Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Writing a novel in 30 days!

November 2010 is done and dusted and of course that signals the end of 2010. This has been a fruitful month for me, thanks to a friend of mine (you know who you are) who encouraged me to enter the National November Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. The point of the exercise is to complete 50,000 words towards a novel in the 30 days of November. For some writers that IS a novel. For me, well I got as far as 33,000 odd and then … suddenly … it was 30 November and I was nowhere near the end of my story.

The process: I have had a book (historical fiction) in my mind for a long time; I've written the first paragraph countless times, but only in my head. I could not let this opportunity to give it breath pass me by. I return to my notions of history and life as a tapestry - the picture on the front and the knots, tangles and loops at the back - holding it all together. The little things that make us who we are. The interlocking threads that appear and disappear, sometimes for good. In my mind I see the Fates weaving and cutting the threads without warning. I find it so magical that I can work with these amazing ideas for pleasure!

I began a week late because we were away on holiday but I did make some notes in longhand - which, in the event, I didn't use. However, once we got home and I got started in earnest the words began to flow; the characters made themselves known to me and it felt wonderful! Some of the characters I had thought of but others put on a surprise appearance. Sitting at my computer each day letting the process take its course is entirely different to writing a thesis or dissertation. For example, my doctoral thesis took nigh on seven years before I submitted it! This time my significant other and the LBD (little black dog) did not have to beg for my attention and sandwiches were not the staple food in the home.

Procrastination and writer's block have not been the problems I thought they might be. The most time consuming part of the exercise has been research. With my academic background I admit to being a stickler for accuracy. I've read books that I've enjoyed up until there is a completely inaccurate statement. One of these is in The Poisonwood Bible (although I still think it is one of my favourite books) where Barbara Kingsolver misplaces Johannesburg from the hinterland to the coast. I think that is poor research and poor editing. For me, sometimes I could not proceed until I had the facts right. Imagine if I wrote about the Boer Wars and erred about the dates (there were two wars, which one did I mean?). I had to check, was the Suez Canal open in 1875? When were the slaves in South Africa freed from bondage? Which ports in Australia and New Zealand were deep enough to take a large Clipper ship? How far south did the ships sail? All of these and more! I love the research but it is also important not to make the story too … academic. Honing my writing skills in this way has been brilliant for me, it has liberated my style hugely.

50,000 words does not sound like much and I know that it will not be the complete novel; my characters would like more of their stories told.

Keeping a file of the bits and pieces that I have edited out (naughty to edit when writing under pressure but never mind) means more treasures for my long drawer.

If the book should see the light of day I'll let you know but there is a lot of work still to be done.

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