I am near the end of my first-drafting a novel journey and learning, growth, inspiration and genuinely rich experiences that have come out of it so far are bursting out of me. I didn’t have specific expectations going into this process of what it is like to start and complete a work of fiction. All I knew that it was time and I needed to do it. I have written non-fiction and poetry before and writing fiction has proven to be a very different experience. Poetry was a unique, completely spiritual and intuition-based experience and non-fiction is something that I enjoy and approach with a different attitude. I enjoy experiencing and researching and putting my findings into words. I have learnt a lot about myself as a person, as a writer, as a woman undertaking a novel writing and many things have been re-affirmed for me. I have a bit longer to go and currently taking a break and reflecting on the journey so far. Many writers would relate to some of my lessons, I am sure, as I found hearing the old wisdom coming through with each experience I was having and nodding my head. I have read and listened to many authors’ lives and experiences by this point. Many nuances of the journey are my own, and unique, however, and finding a personal creative path and voice, to me, is absolutely necessary and the most exciting part of the process.
Here is a summary of things that I have learnt so far on my journey of writing long fiction:
You will hear this many times and it is a life-saver advice for sure. Do not edit as you write. Just write without going back and editing and re-writing. Keep moving forward. Editing comes later on. The first draft (there will be many) is just telling a story to yourself. This will help you progress, eliminate doubt, self-critique, etc., which is not what the first draft about.
It is possible to write anywhere, anytime and allowing for a needed process on any given day to unfold is important. Nothing should be forced. Drop preconceptions, unhelpful advice, expectations put on yourself or through others’ experiences. Do it your way. Daily I would make a decision where I wanted to write and on what device depending on how I felt. I experimented a lot and it was so interesting. For example, I asked myself or rather tuned into my feelings on the day what feels good whether it is my sofa with a laptop in the middle of afternoon or would it be on my phone while I was out for a walk or as my regular set-up at my desk in the morning. More often than not I just knew what I wanted. Intuition again is your friend no matter what you do. When I first started I wrote early in the morning every day and it worked wonderfully for me. I am productive and eager during mornings, but as time went on I allowed myself to experiment with other devices other than my desktop computer and other places. I also found the second spurt of energy or a clear space in my head often appeared between 2.00 and 3.00pm in the afternoon, so I took that. Another way for me to write that transpired was in the evening with noise going on around me, TV in the background and people in the room. I wrote on my phone a lot. At the end it was wonderful to know I could do it anywhere, at any time. I also feel that when it comes to the editing stage that is where my handwriting will come in. So far I haven’t used it in this process.
Things can’t be forced and breaks are allowed and you will know when you need a break. I went through days when I felt upset by what I was writing, or my character would hide away from a conflict that needed to happen, or towards the end I just didn’t want to think, read, write and do anything. It all happened. It took sometime before my story began living within me and characters really came forward. Then there was another period of time before they started communicating. Becoming aware of the characters was great and it helped me progress as they took over and story began to be told through their wishes and needs. I gave over control and proceeded according to what characters were saying and how they would answer questions I would ask of them.
I love, love, love intuitive downloads or inspiration flashes, as many would call it. When it comes it comes in this complete, clear form and writing is easy. This happened to me during this process too and I was glad it did.
I enjoyed setting a schedule and managing my time. It plays very well into productivity, results and increase in your writing speed over time. It is good and I found writing something every day is a great tool no matter how many words and in however many sittings. Focusing and commitment are definitely very important parts to a writing process. A balance between order, structure, routine and intuition/inspiration is a winning combo.
I learnt that I do not enjoy making things up when I intentionally do it (intuitive writing is a different thing) and prefer writing non-fiction on the whole, but this might change over time as I experience fiction writing more. I trust it will become clearer and for now it is too soon to tell.I am a visual, sensory that needs to see, touch and smell ‘a scene’, ‘an image’, etc. before I can talk about it. This is probably quite common. You can’t write what you can’t see clearly is true for me.
During my process I had a critique group going where the beginning chapters were being reviewed. I found it helpful, motivational and helped me self-reflect. Criticism is good and healthy.Reading on writing is very helpful and so is reading books in your genre. I finally understood the importance of reading in order to write and writing in order to know what your reading preferences are. Again, I came to a conclusion that I like a particular genre and prefer reading non-fiction.
Writing as a therapeutic process. I started this project with the intention of it being for myself, as a process of learning the craft, releasing a story that had been waiting for many years to be told and putting something to rest. I did just that through my heroine’s voice and her intentions she re-defined her journey and told me a different ending to the one I conceptualised before. Changing the ending of something is very powerful I can tell you. At the moment though, as she is very satisfied with how things ended and she loves it she doesn’t want to go back and look over parts of the story that still need her attention. So partly, I wait and partly I employ some tools to convince her to tell me more. Writing a novel is a great opportunity to re-write the ending of whatever story you might have been holding on to for whatever reason. It is also therapeutic because you are finding and using your own voice either as a narrator or through your characters. You hear yourself for the first time, as I did. It was revelatory and strange, but again, powerful.
Alternating writing with a physical activity, walking in my case, always walking, works for me. I would write for two hours and then I need to get out. Switching up activities kept the routine going and just felt containing and balanced.
This one is more for the future, as I plan my next step and it is beginning to write as ideas come through, not putting it off. Writing continuously is important in order to improve the craft and define your voice more with each book or a project.
I found the process incredibly rich, fascinating and so inspiring on many levels that I can say I am in love with the process, not necessarily with my book or the idea, but the process itself. It opens up so many avenues for growth and improvement and makes self-awareness and aspirations for the future clear. It is an organic and alive process too, which, if allowed to unfold and live, will bring a lot more insights.
Image: a mock cover for my novel that I created with a few others and found it helpful in my creative process. Goes back to the point about seeing things in images.