This time last year I set myself a challenge. Could I write a novel over the course of the school summer holidays? That’s almost seven weeks where I live.
It was something I’d been thinking about for a while. I was preparing to publish my first novel, What they don’t tell you about love in the movies. That had taken four years to write, maybe more, off and on, in between other things. I’d not long completed my second, Reivers, which is yet to be published and had taken me about a year to write. But I wondered if it had to take so long. People wrote entire novels during NaNoWriMo. Authors wrote of writing two or three thousand words a day, some even more. Why was it taking me so long to complete a sixty- or seventy-thousand word novel?
So, the challenge was to write 60,000 words in 48 days. That’s 1,250 words a day. Not too hard? Well, we’d see.
Before I started I wrote a plot plan. It was helpful that the book I intended to write, How do you say GOOSEBERRY in French? actually takes place over the course of a summer holiday. So my plan was really a calendar of events with a vague chapter structure around them.
Next I made a spreadsheet. I LOVE spreadsheets. There’s something very focusing about seeing those figures grow – or not.
And then, day 1 of the holidays, I started to write.
It was hard at first. There were days when I didn’t write nearly enough. There were days when I felt that everything else was getting in the way. But I persisted. I soon realised that I couldn’t afford the time to read over what I had written the day before. I would have to keep it all in my head and accept that what I was writing was a first draft and was never going to be perfect. I started to tell people that no, sorry, whatever it was they needed me to do would have to wait until I’d written my words.
And I got it done. On the final day of the holidays I had written 60,000 words. I wasn’t quite finished. I had another 5,000 to go, but I was more or less there.
And then, because that’s the way things happen, everything was thrown up into the air and I had to put the book aside for three months. I didn’t give it a thought. And when I came back to look at it again, I did so nervously. After all, this had been an experiment. What if I’d wasted all those hours?
I could not have been more delighted with what I found. Of course, GOOSEBERRY still needed work. But what I’ve written is a gushy first person present narrative, and going at it the way I did has given it a breathless dynamism that I don’t think I could have achieved by taking it more slowly.
I’d love to know what you think.
About Claire Watts
For a long time, Claire Watts wrote stories for herself, and wrote and edited non-fiction for children for a living. Then she decided it was about time to let other people read her stories. Both of her novels for young adults required research into factual areas that interest Claire: the first, What they don’t tell you about love in the movies, into ... you guessed it, movies, and the second, How do you say gooseberry in French? into France and the French language. She's currently looking forward to the research for her next book, which involves cupcakes!
Claire lives in the countryside in southern Scotland with her husband, three daughters, two dogs, a cat, a varying number of chickens and lots and lots of books.
links to books:
What they don't tell you about love in the movies http://authl.it/2ov?d
How do you say GOOSEBERRY in French? http://authl.it/3co?d
You can find my blog at:
My joint website:
I've always been drawn to series – from my early love of Nancy Drew to Tolkien to Lois Lowry's The Giver quartet (and many others). Maybe it's just that when I get into a good story, I hate for it to end.
It's only natural that my writing follows suit. To date, the only novels I've ever finished are parts of series. I'm currently editing the middle novel of a trilogy. After revising the first book four times, I thought I could safely concentrate on editing its sequel – until I woke with a middle-of-the-night brainwave.
While I usually welcome brainwaves with open arms, this one will necessitate a complete fifth revision of the first book, not to mention hefty changes for the unedited second. I could just ignore it… but the more I think about letting this new idea go, the more I realize what a mistake that would be.
It's during this part of the writing process that I wonder if the likes of J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, or C.S. Lewis ever went through forehead-slapping moments like these. "So, Jo," I'd like to say to J.K. Rowling, "when exactly did you come up with the vanishing cabinet bit in The Half-Blood Prince?"
How do the writers of great series do it? The one I finished reading most recently, Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, is a series he started writing when he was 15 – 15! While Paolini did a lot of growing as a writer over the years his series was published, he certainly knew where his story was going from the start. Little bits of relevant information are sprinkled throughout all four novels. Viewed as a whole, these seemingly thin threads hold this vast work together.
Of course, not all authors of series are created equal (which is sometimes painfully obvious). For example, three or four books into a series, the protagonist suddenly has a peculiar birthmark. Shouldn't it have been mentioned before? Well, it would have… if the author had thought of it when writing the previous books. Whoops. The opposite of Chekov's rifle hanging on the wall that doesn't go off, it's the gun that wasn't there but appears out of nowhere to kill the bad guy – the worst kind of Deus ex machina.
In my moments of doubt (am I the good kind of serial writer or the bad?), I remind myself that no matter how many millions of copies they've sold all over the world, the greats are mere mortals, too. They've admitted to being frustrated by difficult characters. They've suffered through writer's block. They've even had second thoughts after publishing. (I love the interviews when an author says, "I wish I'd written…")
Wouldn't it be funny to hear someone like J.K. Rowling say one day, "I thought I was done, and then I realized that Snape was trying to protect Harry"? Okay, I doubt that, but wouldn't it be interesting to know if the part of the story that we take for granted, that makes everything come together, was the last piece to fall in place for a particular author's plot puzzle?
It's little things like that that continue to make the writing process both harrowing and rewarding – and that makes great stories. I can only hope that someday, I can say the same about my own books.
About Sarah Cotchaleovitch
Sarah Cotchaleovitch is a freelance writer and editor who resides in Northeast Florida with her husband and two young sons. She is a founding member and editor of the University of North Florida's online literary journal Fiction Fix. She posts a weekly blog atfulltimewritermom.com. She wrote and illustrated a children's book,Hero, with her son, Peter. Most recently, she collaborated with educator Karen Saltmarsh on This Tree Has a Story, a creative writing book for kids K–12.
Every new writer will go through a crisis. It doesn’t matter what type of writer you are. Every writer will think that they should give up. They will believe that they aren’t good enough, that their writing is lame, that it’s full of clichés, that their ideas aren’t original, that they will never have happy readers…. You get the gist (I’ve thought all of those things and more).
These thoughts may only last for a day, or they may come and go for years, crippling you emotionally. I want to say, “Don’t give up.”
Stand up to these thoughts! Who are they to tell you to give up a part of yourself? Push them aside. Remember that writing is a journey which doesn’t end. Every story you write will be better than the last. Every experience you have will broaden your mind and allow you to create more elaborate settings, characters, and plot lines. If you read a story you have written and find a million things wrong with it, then understand that you actually accomplished something that many people find difficult. You wrote a story.
“If you love writing, then write.” That is a favourite saying of mine. Don’t let pressure or negativity get in the way. Your first story will never be your best, but it would have been the best you could do at the time. Everybody improves with time and practice. If one particular story isn’t working out for you then don’t be afraid to put it aside and start something new.
So don’t give up on writing, be strong and proud of your abilities. Later in life, you’ll thank yourself.
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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