Tuesday, November 28, 2006


A lot of good writers give up writing too early. A lot of people try and write that novel but never get there. Some lose interest, and were never truly into it anyway. But a lot give up through frustration. Before you started writing, you had a brilliant idea, but when you tried writing it down and fleshing it out, it just didn't seem right. What you see there on the page, it's not quite what you intended. It does not please you. I think it's the same for all writers. (It's like that for me, anyway.) But the ones who stick with it are the ones who find away around this dissatisfaction.

The way I see it, there are two ways:

1. Never look back at what you've done. On and on until the end. Then look back.
2. Accept that the first draft is just digging. Be prepared to go back and dig down a different route at any point. And look out for anything shiny.

I am in the second camp

That great idea you initially had, it's not so great. It's a good starting point, but that's all it is. A great novel is not all about a great idea. It's about a whole lot of different things - some great, some not - that fit together and want to hold hands. For me, the process of writing the novel (first draft) is about discovering what those things are, and getting them holding hands with the rest of the gang (everything you have down so far). This may entail cutting someone out of the group. When I was writing my second published novel (FAGS AND LAGER), I got halfway through before I realised, after much agony, that the previous 20,000 words were a mistake. So out they came. Yeah, it hurt like hell and I had to drown my sorrows for a while. But as soon as I cut out the cancer and got moving again in the right direction, I was OK. I was loving it.

I'm wondering if that agony is what makes some writers (and many of them potentially good writers) give up?

20,000 words is a big chunk to cut out. More likely, I'll be going back into the novel again and again and making smaller adjustments - cut a few words here and change that bit. Sometimes you realise that a character is just not required. It's been nice knowing him, but if he has no place in the novel, out he goes. On his arse.

I think a big part of it is where you first put the spade in the dirt. One novel I wrote had my main character hanging out with this strange guy from the outset, and a lot of goings-on in the first few chapters that led him up to something else, which turned out to be the main thrust of the novel. At some point, I realised that I didn't need that intro. That strange guy's purpose was just to take me somewhere else, and once I got there, it was bye bye strange guy and a complete rewrite of the first couple of chapters.

Again, agony. Whatever it takes. Pain is only temporary.

So is a hangover.

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