Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Getting started

Today is the first day that I've dedicated to writing since before Christmas and, typically, I can't get started. I've tidied the house, written a few emails and tinkered about with previous blog posts but I haven't yet opened the file which contains the actual novel I'm supposed to be working on. Now I'm writing this blog as a form of procrastination that feels at least a little bit literary. I'm hoping that putting some words on a page will get me in the mood.

Two of my favourite authors on writing are Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) http://www.nataliegoldberg.com/and Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way)http://www.theartistsway.com/. Both are advocates of splurging words onto the page as a way of bypassing the inner critic - the nagging voice that tends to get in the way of us achieving our goals. The problem with applying the technique to blogging is that it's a bit like washing dirty laundry in public. No-one really wants to know that I've had an ear infection that's left me temporarily deaf in one ear and that the sunshine is making me want to go outside to play instead of sitting in my office.

So, what's really stopping me from getting started? Largely, I suppose it's fear. I've spent so long working on this book that I can't face the thought of not getting it 'right' this time and yet I'm not entirely sure that I know how to begin. I want to just start at the opening page of the book and then bash away at my keyboard until, 60,000 words later, I've written a fantastic novel that publishers are scrambling to buy. In reality, I don't write like that, and nor do most of the writers I know. Books emerge gradually from snippets and snapshots, images and paragraphs which eventually string together to form some kind of map. There's usually a point for me, when I've written enough of these fragments that I find a place to start and then I can be more chronological. This is a happy moment for me as ultimately, I prefer a more logical approach.

The process of redrafting this book is very different from anything else I've done because the plot and characters are fully formed in my head but the way of telling the story remains a bit mysterious. I know that the book will be written in the alternating voices of my two protagonists (Tag and Lorna) but I'm not sure at which point in their journeys I'll join them. I'm also still not sure whether to write to the book in the past or the present tense. I really like the experiments with the present tense that I've done but I'm not sure whether it might get wearing for a reader to read a whole novel in this tense. On the other hand, my friend, Bryony Doran did it really effectively in her novel, The China Bird (http://www.bryonydoran.com/), and readers voted her book the winner of the Hookline competition so it must have been okay for them. I wonder if young people (and publishers of young adult fiction) would be so tolerant as it's so commonplace for books to be written in the past tense?

The other issue is to do with the opening. We all know that books need to grab their readers (publishers and agents are no exception) from the first page, usually throwing us straight into the action and providing us with hooks and questions that make us want to read on. With two protagonists though, there's the question of who I give the opening page to and also, if I decide to use the present tense, it limits my options. I wrote what I thought was a great opening/prologue and then realised that I couldn't easily start with the ending and then go back to the beginning when I'm writing in the present tense.

I've posed these as questions for my first post on www.groupthing.org where I've published one of my possible beginnings that is in the present tense. The post should be up there in the next few days. In the meantime, I'm going to have to do what any writing guru would suggest and just start putting one word after another and see where it leads me. It's got to be better than doing more housework.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck!
    As you say, just put one word in front of teh othwr, you can always go back and edit.
    Personally, presnet tense is a bit wearing for me, but it can work in small chunks, or if handled well, so go with whatever feels right, i suppose ;)