Starting a new novel at lightspeed

Well, by my standards.

Writing has been something that I’ve defined myself by for a very long time. At the age of five, I wrote my first books and comics – they were generally about a page long but what price quantity compared to quality, eh? Throughout my school years, I knew what I was going to be. I was going to be a writer.  I was going to write books, preferably novels.

Something self-evidently went wrong.

I’ve racked my brains about what for a while now and the main wrong turning seems to have been seriously committing to try and become a musician, a job I’m grotesquely unsuited for. I hate networking, get on appallingly badly in any unstructured social situation and am a complete creative control freak. None of these things are an issue if, say, you’re outrageously talented like Prince, but if you’re only moderately talented at best – Lady Gaga, for example – you need a bit more in the way of social skills and capital.  And dress sense. And good looks.

By the time I finally staggered back on course in my late thirties, I was in the middle of a career in new media and began to write a novel on various planes and trains. Eventually, I took six months out to change career tracks and finish it. I did. It isn’t very good – not bad, but not good enough so that anyone would take an interest and, at 130,000 words, way too long for a first publication. Then I set to work on another one. This was interrupted by the arrival of dudelet and the necessity of full-time, steady work.  Nonetheless, I trudged through about 15,000 words and a lot of planning. This was derailed by, firstly, starting a Masters in addition to my job and secondly, the arrival of little elf.

The problem with writing is that it requires time, quite a lot of it and I don’t have any. Or rather, I perceive I don’t have any.  Dudelet, however, has other ideas. I’ll come back to that.

Now Elizabeth at Fog City Writer does regular (great) posts of links to useful, interesting or plain fabulous articles, blogs and resources about writing. One of the items she highlighted in January’s post was Anne Patchett’s article in the Washington Post which basically revolves around the startling discovery that:

The more time I committed to working, the more pages I stacked up.

Yeah, I know. Kind of obvious. But we all know what committing to work actually means – doing some! As parents, carving out even a small amount of regular writing time can seem like an impossible task and the idea of writing a novel becomes something positively Sisyphean in its difficulty – endless, aimless, nameless. We’re talking ants collecting grains of sand from the Sahara, here. We’re talking getting a human being on Pluto. Stopping a toddler whining. And so on.

Patchett also cites a teaching from her yoga teacher about what you do in the first 32 days of the year setting the tone for the whole twelve months.  I don’t have a guru but I do have a six year old and dudelet has decided that I’m not allowed to read him stories any more. I have to make them up. Every night. So I’m making up a novel, something that I suppose slots into the ‘young adult fiction’ category, and each night I’m telling dudelet a new episode. When I’ve finished, I dash off to our bedroom and frantically type out what I’ve told him, summarising where necessary (there are dishes to wash, dinner to be had, a fragment of yoga to be done if I want to be able to keep up with my children in the years to come. And I do like to see supermum occasionally).

Of course, it’s got complicated. Why is this person in a mansion? Why is the man half made of metal? Why? Why? So my commutes, previously devoted to reading high-falutin’ texts (on good days) and iPhone games (on bad days) are now focused on what on earth I’m going to tell him next and working out what this complicated world I’ve sleepwalked into actually consists of. I’ll give you one hint – Jesus never made it big and the Roman Empire became a loosely connected commonwealth. And…Well, the rest’s a secret.

It’s amazing how much time I have when I’ve got the right focus and a tough taskmaster and as I put in the time, the plot summary starts to build up. Let’s hope I can keep it up – I’m starting to get that feeling that I want to know what happens.

I’m also starting feel like a writer again. Well, this blog is called Dad Who Writes, you know.


About Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

Writing, reading, listening, parenting... On Twitter as @dadwhowrites. View all posts by Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

17 responses to “Starting a new novel at lightspeed

  • elizabeth

    Well, that’s quite exciting! The thing about writing a novel – like anything else that’s seemingly endless and difficult I suppose – is that it really is doable, particularly when you break the task down into small chunks. But you’ve already figured that out. Great news – I’m glad Dudelet is cracking the whip. And thanks for the shout out.

  • dadwhowrites

    Cheers – I think with my previous one (#2), it had been chunked to the point that I’d really lost track of what I was doing with it. But not this time!

  • slamdunk

    Good advice.

    Finding quality time to commit to writing is essential. I think the inddividual’s determination comes into play, and as you say, making time for what is important becomes possible.

  • MrsW

    Shoot I’d buy it already – alternative history and fantasy combined? Heaven!

  • penguinunearthed

    What a great solution to the lack of time! I can imagine a six year old being an excellent critic – at least of the logical flaws.

  • Mwa

    Hurray for you! Very exciting and brave.

  • Chic Mama

    That’s fantastic, what a great idea. Two jobs in one as well! Good luck with it all.

  • charlotteotter

    Great news! Keep at it. Children are our teachers, you know. Your beautiful boy is teaching you how to write again.

  • dadwhowrites

    Hi all! In haste:
    Charlotte – That’s kind of what it feels like. And the kinds of discipline completing all the work for the masters part-time are starting to come in useful too. A lot of the reading and prep for that was done on the Tube.
    Chic mama – Actually, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to do two jobs in one. In fact my current job is quite literally two full-time jobs.
    Mwa – Oh I don’t know about brave!
    Penguinunearthed – actually, he’s ferocious about cause and effect and why. He also hates waiting to find out what happens next. Usual six-year olds grasp of delayed gratification.
    Mrs W – Well, I should probably finish at least a bit of it before asking for investors 🙂
    Slamdunk – that’s always the issue – it’s kind of like dudelet has made me a gift of his quality time and in doing so forced me to concentrate on where else I might mine more from.

  • bsouth

    Some of the best fiction has started out as stories told by parents to their children.

    Good for you. I’m looking forward to it!

  • Achelois

    First copy, signed please 🙂

  • Rol

    Like you, I struggled to find time for a number of years. I went down to a 4 day week so I’d have a day to devote to writing, but had to pack that in because I couldn’t afford a 4 day salary. Then I started getting up at 6 and going into work 2 hours before everybody else. The discipline of a regular, daily writing time has helped me incredibly. I’m a creature of habit, so making writing part of my daily routine has increased my productivity in a big way. Those two hours before everybody else starts work are my favourite part of the day – and the only time I actually feel I’m achieving something positive with my working life.

  • Mizmell

    Bravo to you (and dudelet)! Looks like all you needed was an assistant!

  • Ally

    All I can say is well done Dudelet for cracking the whip! It sounds as if he is helping you find yourself again and that is just fab! What a little star 🙂

    If you find yourself in need of a beta reader, I’ll put my hand up now 😀

  • gumbomum

    Fantastic, fantastic news! Can’t wait to read it some day! Carry on!

  • nonlineargirl

    What an interesting (and hard) way to write a novel! Ada demands a story (and books) every night, but mine are more one off stories featuring the same main character than a series of tales going somewhere.

    It will be interesting to hear if Dudelet offers his thoughts on where you are going (or should be going) with the story. A good editor, and all that.

  • Tai

    I think that as artists we are always looking for the most magical solution to our dilemmas, but when it comes to the work the answer is as simple as “Put butt in chair.” No magic required. Alas. And yet what a relief.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: