Learning by doing

You probably expected to hear more from me in this blog since I started spending all Fridays writing. And I expected to write more. And I have been writing, it’s just that instead of writing my blog, I’ve been writing my novel. Have I told you all that I’m writing a novel? It’s pretty exciting because it’s something I’ve wanted to do probably all my life. But like all good things, it’s taking a long time and a lot of work.

I wrote a full draft last year, from beginning to end, then I worked on it a bit, correcting things that I saw needed correcting, and making it as good as I could get it. I got to the point where I wasn’t willing to spend any more time on it if it was rubbish so I gave it to some well trusted people to read – just to see if it was worth going on with. They were encouraging (thank the Good Lord), and gave some helpful advice, and I have taken note of the advice and I’m trying to incorporate it. I’ve opened a new Scrivener document and I’ve started again, writing yet another draft.

It’s harder this time – I want the novel to be excellent (or at least a lot better than it was in the last draft) so I’m trying to improve everything that I can. When I was first writing, I just reached inside my head for the story and wrote it down. In a way it was like reading a novel – it just wasn’t written yet – and I could write at any time – at my desk, in a cafe, even last thing before I went to bed. If it was rubbish, that was ok, I knew I would be fixing it later.

But now it is later, and I need to make sure that the writing is not rubbish. I am finding that I need a lot more brain power to write this time. I read each sentence critically to make sure it says exactly what I want it to say. I’m trying not to start three sentences in a paragraph with the same header words (unless, of course, it’s for effect). I’m trying to fill in the holes that need filling and to change the scenes that my test readers said didn’t make sense.

I want my writing to be good, so I have researched a fair bit to find out what makes a novel a good novel. I have read a lot in the last couple of years about novel writing – about the dos and don’ts, about character arcs and themes, about adverbs (don’t use them, unless you use them well), about planning (very important so you don’t get lost) and not planning your novel (so that you can follow where the story goes without being stuck to a rigid plan), about the rules of writing and how to ignore the rules of writing and so on. It started to get very confusing – my take on it all is that there are rules that you can follow to make sure your writing isn’t horrifically bad, but if you follow the rules slavishly your writing will be horrifically bland.

Character arcs was one thing I really couldn’t get figured out when I started. I had read that each character in the story had to have an external issue to work on (kill the dragon, for example), and also an internal issue (daddy issues or some such thing). I could see how important that was for the main character but I couldn’t figure out all the character arcs for the other characters. I was concentrating so hard on the MC and getting her story straight that at first the others were just there to help her work out her story. I understood, in principle, that every character in a book needs to be a full-bodied character with their own story happening right alongside the MC and that your book is a bit two-dimensional without that. But I just couldn’t think it all through, I couldn’t make it come together.

But over the last month or so, as I’ve worked on this draft, it’s become very exciting. The characters have started to take on lives of their own. I’ve realised that Robbie (who I thought wasn’t very important) is going to have to face his own mortality, and that Jan (who is very important but not the MC) has issues about living in a small town that I had no idea about when I started. Novelists write about this, this coming to life of the characters, I can’t believe it’s happening in my story. It’s so cool!

So now I’m trying to dredge out of my little brain exactly what I’ve read about character arcs and how to write them and I think I might have to do some more research. But while I research I’ll keep writing because it seems that this novel writing thing only happens as you write. It’s one of those ‘learn by doing’ situations.

Sometimes I get scared that I will never finish the book. That I will keep polishing for ever and ever and it will never be good enough to be out there for people to read. Sometimes, when I read about the business aspect I find there’s a whole new level of fear to go through – I need to find editors and cover designers, I need to work out contracts and legalese to make sure I’m not getting ripped off, and probably a whole host of issues I haven’t even seen yet. And then there’s the fact that if I ever want to make money from writing, and I do, then I need to publish at least five books before any money happens. FIVE times this! Five!

So I spiral into panic.

And then I remember. Quietness and confidence, repentance and rest. I need to trust that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I can leave all the outcomes in God’s hand and just do, each day, what I have been called to do. It’s about process, it’s about living in the moment. And it’s about the fact that I really love writing. If it takes five years to finish this one book then that’s what it takes. I just need to keep going with what I am called to do each day, day after day, and leave the rest up to God.

And can I encourage you, if you know there is something you want to do, then do it. Enjoy the practice. If nothing else, you’ll learn a heap about yourself as you go, and you might even achieve something that you’ve always wanted to achieve. There was a little song I learned as a kid:

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect

I guess if I practice then better I’ll be

I’m off to write some more…

2 thoughts on “Learning by doing

  1. Thank you for sharing your anxieties & challenges – working towards a goal has always been nerve-wrecking for me! But I have learned to enjoy the process & the journey, and somehow, that makes the end point less daunting.


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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