I'm writing a novel, the first draft of which can be found elsewhere on the site. Frankly, I can't remember much in particular about writing episodes 48 and 49. 50 and 51 were written under some time pressure, and I was rather proud of myself for getting them done. With those I had to decide how much to tell, and also the challenge of mixing the exposition in with character development. I wrote the first 300 words or so of episode 52 on Wednesday night on a terrace in The Hague between courses of a very nice (and somewhat expensive) meal. I thought finishing it would be easy. It turned out not to be, since I kept feeling that there was something about the story that I wasn't seeing. I mucked around with it a bit and, though I'm still not excited about it, it's the best I can do.
To write or not to write
Why I'm not writing sometimes:
- I've got too much time on my hands. No, really. Since I've got a couple of extra hours of spare time each week my productivity has actually gone down. Currently I try to write three episodes a week, one on Sunday night, one on Tuesday night and one on Thursday night. I don't work on Fridays, something my subconscious seems to be well aware of. This week I didn't finish the Thursday night episode until Saturday morning.
- There's something I'm not seeing. I may finish writing the 500+ words that I set out to write, but yet something seems wrong. The remedy for me seems to be to stop writing and have a walk or do some shopping until the answer occurs to me. I'm not sure why one development in a story would be wrong and another right, but there you have it.
- I've just written a long episode and I've run out of steam. Practice should help, here.
Reasons why, for years, I didn't get started at all:
- My time and space were not my own. This applied while I still lived at home. For me, living alone is something that I've chosen: I need to spend a sizeable portion of my time away from other people. I do believe that when you're living with other people, even if you're not writing, having no time to yourself at all is deeply unhealty.
- Fear, self-doubt, the lot. Fortunately I lost a lot of that as I got older, not only with regard to my writing but in every other area of my life as well. Finding a sympathetic tutor and / or peer group might help, as might doing something silly like NaNoWriMo (writing 50,000 words in one month, quality be damned). I believe it's also important to do what Stephen King advises in On Writing: after finishing your first draft, take at least six weeks off before having a second look at it. When I wrote anything in my teens or twenties I would always hate whatever I wrote after I just finished it; it was only when I came upon these pieces much later that I realised they weren't really that bad.
- I had nothing to say. I'm not sure whether that was true of me, or whether that's ever true of anyone. I believe everyone has stories - and, essentially, truth - in them. Writing as a means of expressing that truth might not suit everyone. Also, writers sometimes don't succeed at bringing out the truth lying within.
- I didn't have time to write. I believe that you don't have to be a full-time writer in order to reach your full potential - having a job and other things than your writing to occupy your time might actually help you become a better writer. From what I've read I get the impression that in terms of time management there are two types of writers: people who sit down at a set time each day and keep writing until it's time to stop (Trollope is an example - when he finished a book before his writing time had ended he got out a new sheet of paper and started his next book); and people who always have a pen and notebook at hand and write whenever they've got some time. I think it's important to find out what works for you. Whatever your preferences, as little as 30 minutes of writing time each day can get you a long way.
This article was written after writing episode 52 of the first draft of my novel After the War.
After the War (52)
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