Sunday, 10 August 2014

Starting Over

Something incredible happened to me this weekend. It was an unexpected, monumental moment in my life, one that I have dreamed about for so long but part of me actually doubted if it would ever happen. But it did happen. It definitely did and I have the proof here on my computer.

I started to write my novel again. 

Okay, I may have exaggerated ever so slightly in the opening paragraph but it is a huge achievement for me, I cannot stress that enough. Now before I continue, I'm sure some of you will be shouting at your screens, exclaiming that I've been writing the book for almost six years and blogging about it for over two years! And some of you may think that all along I've fooled you into believing that I've been writing this novel, taking you under my wing, guiding you under false pretence for all this time only to start writing it now. 

The truth is I have been writing and blogging about it for two years, and I would never (intentionally) guide anyone under false pretence about anything, so rest assured, all of my blog posts have been 100% authentic and genuine. 

What I mean is that, if you read my previous blog posts, after I attended my evening writing course and Listowel Writers' Week, I had come to realise how little preparation I had done for my novel. Think of running a marathon without any training or trying to dig a hole in the garden with a tea spoon. In my naivety I assumed that, like all the great writers, I would figure it out as I went along. But thankfully, I saw sense (isn't that what writing workshops are for?) and I imposed a ban on myself on adding to the word count until I had properly planned out my novel(s) and felt confident enough to begin writing again. I gave myself 4 weeks to do that. That was in March and at the time of writing this, it is now August. Hmmm.

I suppose it was like anything in life really, that the more I planned it out, the more research I did, the more character diagrams I drew, the further away I pushed my actual novel. And then it became even scarier than it has before, because it seemed so unfamiliar. It became easier to avoid. 

Don't get me wrong, the time I spent away from the physical manuscript was crucial and there was no doubt that the research needed to be done. I've researched areas that I had actively avoided looking into including statistics on the numbers of deaths in each country on a daily basis, World War II army ranks, traumatic chest injuries and cardiac arrest resuscitation. I've gotten to know my characters (particularly the supporting ones) better than I ever thought I could. And I methodically planned out the plot in each book so carefully that I practically know the outline of book one off by heart, inside out. I was quite proud of myself actually, I wrote each scene down on a cue card and spent a long time moving them around, deciding which order they should go in. It was one of the most practical and beneficial things I have done regarding the book.

It was a bittersweet moment when I logged back on to my laptop and read back through the 30,000 words that I had written before my hiatus. On the one hand, I was surprised at how well much of my prose worked and I found myself smiling at some of the paragraphs, thinking "That was actually alright"". On the other hand, I cringed at the sheer volume of adverbs that dotted the pages and found myself getting bored at long chunks of description. I was also surprised at how much of those 30,000 words have had to be deleted because I hadn't done my research or planned out the novel when I had written them. The plot, and the characters, have developed and shifted during my planning stage, so much so that many of my original chapters and words no longer fit.

I'll be honest, it's not pleasant highlighting a few thousand words and then hitting the delete button (my finger did hover over the button a few seconds longer than I had anticipated), but while I can acknowledge the regret and frustration that it evokes, I also felt excited at the new possibilities ahead and proud of my courage to hit the delete button.

And this weekend, I finally reached the end of my research - for the moment anyway. Accepting that was a huge feat because I could have kept planning, developing, brainstorming for the next five years. There is only so much we can prepare for before we actually have to feel the fear, confront the anxiety and essentially go for it. 

So, yes, I definitely experienced anxiety when I saw the flashing cursor (and smaller word count) and yes, I could feel myself inwardly cringing as I wrote. But for the moment, I'm just writing for me and I can (just about) handle the at-times awkward and clunky prose. But I have my safety net of cue cards to guide me through each paragraph as well as my security blanket of character diagrams to assist me in deciphering what each character will say or do in a given situation. And I still have over 25,000 words written so I'm far from starting from scratch! 

A lot of what's ahead of me is guesswork, intuition, imagination and diving into the unknown but I feel a lot more equipped to handle that challenge now than I did six months ago!