Friday, 25 May 2012

Keep writing!

There are many completed novels in bottom drawers and on hard drives. Many are unpublishable. Many might be publishable if the author was lucky enough to approach the right agent or publisher at the right time.

There are even more unfinished novels. The novelist Emma Darwin says that many writers stall at about thirty thousand words.

Why do so many novels remain unfinished?

Since I began to write seriously, I’ve only deliberately decided to abandon one piece of work (well before I‘d reached thirty thousand words). I decided I didn’t like either of the two main characters. They were a pair of humourless prigs. If I didn’t like them, how could I expect readers to like them?

Some novels are never finished because the writer’s circumstances change and he or she no longer has the time or inspiration to write. A new baby, a serious illness, family difficulties, are all reasons why the novel might be put on one side indefinitely.

A piece of writing might be abandoned because it becomes clear that the plot isn’t substantial enough for a full length novel. That’s not a problem in the digital age. A story that wouldn’t make a hundred thousand word novel might do very well as a fifty thousand word novella on Kindle, or even as a freebie on the writer’s own website. So don’t abandon it - keep writing!

A writer who (like me) doesn’t plan in detail before beginning to write may reach a point where he or she doesn’t know what happens next. The solution can be to skip ahead to a point where you do know what happens, or to a scene you’ve been looking forward to writing. Or write a scene in which your characters talk about what they think they should do next to get themselves out of the difficulties you’ve put them in. Or think of the most dramatic thing your main character could do in the situation you’ve created, and have him or her do that.

Whichever solution you choose, keep writing!

Perhaps a piece of research or new information comes to light which means your plot won’t work in the way you planned. If you can work the new information into the story, it might be all the stronger for it. You might present your characters with an even greater challenge to overcome. Keep writing!

You might be held up because you can’t find a specific piece of information you think you need in order to move the story forward. Research can be never-ending if you let it. You might be focussing  too much on minor details which don’t affect the overall plot. Find a way to work around the missing piece of information and keep writing!

For new (and old!) writers, the stopping point might come when the first rush of enthusiasm is over and it begins to be hard work. (And it is hard work.) You reach the point where you are convinced that your plot is nonsense, your writing is pedestrian, and no-one will ever want to read it.

But the only way to be a novelist is to write a novel, and the only way to do that is to keep putting words on paper. The finished novel might not be  anywhere near as good as you hoped. It might not be publishable. But at the end of it you will have learned a lot about the process of writing a novel, and about yourself as a writer. 

If you have written thirty thousand words, you have written a third of a full length novel. Why give up when you have come that far? Keep writing!

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