I’ve known since I was a very young child who couldn’t get enough bedtime stories, songs and poems and who took equal enjoyment in creating my own, usually with my dad who really nurtured that creative part of me and got involved right along with me, that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up – there was just so much mystery and magic to be found within the pages of books, and as an at times lonely only child I loved the power the written word had to transport me into countless fantastical worlds, scenarios and experiences that fed my rather overactive imagination. I even remember negotiating with my mum as a teenager that I could turn my lights off at 9:30 pm instead of 9 pm in the evenings – not so that I could watch more TV as you might assume but so that I could read for that little bit longer. Fortunately it was a request she was happy to grant, and I eagerly devoured the likes of The Chronicles of Narnia, What Katy Did, Sweet Valley High, Enid Blyton and Point Horror (to my own detriment given said overactive imagination – my mum ended up having to hide them from me) that were popular back in the 90’s.
So I’ve basically spent most of my life dreaming of that intangible day I would finally have written a full-length novel – and whilst I may not have actually achieved for another 2 decades, I’m pleased (and relieved) to say that I got there in the end, and even if nothing ever comes of my novel on a more formal basis (publication), it’s reassuring to know a lifelong goal of mine has been achieved. Not only that, but 2 children and 2 years later I’m now a good way through novel number 3; something I could never have anticipated when I started out; and my ability to reach the heart-stopping word-count required to create a full-length manuscript no longer feels something akin to scaling my own personal Everest. Like anything, once you’ve done it once the next time it gets easier (and a little bit faster).
I remember coming across a post from an aspiring author on a writer’s forum some years ago, who wrote that he’d gotten halfway through his novel (40,000 words) and didn’t know whether to bother completing it if there was no guarantee of publication at the end of it all to justify his efforts. His words must have hit a raw nerve for many of the other writers who responded, because this guy got a bit of a roasting for not being solely motivated to write out of some inherent need or drive to do so or for the pure enjoyment of the craft or from a genuine belief in his story that he clearly expected others to believe in – something I think most aspiring novelists can relate to. But that’s not what struck me about his post – what struck me at the time was what seemed like the absolute impossibility of me ever being able to write that many words at all! Gosh, I envied that guy and his word-count! Until then the longest thing I’d ever written was an 8,000 word dissertation.
It wasn’t until my 30th Birthday loomed along with an increasing (admittedly rather morbid) sense of my mortality that the motivation to actually sit down and write a novel finally crystallised somewhere and I decided that from then on nothing (‘nothing’ being me! I’d gotten into the habit of abandoning all my projects once I hit a road block on plot) was going to stop me. Like many writers my laptop was a graveyard of enthusiastically started then hastily abandoned ideas, but I was suddenly determined that I wasn’t going to let my latest story become one of them.
I write women’s fiction and with a little research discovered that the expected marketable word-count for that genre tends to sit around the 80,000 word-mark. To make that prospect a little less intimidating I broke the word-count down into more achievable segments of roughly 30 chapters of 2,500 words each; and agreed to reward myself at quarter way through, a third of the way through, and at halfway through etc… It was more incentivising to approach my manuscript in this way, as working towards and meeting those smaller milestones made me feel as though I had accomplished something and helped spur me on. The other thing I did was to make a commitment to persevere through periods of writer’s block by any means possible as opposed to abandoning my work to the graveyard as I would have done in the past – even if that meant skipping ahead beyond a particular sticking point (which meant I had written the closing 5 chapters of my novel way before I attempted to complete the middle 10). The final thing I did differently was to keep myself accountable. I set aside frequent time to write and on each occasion I always wrote something, even if it was only a paragraph some days and a full scene or chapter on others. And I always wrote in a local café free from the distractions and procrastinations of home, even if it was only once/week. 2.5 years later each of those steps paid off and I finally had a completed first draft of well over 80,000 words. I really enjoyed the process and it didn’t feel like work.
I’m sure you’ve encountered many people who feel as though they have a book they long to write some day, but few seem to go on to do just that. If your dream is to write a novel one day, maybe you can try to work out what it is that’s holding you back, and come up with a way to overcome your own unique set of barriers, whatever they might be. Mine main one was to avoid working through writer’s block by starting a new project instead, with the result I never finished anything. Though I definitely still struggle with getting stuck (a lot), it doesn’t result in the end of a project for me any more.
Once you’ve written ‘The End’ at the bottom of your first manuscript, all the hard work becomes worthwhile.
What obstacles to completing your first novel did you encounter and how did you overcome them?