My life in unfinished novels

Yesterday’s post elicited many more views and comments than I’d expected, so thank you to everyone who took the time to comment. It also means I have more accountability to do what I said I would.

Some comments – fairly, I think – questioned my timetable, and I wanted to expand a bit on why I’ve set myself those goals.

You can take many, many years to finish a novel. Or you can do what I do and spend many, many years NOT finishing novels (23 years to date).

I started my first novel when I was 14. I pottered away on that for about 6 years, writing many thousands of words of random, and often unconnected, scenes. The  mostly handwritten pages (much of it in turquoise and purple ink), maps, character lists and sketches fill a cardboard box somewhere – I’m pretty sure it’s in my friend’s mum’s basement in Brighton… I think of it as a training novel. It’ll never see the light of day and that’s really for the best.

I started my second novel when I was 21. Again I had that problem of many, unconnected scenes. I never wrote from start to finish, just what interested me, dipping in and out of a story that evolved organically. Gradually it expanded into a trilogy. I spent the last two years I worked on it rewriting the first three chapters over and over again. This kept me occupied (along with the other things in life: work; changing careers (twice); a Master’s degree; marriage; divorce etc.) until I was about thirty.

During this time I also sporadically worked on a few more novellas and novel ideas and several short stories, even submitting a couple to magazines. I once earned an honest-to-goodness hand-written rejection letter.

Then I discovered nanowrimo. For the first time in my life I was able to complete a first draft. Ok, so it usually takes me 2 or 3 nanowrimos to do it but, thanks to nanowrimo, I now have one complete first draft and two-thirds of another.

I’ve come to the earth-shattering conclusion that nothing makes you a novelist so much as completing a novel. That one important distinction above all others marks out those who sell novels from those who don’t. And here’s something I’ve also taken a long time to get my head around. A good-enough complete novel is better than a brilliant incomplete novel.

Does that mean I don’t have a massive amount to learn about telling stories and structuring large works of fiction? Of course not. Can I learn as I go along? Could it be that my second novel is better than my first, my third better than my second? Quite possibly – in fact I would hope so.

Being more productive and banishing procrastination and self-doubt are going to be big areas of focus for me for 2012. If I can develop those qualities, many other things will fall into place, not least of which will be my writing.

And the best thing about working towards an ambitious goal is this. Even if you don’t make it, you’ve got a lot more to show for it than if you’d never tried.

All I have to do now is get writing…

One thought on “My life in unfinished novels

  1. Neeks

    I’m afraid I just don’t have enough to Say to fill up an entire novel. I’ll have to stick to my short stories for now! Kudos to you for completing the work that you have, awesome!


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