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View Full Version : A BBC article on starting to write a novel...


scarletpeaches
04-23-2007, 04:50 PM
...but not necessarily finishing it (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6582955.stm).

Few of those who begin have the discipline, stamina or patience to complete their tomes.

Finishing it's never been an issue for me...it's getting it published!

Creative writing seminars and coursebooks will tell the budding novelist to write every day - practice makes perfect, and character development and a sense of pace come easier to those who are writing constantly.

But what if you can't? Even those who have been published find the daily discipline difficult. Douglas Adams' last manuscript was 15 years overdue.

What a load of nonsense. There's no such word as 'can't' when it comes to putting the time in. If you want to write, you write...and you keep doing so until the damn book's finished. And I'm not sure Douglas Adams is a good example. Fifteen years? I've never known anyone who had a self-discipline problem to that extent. You have a deadline, you get the book done.

The article itself is interesting, even if there's a lot I disagree with, when it comes to writing a book being 'work'...well, yes of course it is, but 'work' makes it sound joyless and it certainly isn't for me. Some parts are difficult, but you learn what you can and make do with the skills you have, always trying to improve them. The learning process is part of the fun for me. Why anyone would try to write a book unless it was fun, I don't know because the rewards are not immediate and not always financially substantial.

But it's what I love, so it's what I do.

What do you think of the article? I'd love to know what people think of the three examples of unpublished novels given...personally the showing/telling problem jumps right off the page at me, and have they never heard of head-jumping? ;)

It makes me feel reassured about my own writing, but...well, I keep on trying, as we all must. :)

Garpy
04-23-2007, 06:11 PM
"The truth is that many of us write novels for the same reason that George Mallory gave for climbing Everest - 'Because it's there'," wrote novelist Sheila Doughty recently in the Daily Telegraph.

I've yet to come across a writer that is writing for the sake of it. I think every writer....yes let me think...yup, every writer I've bumped into seeks the holy grail of being published. It's understandable. Being published means getting an audience. That's why most people write.

The money...if there is any, is a bonus.

Elektra
04-23-2007, 06:33 PM
It is rumored that DNA's editor actually moved in with him at some point, just to get the book done...

Kay_XX
04-23-2007, 06:47 PM
I think unless you see writing as a job, you won't get enough done. I like writing, I can be passionate about it, but I also have other interests that take up large chunks of my time. Now, if writing was my job, I'd have no problem sitting down and writing a certain amount each day, but as things are, it's something I enjoy doing and I'm not too fussed (yet) about being published etc. I know I should take it more seriously, but at the moment I just enjoy it.

I think many people who never finish their novels see writing as a fun past time. Doesn't mean they're bad writers necessarily, just means it's not the greatest/only passion in their lives.

victoriastrauss
04-23-2007, 07:23 PM
I think the article is pretty superficial. Just based on the numbers of books put out by iUniverse and the like, an extraordinary number of people finish their novels. Hard as it may be, it's evidently not hard enough.

The article also says "The odds are stacked against you, even if you are able to turn watercooler daydreams into a finished novel," but fails to note the true reason why: because most finished manuscripts aren't publishable.
What a load of nonsense. There's no such word as 'can't' when it comes to putting the time in. If you want to write, you write...and you keep doing so until the damn book's finished. And I'm not sure Douglas Adams is a good example. Fifteen years? I've never known anyone who had a self-discipline problem to that extent. You have a deadline, you get the book done.If only it were that easy. Not everyone has that kind of positive response to deadlines--many people are deadline-averse, and work poorly under pressure.

It's not always as easy as "putting the time in," either. Many things can get in the way, from personal problems to unpleasant real-life situations. The writing urge can go silent for a time, or a project can run into problems that you can't immediately figure out how to fix.

There's no one rule for everyone. For every writer with daily discipline, there's another who writes in spurts with long hiatuses in between. For every writer who takes joy in the process, there's one who finds it painful yet is driven to it even so. For every writer with a smooth flow of ideas and inspiration, there's one who gets stuck. And every conceivable variation in between. No one rule covers everyone.

