Pier painting by the wonderful Juan del Pozo
The leap of faith needed to write a novel has to be as downright daft as the final shot in Finding Your Feet – but without the option of a musically enhanced freeze-frame to stop you falling between canal edge and barge.
Even writing my fourth, I’ve been purposefully not glancing down at the yawning gap between my dawdling MS and a physical book, because lurking in the swirling waters below are the following two familiar questions:
- WILL ANYBODY WANT TO READ IT? Specifically, who’s going to give a rat’s arse about a seaside pier? Even if you sometimes have top 60s bands playing on it, smash it with waves or set fire to it?
- WILL I EVER FINISH IT?
A few months ago, this second question became impossible to ignore. It turns out there’s a reason why family sagas are chunky or in a series: unless you’re going to reduce some events in your 75-year story to mere bullet points, you just can’t cover it in my usual little 75K words.
‘Be not afraid of going slowly,’ says a Chinese proverb, ‘be only afraid of standing still.’ Believe me, when something’s going at a rate of 1mm per month, and you then discover there’s going to be several kilometres added to your journey, you’d best be VERY afraid.
So, here comes my top tip for getting a novel written. To have a chance of finishing it in my current lifetime, I started making myself WRITE A CHAPTER A WEEK. This game makes me grab writing time whenever I can – no more precious waiting for a whole free morning to get into the zone. Inessentials (laundry, tidying anything) don’t happen until I’ve done the chapter. Tuesday’s Bake Off marks the cake-fuelled half-way point, and I expect to be all done and smug for Saturday’s Strictly. I now feel that, unless I fall into a sinkhole or something, I WILL finish it. I even have a tentative date for that. NaNoWriMo freaks or bestselling cash-cow novelists would be appalled, but other writers might want to give this plan a go. You still don’t know if anyone will want to read it of course, but at least it shortens the gap between you and the barge or canal water.
My previous leap of faith landed me on a lighthouse. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter (Urbane Publications) is available from Waterstones and other good bookshops, as well as online e.g. at https://amzn.to/2xQtuXY