Tuesday, 7 August 2012

On writing a novel

Okay, the big one. The ultimate. The dream.

Well maybe not. I used to think that way but never interrogated why, it was simply an intuitive thing, from school, if you are a writer then you write novels. I had no idea then about anything else, poetry, short fiction, journalism, copywriting, editing, ghostwriting, advertising and countless others. As you grow up and learn about the world your perspective changes and gradually you form views, hopefully based on education and experience, and you mature, but some dreams stay with you. Amongst the many dreams that have stayed with me is writing a novel. I’m going to use my hour this week to question why that is.
            For me, early memories of magic tend to be from books, children’s literature was amazing, I would love to get caught up in the worlds of Roald Dahl for instance, and the impact of The Secret Garden stayed with me for years. Although I read a few in my later teens I was never an early reader of comics, and whether it was conscious or not maybe that was where the form of a book was established for me, there has to be a setting, a plot, a protagonist, obstacles and drama, overcoming the odds, conflict, perhaps a twist and then a happy(ish) ending. The sudden impact a comic book strip gives didn’t make an early impression on me, perhaps I may have leant towards more visual arts if I had been exposed to comics, who knows. Then a few years later Tolkien came along and the marathon reading sessions of Middle Earth began, the same form but on a grander scale, more pages…lots and lots more pages. If a book wasn’t able to double up as a footstool, bludgeoning weapon or neon shop sign that I was so obviously a gifted intellectual then it was discarded for something bigger, perhaps a Clive Barker tome would do, or a Tolstoy number, something more suitable for a discerning ten year old. I did get through them but I have a feeling the nuances of Anna Karenina weren’t appreciated. Then the encyclopedias came about, my mum spending far too much of the little money she had on helping me understand the differences between frogs and toads, I remember the feeling of danger at being crushed while attempting to take them off the shelf.  So by the time I reached secondary school I think the idea of the novel being a serious, important and big ‘thing’ was already implanted into me. Fast forward twenty years and even though I have completed a degree in Literature, have read many different styles and forms of the written word, have a love of film and theatre, and have been surrounded by art and design in my workplace, the base notion of the novel being the ‘thing’ a writer aims for is still with me. The interesting change in my perception of my own skills and ambition is that I genuinely do feel like I may never write one, I have been focused on short fiction for a long time now and can’t see that changing, however even though I do not feel I particularly want to write a novel and may never write one, it is the hardest thing to say out loud and admit…in fact, I won’t! Writing for its own sake is unknown territory for me, I am still a beginner storyteller, I do not write for money, I do not write to dictated deadlines, I write because I feel I have something to say, to contribute and because I enjoy it. For me to say I want to write a novel for the sake of writing a novel seems to go against everything I have tried to make myself comfortable with over the last few years, yet it lurks there. The easiest ‘get out’ is to say, maybe one day I’ll start writing and before I know where I am it will suddenly be a novel, unintentional and accidental but a novel nonetheless. This then leads into methods of writing, which I’m sure I’ll blog about another time but the process I have for developing a short story may have to be adjusted, I may turn to other practices once the depth of complexity reaches a point where it is required, but that’s the point I’m trying to get at, does writing a novel necessarily mean that the text has to be deep, complex, entangled…why am I putting my childhood impression of what a novel is on my future before I am even attempting anything! I have to remind myself to keep going back to the question, ‘What am I trying to say?’ why have I created this page of words, is what I am doing an artistic endeavor to communicate my thoughts or am I using someone else’s template and filling in the blanks so that I can say I’ve done it too, I’m part of the club? It’s a tricky one for me because no matter how many times I say I don’t…I do want to write a novel one day. There is something that takes me back to the magic of a library bookshelf with the hidden tucked away gems lying in wait, or the newly bought beautiful hardcover, the clean untouched pages being first turned and of course the mystery of how words can move you to tears and laughter, how you can fall in love with imaginary characters…I wouldn’t mind being responsible for a bit of that.
I’ve gone past worrying myself about how good I am compared to this or that person, I’m content that I will improve as a writer no matter how long that should take, I am confident I will always want to write and will always have a message to convey, I am happy that I am writing short fiction now and can’t see past that. I understand how much time and commitment it would take and all the strains such a large project (there I am again, presuming it would be large) would impose. It’s one thing to admit that I like the idea of writing a novel (ego) and another to say that I like the idea of achieving a goal but I wonder how honest I am about that goal.
            So, so, so, will I ever attempt to write a novel?

Hour’s up.

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