Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why I write novels

I’ve just finished writing my twenty-second novel. Actually I’ve written about thirty, but the first half-a-dozen were downright duds. The early models of my novels reside in a single wardrobe. Trying to read one is quite humbling. It reminds me that my writing was unpublishable in the early days – though at the time I didn’t know it! Some writers dig out their early novels and resurrect them. Alas, every one of my early efforts seem stale and out of date and I’d rather write a new book.

Like most skills, the craft of writing has to be learned. Some people go to creative writing classes. Yes, you can learned the steps needed to craft a novel. Now start putting it into practice, because I can almost guarantee that the majority of students will not be able to write a publishable novel until they’ve input a few litres of sweat and tears. There are exceptions, but they are few.

This is not to say that creative writing classes aren’t useful. They are. Usually they’re the first step towards a career as a writer. I did a correspondence course in creative writing, which was helpful in showing me what I was doing wrong (which was everything at first!). It also helped me to sort out the style of writing I enjoyed doing most, which was women’s fiction in novel form, and short stories.

I didn’t get my certificate, because I was one lesson short. Enthusiasm bit me on the bum. I wanted to get on with what I knew I was going to write – and technical writing wasn’t it. It totally bored me. I can’t believe now that I abandoned the course one lesson off completion. Do I regret it? No. I did happen to get my first publication during that time – a story for children that I wrote for the course. A certificate proving that you’ve completed a course in creative writing doesn’t get you publication. It may give you the confidence and persistence to keep writing towards the goal of publication though.

A few years ago I enrolled in a script writers course, mainly because I wanted to learn the technique of scenic writing so I could apply it to my own work. I think this was the most useful course I’ve ever attended, it taught me how to write in a scenic sense, which was a technique that could be applied directly to my own work. It did not, however, turn me into a script writer. I enjoy writing scenery and inner dialogue, exposing the emotions and travelling on the complete creative journey with my characters. In script writing this can’t be done to any great extent or in such detail.

Mentally and physically, writing is hard work. You're in self-imposed solitary confinement. You sit in front of a computer and gradually type your fingerprints off. After a while your wrists ache, so does your back and your neck. Your shoulders freeze, your eyes begin to dry up and after a while you develop twitching eyelids. Oh yes, and the backside tends to spread. The rewards are not all that great, either. It’s an occupation where only the few seem go on to wealth and fortune, and it’s not a profession where equal skill and pay always go hand in hand. It takes me five months to complete a book. Sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day, seven days a week steaming my brain for a clever metaphor or a bright and lively twist of conversation is not always fun. And what other profession will offer you a biannual pay packet six months after you’ve earned it!

So why do I do it? I’m obsessed. I love every moment of writing a novel, even the moments I hate. When it’s produced and I hold it in my hands in its shiny new jacket, and it finally looks, smells and feels like a proper book instead of several figment of my imagination cobbled together with string, it gives me a huge sense of achievement.

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