Writing My First Novel, by Onil Lad
When I was a member of a writing group in Darwin I churned out a three to five thousand word short story every month. I wrote sci-fi, horror, fantasy and YA. I always had a couple of pieces on the go and if one of them didn’t work out, there was time to switch focus.
It kept me writing and motivated. During that period I got a couple of short stories published and things progressed smoothly.
I’ve held subscriptions to short story magazines such as Interzone and Black Static on and off over the years. Some of the stories were ok, but at the end of the day they just don’t deliver the depth of experience that you get from a novel. Short story collections from some of my favourite novelists have always disappointed.
So when the time came to ditch writing short stories to concentrate on the novel I wasn’t too heartbroken. In hindsight, ditching the writing group as well was a mistake, but the consensus of opinion appeared to be that you shouldn’t let anyone see your work-in-progress until it is well advanced and at least at the first-draft stage.
There were no more deadlines to meet and no more critiquing, which was fine until I started hitting hurdles. The first time, I’d made it to fifteen thousand words when the plot became confused with too many viewpoints. I switched so that the story was narrated by one person, reworked the plot and started again.
Another time, after a productive burst that took me to thirty thousand words, I realized that the concept had become too clichéd and predictable. With a short story when you have several different ideas bouncing around it’s easy to start again but after thirty thousand words when you know that you’ve gone down the wrong track, it’s hard to get back onto the grind. Once you lose momentum it takes ages to get going again. When this happens I spend more time reading books on writing or blogs or anything else, rather than writing myself.
In the years spent writing this novel I could have completed a volume of short stories, but I’m so obsessed with my current theme that I’m devoid of ideas for anything else.
I feel like I’m in the middle of a loop that I call the first timer’s spiral. Because it’s difficult to know what does or doesn’t work until it’s written down and staring back at you, my ‘groundhog days’ in front of the computer follow a pattern:
Start off slow, then write some, then hit on something that feels good, then build up a head of steam, then stop because it isn’t any good, then trash half of it and start again.
In this case, going around in circles is actually moving forward because, hopefully, with each iteration of the loop, the plot gets less predictable, the characters get stronger and the story gets better. Also, the closer to the pointy end you get, the quicker the whole process goes. That’s my theory and now that I’ve fixed the latest batch of problems, I’m ready for the final push.
I miss being involved with a writing group and the motivation to get four thousand words done and polished in a month. I miss talking about books and writing with other people. That in itself is a motivation to write and keep the momentum going.