I want that satisfaction at least.
Self-satisfaction then, is that my prime motive? Well, maybe. I would like to be published, of course. I would like readers to enjoy my book. I’d like some affirmation. I’d even like to be paid. But this isn’t a job. Not yet anyway. If it were – if I were a successful, established author – I would probably be contracted to produce a certain number of books within a certain time frame. And for me that would almost inevitably involve a sacrifice in quality. The great advantage of being a struggling, unknown, author is the unlimited time and freedom to work hard on every word. The unknown novelist’s novel is a real labour of love.
And let me not forget, whilst I’m squirming in my chair at the latest paragraph of cliché ridden drivel I’ve managed to commit to paper, that I do actually enjoy writing. Writing is what gets me through the day. It’s what take me away from life’s practical shit and opens a portal to a deeper, and yes, I’m afraid, darker, person inside of me.
After all, when I’ve finished writing this novel, what will I do? Go and get fit? I don’t think so. I think I’ll start another one instead and go through the whole crash and burn cycle all over again.