I have written the perfect novel. It is complex, multi-layered, gripping and very important. The story is fantastic. It will move readers, and sell extremely well. The critics will laud it, and of course, it will win the Booker. Or the Orange. Or both. How could it not, when it is perfection itself?
The trouble is, so far I have only written it in my head. In your head, things can afford to be perfect. And effortless. The novel assembles itself with precision; all you need to do is get it down on paper, right?
Wrong. In making the transition from head to page, that perfect creature becomes a baggy, twee, trite, lack-lustre, confused monster. I wonder how many great ideas never make it into book form because people can't bear to see their precious darlings being born a bit spotty, or, OK, hideously deformed.
But this, I have to remind myself, is what writing a novel is all about, and those of us who persevere - who don't abandon our ugly babies but work with them to make them achieve all they can in life - are the ones who get the books finished. And OK, they might not be the flawless art that we first imagined, but we have to at least try and mould that first effort into something as close to our dream as we can manage. We can't give up.
On a personal note I thought I could get this novel out in a year, no worries, because it was all there in my head. The days when I hated what I saw appearing on the screen sometimes crippled me for the rest of the week. I have come to realise that I was being a bit optimistic. Sure, I will try and write it in a year, but with a few exceptions, novels can - and probably should - take a lot longer that that.
A few weeks ago, a night class student asked me how many words I like to write a day and I said a thousand (this wasn't a lie - I do like to write a thousand, but I usually fail at this target miserably). He said with a very confused look on his face "But this isn't very many at all!" People have this image of the full-time writer sitting at their desk banging away on their keyboard for 8 hours straight, but those who have actually been there know that this is virtually impossible. Sometimes I sit in my office all day and only write for an hour. But try and explain to people what you're doing for the rest of the time and you realise that to the outside world writing a novel looks an awful lot like laziness.
Other people have also said "If you write a page a day, that's a novel in a year". I think those people have never written a novel either. They must be the kind who think that the perfect novel in their head will pour out of them at a perfect page a day, and at the end of that year all they need to do is print it out and send it off.
The conclusion to this rant is that I am going to go back to trying to write 1000 words a day, and if they look nothing like I was hoping I will shrug my shoulders and tell myself that I have all the time in the world to shape it once the first draft is out. If I hate it, I don't have to live with it. I have the power to change it to the best of my ability. And I don't need to rush it out. If I take the time to research, and ponder, and read things that inspire me, I am not being lazy; I am being kind to my baby.
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