The maths: second novel; chapter three of twenty-nine; draft two of who knows how many. Last time, I had no idea how long these things took. Now I do. Ignorance made everything so much easier.
Yesterday I thought I’d made great progress with a scene. I then counted: 72 words in three hours.
I love the idea of a long project, something to get my teeth into. But you can tell how well it’s going today by the sudden appearance of this blog post and the amount of housework I’ve done. My whites are soaking in the bath, days before I run out of clean shirts.
Just think how much better this chapter will look when I see it on draft three.
Anybody else in the same position?
Well, hello again! Remember me? Yes, I know it’s been a while.
I knew summer was coming, as it did last year and the years before that, so why didn’t I prepare meal rotas, online deliveries and continuous activities in advance? Why, when I had the time, did I prioritise reading reports, and getting to end-of-term concerts and plays?
But in Norfolk last week, while the skies were often blue, the air was cool. Overnight, the edges of the tree in front of our window turned ocre. Autumn’s coming with its promise that this year I’ll perfect the after-school routine. The children will develop self-discipline and consistent consideration for each other. And I’ll make that courgette cake I’ve been thinking about for the last eleven years. Perhaps by next summer, my home will be so ordered and beautiful, other people will ask to come and write there.
And the laws of procrastination mean it’s been so easy to work on my novel. It has been a joyful escape rather than a discipline, partly because my fictional world is much better organised than my real one. My characters’ lives might be a mess, but they manage to keep their couches free of washing.
I’m in novel mode again, a pleasurable, guilt-ridden state. I’m not quite sure who flicked the switch from hard-working freelancer to dreamer. Slowly, very slowly, I’m understanding how I work best…
…and why as a responsible parent, I don’t write fiction all the time. To do it, I need to fully immerse myself in the world of my story.
At the moment, for instance, I have an image in my head- one of my main characters is stroking a kitten. She was a gift, but from whom, and why? And why was the character’s reaction so negative at the time? It’s all I can think about as I go to sleep or load the washing machine.
Making sure it still feels like fun
I hardly noticed the work I put into my first novel. I was a mum at home; there were many other things I should have been doing with that hour in the afternoon. Because of this, writing rarely felt like a treat in comparison to my other options.
I’m trying to think of this manuscript as socialising with interesting (albeit imaginary) people when I could be earning money or doing something about my laundry pile. Allowing the housework to build up really helps foster that sense of indulgence.
It is common sense to sure up your structure before you try perfecting your sentences. After all, you may be chopping that carefully worked prose later. However, looking at the story as a whole overwhelmed me. So, as working anyway round is more productive than pontificating about process, I’m editing at the micro level before the macro. And I believe I’ve found my stride.
I have two articles out today. The first, ‘Productive Procrastination’, is in the June issue of Writing Magazine. I lay out twelve good excuses to avoid your novel. This didn’t require much research. I shouldn’t blow my own trumpet too much, but I’m an expert in this area. As usual, my mate Gary Dalkin provides market news.
(I’m the ‘Don’t fret about downtime’.)
I own to a natural bias towards WM as the editor gave me my break into journalism. This makes the subscription that meant I had some idea of what he was looking for, quite literally, one of my best investments yet. But it would probably have been that anyway. It provides ideas and fresh perspectives, and if nothing else, injects a dose of encouragement every thirty days.
The second article, published in the June/July issue of Discover Britain, is about ‘model’ villages. These include Saltaire, Bournville, Trouse and Port Sunlight- self-contained communities created by industrialists to improve their workers’ lives. It was a lovely job throughout, straightforward and involving research on one of my favourite subjects- Victorian game changers.
I’m theoretically in control of what happens over the pages of my novel. My say-so is required for Zombie apocalypse, Viking invasion or any other horror. And I’m writing women’s fiction. So it would be pretty irrational to be frightened of it.
But I was, mainly because I had no idea where to begin. As soon as I realised I had some time to begin another edit, I signed myself up to improve my French on Duolingo, rediscovered my Freecell addiction and did some washing.
I then remembered Hillary Rettig’s advice not to get hung up on getting everything right in one go, and to do multiple drafts. With some of the pressure off, I bravely opened the file. Immediately, one of its many faults came to my rescue. I needed to change half of it into the past tense. That would keep me busy for a week or two.
Ah! you might be thinking. She’s doing something clever with points of view and structure. No! I just couldn’t decide as I was drafting it which tense it should all be in. And once I had, kept forgetting. So when I say half of it is still in the present tense, I mean there are some scenes with both. I’ve told you this already. It’s a Nanowrimo novel.