Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tired of talking about it?

"Oh, I've had this idea for a novel, but..."

This is one of the phrases I hear regularly when people find out I'm an author. The operative word is "but."

There's a common misconception that everyone has at least one novel in them. I disagree. Anyone can write a novel but whether that novel is going to be worth reading... that is another story.

Some people are seized by an idea but they don't act on it. I've an acquaintance who taps her noggin and tells me, "It's all up here."

I smile and nod, while thinking, "Yeah right, you gotta show, don't tell."

When I was about 12 or 13 I knew I'd get 'round to writing a novel one day. I stopped myself from doing so because I didn't have a story. A lot of people start writing because they've got "cool" characters. They reckon the story "will happen" as they start writing. Although this method may work for some, more often than not, it's a dismal failure, with a writer's efforts fizzling out after one or two chapters.

Trust me. I've been there.

So, how do I do it? I've written five complete novels, two of which have been sold to a US-based press. One (the second) I shoved under my bed because I know it's just... well... Let's just say it ain't gonna happen 'cos the plot was pure wangst. One is currently sitting with my agent and I completed the first draft of the last yesterday. This is within the space of three years.

This is entirely possible because I know where the story is going to end before I start writing it. I plan. I outline and I also allow leeway for any incidental story arcs that take place while I write. Then, I get my posterior on a chair (or in my case, a daily two-hour commute by train to the centre of Cape Town) and I write. On a good day I put away between 1 000 to 2 000 words.

Next month is November. For those of you in the know, it's NaNoWriMo. I didn't think about it, didn't even consider the potential... But you see... I have this story... And I know I can do it...

And even if I don't finish, it's going to be one helluva ride. So, I guess what I'm trying to say with this is that you should stop talking about writing that great (insert nationality) novel and get cracking. Lay down those words. Don't overanalyse what you're doing. Just get those ideas down. Find a story that speaks to you and bring it to life. If you look hard enough you'll see you've got more than one hiding in there.

C'mon, I double dare you!



Sutton Fox said...

I heartily applaude the discipine you apply to your writing.

Interesting how many book ideas are hanging out in peoples heads isn't it? When I get to hear them, I say, "Great idea. You should write the book." More often than not, the subject changes or something else comes up and they have to go.

Good luck with NaNoWriMo.

Tom L Waters said...

Good post!

I think this notion that everyone has a novel in them comes about because, for people who don't actually do it, writing is often not seen as work: the only thing between "having an idea for a book" and "being an author" is typing.

We recognize that musicians need to actually learn how to play an instrument, and have some musical talent or ability. We recognize that artists need to practice their chosen medium and be able to draw or arrange visual elements artistically. But I think words, and the abilities needed to use them well, are taken for granted.

When was the last time you heard someone say, "I have this really great idea for a rock song. I just haven't bothered to learn to play the guitar yet."?

Ideas are not books; they are not even the most important ingredient in the process of writing a book, IMO. (And it is works that are copyrighted, not ideas.)

It often seems to me that the biggest difference between writers and people who talk about "writing a novel someday" is that the dedicated writers know that ideas are cheap; they are the ubiquitous raw material of the writer's art. It's what you do with them that counts. The daydreamers, on the other hand, often have an idea or two that they are very attached to, have no desire to write about something else, and think that if they ever "write it up", there will be nothing left to write about.

I like what Isaac Asimov had to say about this: There are many people who would like to write a book (future tense)--they have some wonderful idea they think would make a good book. There are also many people who would like to have written a book (past tense)--imagining being a published author, getting fan mail and royalty checks. But very few like actually writing a book (present tense)--the process of sitting down and doing the work.

It's the ones who enjoy (or at least dedicate themselves to) the writing process itself who are the writers.

Horror with Heart said...

Great post, Nerine. We were just discussing this same thing the other day, the way so many people say they have a novel in their heads. They just need a week or two to put it on paper and then sell it. Uh huh.