I was having a conversation with a novelist friend of mine the other day who mentioned that she is unhappy with how her novel has turned out despite numerous rewrites. She (and her publisher) have given herself three months to give it a final go to get it right. I also have a deadline which is a little over three months away, and it seems that our novels will be hitting the public at about the same time ("Let's feud!" she said).
Feuding aside, it got me thinking about just how different each writer's process is but how we all eventually get there in the end. This novelist and I both started our novels at around the same time. In fact I started a novel that I have since abandoned. Everything seemed to be going so well for her with it and I confess I felt a little jealous. She has always been so disciplined and always seemed to enjoy the first draft process. She was very much of the "just write 1000 words a day and you have a draft in three months" school, whereas I have always aimed for 1000 words a day and failed miserably.
It doesn't matter how many words I write, it seems it takes as long as it takes and I can either work it out on the page and write copious amounts of words, or I can write fewer words and work it out in my head. At the moment I have two and a half days to write, plus another couple of hours on Wednesday afternoons when the toddler is at my mother's house and I sneak off to her local library.
(Aside: sometimes those two hours are as, if not more, productive than the full days I have. I usually just put my head down and write in a stream of consciousness fever, then the next day go back and either find 700 words of rubbish or 700 gems.)
I can't help but wonder whether, if I had more time to write, the book would get written quicker. I suspect not. I think it's just going to take as long as it takes for the words to ripen and fall onto the page - if I were to force them out at 1000 words per day, seven days per week, I would inevitably end up throwing many of those words away. This way, it's like a steady drip, and by a designated date (hopefully within my deadline), the bucket of the novel will be full. To carry on the metaphor, if I were to pour great gushes into the bucket, I would inevitably end up spilling half of it on the floor.
What can I say? I am the tortoise, at first jealous of the hare's lightning pace and quick mind, but ultimately I think we will get there at the same time.
The Sound of Butterflies was the title of my first novel, published in the UK by Picador, in the US by William Morrow and in New Zealand by Random House, and translated into eight foreign languages. In 2009 my next novel, Magpie Hall, was published in New Zealand by Random House, and in 2012 my first novel for children, Red Rocks. This blog is my thoughts on the world of writing and books.
Photo by Sharon Blance.