- Victoria

janetbellinger
04-23-2007, 07:30 PM
I think the article was written to acknowledge that sometimes people "can't" do it. Not everybody has the inner resources to finish a novel. When the author of the article says "finish" he or she doesn't mean finishing a first draft. It took Douglas Adams fifteen years to finish a novel to a publishable state. That's what perseverance looks like, staying with a novel for fifteen years until it's finally right. But people have to have a life too, and not everybody is as obsessed with writing as we are. What the author is saying is: that's okay. Don't be too hard on yourself if you can't get it finished. There are other mountains that might be easier to climg.

scarletpeaches
04-23-2007, 08:11 PM
If only it were that easy. Not everyone has that kind of positive response to deadlines--many people are deadline-averse, and work poorly under pressure.

It's not always as easy as "putting the time in," either. Many things can get in the way, from personal problems to unpleasant real-life situations. The writing urge can go silent for a time, or a project can run into problems that you can't immediately figure out how to fix.

No, it's not easy, but the solution is simple. Put the words on paper. There's no other way to get the book done.

And it is a matter of putting the time in. You don't get to 'the end' by going off and doing other things. I've had personal problems get in the way of my writing, but...that doesn't get the project finished, does it? I'm not saying no-one has life events to deal with...just that they're not always an excuse to stop writing. In fact there are very few things I can think of that wouldn't be eased by writing - in my case at least.

Or maybe I'm just too pragmatic to be swayed by other events. If I have a deadline, then I stick to it. Thinking about writing isn't the same as writing. Talking about writing isn't the same as writing. Only writing gets the project completed.

Plenty other people get on with their jobs despite anything that takes place in their personal lives. They don't make excuses, they just get on with it.

Devil Ledbetter
04-23-2007, 08:12 PM
Lott, who won the Whitbread in 1999 for White City Blue, warns that the process of wrestling a novel into shape over many months can be exhausting.This surprised me. I would think winning the Whitbread would be far more exhausting than writing a novel.

scarletpeaches
04-23-2007, 08:14 PM
I noticed one of the extracts from the unpublishable...sorry, unpublished novels was justified on the basis that "This really happened."

Oh dear.

Judg
04-23-2007, 09:10 PM
Scarlet, you do have to keep in mind that we're not all single and able to order our lives around our own priorities all the time. Stuff happens, and the more people under the roof, the more it happens. I'm not complaining, just saying.

In my case, I also suffer from chronic fatigue. I've had to take a little time out because taxes and gardening simply have to get done, and I don't have the physical and emotional resources to juggle that many priorities. It's only because my children are pretty well grown up now that I can write at all.

I know you're not enjoying being single, and I quite understand that, but it does have the undisputed advantage for a writer of nobody else being able to co-opt your time once you get home from work, or at least not on a daily basis. Lots of people have so many claims being made on their time and energy that daily writing is a pipe dream. So we just do our best with what we've got. And ignore the people who try to question our commitment.

scarletpeaches
04-23-2007, 09:12 PM
Single does not necessarily mean no commitments, no deadlines, no demands on my time.

(And I wouldn't exactly say I'm not enjoying it...compared to alternatives I've seen around me in my own life, it's definitely to be preferred over 'settling').

Judg
04-23-2007, 09:20 PM
Single does not necessarily mean no commitments, no deadlines, no demands on my time.

(And I wouldn't exactly say I'm not enjoying it...compared to alternatives I've seen around me in my own life, it's definitely to be preferred over 'settling').
I know that, but husbands and kids can be incredibly insistent. And there all the time. And worst of all, they have very legitimate claims on our time. Add to that the fact that married people often have those other commitments that single people have too...

I greatly admire the people who can do it all. I'm not one of them. It requires a physical stamina I just don't have. It could be argued that one reason I don't have it is because I pushed too hard for too long, so I might be a bit of a cautionary tale. Quite apart from the single/married question, some people for whatever reason just have too much on their plate to be able to write daily, and not necessarily through any fault or lack of commitment of their own. Dismissing that as nonsense just isn't right.

