The fourth of my supposedly ‘weekly’ blogs about the novella I’m writing for the Carnegie Vacation Scholarship, full of apologies and half-explanations for taking so long to write it – and also a few little updates on the book itself.
It’s been a little too long since I wrote the last one of these. I’m aware of this, and contrite, and I will make it up to you all I promise, yes, yes, especially you there, have I mentioned you’re looking absolutely marvellous?
Perhaps it’s best if I start, as any arrogant young poet should, by quoting myself. Here is a line from an email I sent recently to my dear friend Morgan:
I should post up another rambly blog soon, but it’s going to be partially a I-haven’t-written-as-much-as-I’d-hoped admission, and it’s never easy to grasp the nettle and make that kind of admission to the yawning void that is public accountability.
So. Deep breath. That’s that out the way then!
You want more? Very well. Let us begin again.
One observation I would make about the early weeks of this project was that they were nothing like I expected. I had visions of returning from the Download Festival on the 11th of June with a completely blank calendar; nothing looming except my graduation ceremony on the 27th, and a short trip to suffolk the following weekend. And after all, I could write while on holiday, couldn’t I? And graduating would only take a few hours.
It would seem that it doesn’t quite work like that.
The first couple of weeks, between starting this project and grad week, were far more hectic than I’d suspected. Social occasions leapt out at me, there were coffees to be had and farewells to be said and many another distraction which meant that, while I was getting my prescribed minimum number of words down, and I was thinking about my project, it was very much one of a number of things jostling for my attention (don’t forget, in the midst of all this I’m also holding down not one, but two part-time jobs).
And then graduation week itself proved to be an absolute cluster of activity; it wasn’t just a three-hour ceremony that could be rocked up to and attended, there was also a huge attendant payload of stress. Robes to be collected and seats to be checked in to, co-ordinating with friends and parents, not to mention the official Eng Lit photo the day after graduating, and all of the different celebrations to attend, official grad ball included. A whirlwind of confetti to be scampered around and clutched at. Long story short, I didn’t get any words down that week, and not for want of trying. And it should surprise no-one that, while I enjoyed by Suffollk trip enormously, pottering around Anglo Saxon burial grounds and having fish and chips in proper Englishy fish and chip towns and sitting on the floor or trains because Gaz’s seat reservation didn’t exist, I didn’t get any words down then either.
I’m not saying I never had a half hour free anywhere, but … a creative writing lecturer I had in Australia once made the extremely pertinent point that, as a novelist, she found it hard to explain to her husband and children that she could take a coffee break any time she felt like it, but they couldn’t tell her when to take one. It’s that same thing you get working away at essays: you don’t just need the requisite number of hours to sit and type, you also need to surround those hours with free time of your own choosing. You can’t write a book in rushed moments between worrying about other things – or if you did, I imagine it would be an extremely fast-paced, fragmentary, breathless sort of book.
So when I returned from Suffolk, and found that now I actually did have time and space to sit and write the way I thought I would a whole month earlier, I was way behind on my projected word count.
So, of course, I gave up on the whole thing and sent Carnegie their money back.
Did I hell!
I’m happy to report that this past six days has been exactly the sort of six days I hoped the entire six weeks would be – I’m finally finding myself not just wanting to write the story because I feel I have targets to meet, but simply just wanting to. At time of writing I’ve done about 2300 words today, and hopefully I’ll tip that over 3000 by the time I go to bed. My word count, incidentally, is 22,307. I’m projecting a first draft around 38,000 – 40,000 words in length.
Which supposedly will be done by Tuesday, July 24th. So is that still going to happen?
I’d really like to think so. I’ve got the bit between my teeth now, I know all of the major plot events, and I think I’ve settled into the style that this story wants (because stories do want things) to be written in nicely. It also helps that I’m past the point where the links between the three main narratives get revealed, so I can transition between them a lot more naturally without having to stop and chop and change so much. If I don’t hit any obstacles over the next week or so, that first-draft target is still viable.
What won’t be happening within the six-week period any more is any trips off to visit locations I’m writing about. I still want to do that – specifically a couple of nights up in Proper Scotland, amongst the highlands – but I’m now thinking that will be a post-first-draft affair. Which actually feels like it makes more sense; rather than drag a laptop away with me and try to make myself write in unfamiliar surroundings, I can drop the manuscript and get some air in my head while I spend some time with it, all the while fueling myself with the kind of atmosphere and descriptive style which I want to keep in my head when I revisit the piece for its first redrafting.
So that’s where I am at the moment, cats and kittens! I still find blogging about this whole affair a little odd, so I’d really like it if anyone has any questions which they’d like me to answer about writing technique, issues I’m having, or top tips for scrumptious breakfast ideas.