Saturday, October 25, 2008

In which the author wishes she could work a bit more efficiently and then uses a train metaphor.

I had an unexpected visitor this morning: the idea for my next novel. Once again it arose from some outside stimulus, and a serendipitous coming together of several elements to cause the spark. In this case, my husband mentioned that he had stumbled upon a documentary I might be interested in, based on where the research for my current novel is taking me (the research is actually taking me too far from where I need to be). Just after he mentioned that, an interview came on the radio and when the subject mentioned one of his previous jobs (he is now an actor), I could almost hear the cogs connect and the wheel start to spin. The whole next novel flashed before my eyes.

There is no danger that I will abandon my current one to start this new idea. I had the idea for The Sound of Butterflies while I was halfway through the novel I wrote for my MA and I managed to get that finished (though obviously not to the point that it was publishable). TSOB existed in notebooks for a long time before I turned my full attention to it, and I think the beginning was easier because of it. So I'm hoping the same thing will happen here.

That makes five projects I have in mind that I would like to see through to their end: a short story, two novels, a children's novel and a screenplay. I am a serial monogamist when it comes to writing. I am afraid of diluting projects if I work on more than one at once, but the upside of that foible is that I do finish things, eventually. I would rather have two projects finished at the end of (say) three years than four half finished things. I guess that is why, when I embarked on my Wuthering Heights essay, the novel part of my brain shut down until it was finished (although it did turn out to be valuable research; I just couldn't write any of the novel).

Around about now is when I wish I was some kind of writing machine, who could work quickly and efficiently. My residency finishes at the end of February, which is only 4 months away. I would like to think if I sped things up a bit I could have the first novel finished and the children's one nearly done as well.

So why do I work so slowly when these things are all there in my head? When I have the time and the space and the income? I wish I had done some kind of journalism training - the novelists I know who have are very very good at bashing out the words quickly and efficiently, where as I tend to go bash, bash, think, think, get distracted, another bash, go and have a nap. And that is not a typical day I am describing but a typical month, so those periods of not bashing are ridiculously long while I stew things over. I have talked before about the perfect novel in my head; maybe the problem is still that I am worried that when it comes out it won't be so hot. But I'm supposed to be over all of that.

The other thing I have noticed is that my new idea has arisen from the research for the current one. I go wandering along a path and realise that I am too far from the route I am supposed to be taking, so I promise to come back to that path another day on a new project. Just as my current one will be linked to TSOB because of my own personal interests, so too will the next one be linked to that (and probably so on and so forth). An image of train carriages being hitched together comes to mind. Each one will be connected to the last, but by a different link than the one before. I think that's rather a nice way to shape one's publishing career.


Anonymous said...

I hear you - I have had a similar thing happen all week, like an idea riding on ones current projects coat tails, thank god for notebooks I say, reassuring to jot it down and know it will be there when I need to get to it. I have read in Julia Cameron we only tell one story anyway, though that fills me with anxiety that I am repeating myself, I look at as one theme, each work a little leap frog until the next one, though I think your train carriage metaphor much better. Ideas are like seeds, some take longer to grow than others.

(too much coffee today)

Mary McCallum said...


it's the creative impulse plus the desire for stimulation and excitement on a regular basis - i have the same problem hence my choice of journalism as a career prior to this novel-writing lark - never thought I'd write a novel for the very reason that it seemed such a disciplined long-term thing - and even now i have to make it interesting for myself - hence hating synopses and bringing in a picometer (see my blog)and self-imposed deadlines (as you have done rachael)

how exciting to have all the ideas, though, rather than those terrible writer's blocks people refer to - elizabeth knox says she is 'persecuted by ideas' - which shows at once how wonderful and terrible it is to be wildly creative - something she most definately is

Unknown said...

I seem to get my ideas for projects while walking the pooch: and yet I still haven't learned to take paper and pen, so, given my lousy memory, such walks end by trying to walk quickly back, uttering mnemonics to remind me of the main points when I do, the poor old pooch having to keep up as best she can, pissed off all the time to be missing out on smells.

Though, that said, funny coincidence, we had to have her put down yesterday, after she got bloat, so no more walks, perhaps no more ideas. A sad house today, and for some while.

KC said...

Love the train carriage metaphor Rachael. No pressure now, but I'm looking forward to the readers in 40 years time linking the books together for themselves. Keep going! xx

Jane said...

I have been a journalist for 20 years and still haven't completed the three novels I have been working on. I am hoping NatNoWriMo will help.