And you're right, being single (even unhappily so) beats being unhappily married any day.

scarletpeaches
04-23-2007, 09:22 PM
:)

I know it seems like we're disagreeing (even a little) on this issue, but I appreciate the way you've phrased it, Judg; very diplomatically and I can fully understand where you're coming from on this. :)

victoriastrauss
04-23-2007, 09:32 PM
And it is a matter of putting the time in. You don't get to 'the end' by going off and doing other things. I've had personal problems get in the way of my writing, but...that doesn't get the project finished, does it? I'm not saying no-one has life events to deal with...just that they're not always an excuse to stop writing. In fact there are very few things I can think of that wouldn't be eased by writing - in my case at least.I'm sure that many people feel the same way. But I'm equally sure that many don't.

Your observations and thoughts about the writing process are always interesting and thought provoking. But I do have a bit of a problem with the way you often seem to assume that what's right for you is, or should be, right for everyone. I too used to find it hard to accept the validity of various kinds of writing difficulties--until I experienced some of them. In writing, as in life, you can run up against issues that, until they they actually happen to you, you simply can't conceive.

- Victoria

scarletpeaches
04-23-2007, 09:35 PM
I don't remember saying anywhere that what was true for me was true for everyone.

But it is physically a fact that only typing (or writing) gets the book done. No-one gives you, say, a 50-page head-start for having other commitments. Only you can write your book, no matter what's going on in your life. No one else can write it for you, no matter how long that takes, is what I'm saying. And that's just...well, obvious.

Will Lavender
04-23-2007, 09:54 PM
I know that, but husbands and kids can be incredibly insistent.

On behalf of husbands everywhere:

I'M OUTRAGED!

J/K. :)

In all seriousness, I wrote my Ackowledgements page last night for my novel and almost put my son in there. He was so...good for me while my wife was teaching school and I was writing my book. Of course, the near-constant dose of Blue's Clues helped.

I ended up leaving him out, though, because after all he's only three years old. God willing that I'm allowed to write a second book, I'll put him in that one. :D

Judg
04-23-2007, 10:05 PM
Wives too can be insistent. ;) Got to be even-handed here.

scribbler1382
04-23-2007, 10:12 PM
I've tried to explain to my wife that the only reason I have time to finish stories is because I don't waste it doing things like picking up my socks, replacing the empty toilet paper roll or putting the seat down.

Hasn't worked yet. :D

Jamesaritchie
04-23-2007, 10:57 PM
Last I heard there are close to 6,500,000 finished novels seeking a home. God alone knows how many partials are making the rounds because writers decided not to wait until the novel was finished before starting the submission process.

I think this article is more about the myths of writing than about reality. "I have to write." "You have to have a fire in your belly." Why is it that this nonsense falls only on writing? If the rest of the business world had such nonsense attached, we'd still be living in caves. Such nonsense is an excuse for failure, rather than a map to success.

Like everything else, writing a novel is a choice. So is parking your butt in a chair each day and writing. For every writer who claims to have something stopping them, there have been many other writers who wrote, finished, and sold novels under far worse conditions. The first fail because they choose not to write; the second succeed because they choose to write.

Quality is something else. The vast majority of finished novels are simply no good. Even when compared to the worst published novel out there, most finished novels are terrible. But finishing itself does not take a fire in the belly, it does not take some have-to-do-it-or-die mental illness condition, it merely takes something too few people have in any area of life, the same thing it takes to practice BIC, and this is discipline.

sfecphory
04-23-2007, 11:30 PM
I don't remember saying anywhere that what was true for me was true for everyone.

But it is physically a fact that only typing (or writing) gets the book done. No-one gives you, say, a 50-page head-start for having other commitments. Only you can write your book, no matter what's going on in your life. No one else can write it for you, no matter how long that takes, is what I'm saying. And that's just...well, obvious.

It took me several years to figure this out, actually. Once I did realize that my book wouldn't magically appear on my doorstep I started getting so much more work done. Amazing what a little introspection can do.

Judg
04-23-2007, 11:35 PM
But it is physically a fact that only typing (or writing) gets the book done. No-one gives you, say, a 50-page head-start for having other commitments. Only you can write your book, no matter what's going on in your life. No one else can write it for you, no matter how long that takes, is what I'm saying. And that's just...well, obvious.
Obvious and indisputable. Even if obstacles are objectively there and not whiny self-indulgence, they still mean you get there more slowly or not at all.

I am going to get there, just more slowly than people with more octane in their tank. Them's the breaks.

Doug Johnson
04-23-2007, 11:36 PM
If the rest of the business world had such nonsense attached, we'd still be living in caves.

If the rest of the business world required as much work, and paid as little, as writing a publishable first novel, we'd all be starving.

Assuming you're not one of those lucky few that publishers are throwing money at, I think that the only reason to write fiction is because you can't enjoy the day unless you write a certain number of words. Whether such people are blessed or cursed depends on your point of view. Maybe it's a little of both.

maestrowork
04-23-2007, 11:58 PM
Very superficial and focus on "daily discipline." Not every writers write that way. Some pump out a novel every 3 months, and some take 5, 10, 15 years (Charles Fraser, Thomas Harris, Michael Chabon, Arthur Golden, just to name a few). Some people treat it as a "job." Some people treat it as a "career." Others treat it as a hobby.

I do say finishing something like a novel is an achievement on its own. Whether the book is good enough for publication is another matter.

NeuroFizz
04-24-2007, 12:05 AM
The near end of the word "work" has synonyms like toil, drudgery, sweat, grind, but the far end has deed, performance, creation, masterwork, handicraft. And accomplishment. Choose your focal point.

scarletpeaches
04-24-2007, 12:07 AM
I like that idea, Fizzypants. :)

jst5150
04-24-2007, 12:16 AM
The article is another in a long series of articles that we've all read time and again.

Important to remember there are different levels of success for different people. I wouldn't mind getting paid and having an audience for my book, but my goal was to see if I could do it. I did. Twice.

Someone said it's the journey and not the destination. I'd agree with that, but have been told the guy with the checkbook is standing at the destination.

seun
04-24-2007, 01:40 PM
I got no feeling from that article that writing can be a highly enjoyable experience. It's the same as any job - who would stay in a position they didn't enjoy?

And what was that crap about rather be running a corner shop? If he would rather do that, then why he is a writer?

Linda Adams
04-24-2007, 04:11 PM
If only it were that easy. Not everyone has that kind of positive response to deadlines--many people are deadline-averse, and work poorly under pressure.
- Victoria

Very, very, true. I was in a military environment where paperwork needed to be submitted, and now I'm in a corporate environment. I swear, nearly everyone I've seen drags on deadlines, ignores emails and calls about said deadlines--and then either rushes at the last minute to finish the work or the work simply disappears into a black hole until someone goes after it. This happens again and again and again--and having the big boss chew them out for missing the deadline doesn't do any good.

It's not always as easy as "putting the time in," either. Many things can get in the way, from personal problems to unpleasant real-life situations. The writing urge can go silent for a time, or a project can run into problems that you can't immediately figure out how to fix.

This is the one that scares me. I do have periods where the urge does go silent and sitting at the chair staring at a blank screen doesn't necessarily come (and if I force myself to write when this is happening, it becomes not fun, and it really shows up in the writing quality). I've also had times where there's been a problem, and it's taken a long time to work through. The one we're submitting now took six years to write. Six years! And everything I'm seeing says that the publisher will want a book a year. We're trying to work out some issues in the process so many we don't have to do so many revisions to fix problems; hopefully that will help.


There's no one rule for everyone. For every writer with daily discipline, there's another who writes in spurts with long hiatuses in between. For every writer who takes joy in the process, there's one who finds it painful yet is driven to it even so. For every writer with a smooth flow of ideas and inspiration, there's one who gets stuck. And every conceivable variation in between. No one rule covers everyone.

Believe it or not, I'm all of these!

Garpy
04-24-2007, 05:20 PM
Last I heard there are close to 6,500,000 finished novels seeking a home. God alone knows how many partials are making the rounds because writers decided not to wait until the novel was finished before starting the submission process.

Blimey! Is that US only? Or in the world? And...anyone know how many novels are published in the US/World? Just curious what the percentage hit rate is.