A few months back a friend was telling me a delightful tale about how she meets with her friend online once a week to do some creative work. This struck me as very, very wise. So I promptly suggested to my writing group that we do the same. They happily agreed, we picked a day, and for the last 12 weeks we’ve been meeting online and doing 2 hours of writing exercises to get us all back into the flow. We had been severely slack. None of us had written anything for months, so when we first started it was hard work. My writing muscles were slow and stiff. But now I’m feeling much more flowy and stronger in my writing self.
Then a few more things happened (daylight saving and dark evenings, a series of hard knocks on (and literally off) my bike, covid and some stitches in my leg), with the long and short of it being I had to have some enforced rest time and had to do some smart reflective thinking. But as always life is filled with the most divine and magical serendipity. Whilst stopping, taking some slow breaths and looking at the patterns in the flow of life, I clicked a link and ended up signing up for a 6 week novel writing course. I’ve been writing long enough to know writing a novel is a big project that will take a lot more than 6 weeks, but I felt this was the boost I needed and the right time to do it. If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know in the past few years I’ve really focused on building a body of work with my short stories, and working on getting my stories ready to share. I’ve worked hard on my writing skills and I feel ready to do this.
Alongside all the short stories, I’ve periodically been working on ‘a novel’ (well, actually two very different novels). The occasional chapter would appear, here and there, in our monthly writing challenge, like a magic bean. The flavours of both novels subtly change and shift, but the ideas have pretty much formed. They’re both like a loaf of bread that’s been mixed but needs some proofing and rising (then of course, it will need yet more kneading, proofing, shaping and baking). So far I’ve found, even with just signing up, I’ve really thought about the plots and worked on pulling together my ideas.
Typically (typical for most writers), I’ve written a novel before. It grew sentence by sentence, each paragraph a surprise. It was so much fun, more an uncovering of a story than the writing of a novel. It was a wonder that it had any continuity or thread, but it did. It was shit, but it worked. Mainly it worked because I had learnt to write during my degree and knew how to shift things around and create something that made sense. My grammar and punctuation work, most of the time, and I read heaps, so my concept of what is a story is very well informed. But with the first novel, I wasted a lot of time writing parts of the story that were’ interesting’ but never needed to be written (Now I know this is called backstory). I classically twisted the characters up and did all the ‘first novel’ things that everyone who knows better tells you not to do. I denied this fact of error for years and would dig it out of the drawer and tinker with it, trying to fix it, but the fact is you cannot polish a turd, and it is shit. But also it was my first novel and now I’ve learnt better, I’m very happy for it to be tucked away forever. This time I want to know the story before I start. This time I’m going to refer to the course material. This time I’ll even refer to my writing text books. This time I actually want to listen, learn and apply.
Writing short stories has taught me that I can shape something from a concept. The end doesn’t always have to be a surprise for me. And I trust my writing now, so I’m looking forward to getting into this project. And, I’ll meet with my writing group every week and we’ll still work on our monthly writing challenges. We’ll read each others’ work and tell each other where it sucks and where it shines. And I’ll send more finished work to my favourite reader and she’ll pull my writing nicely to pieces and make me think thrice about it and I’ll adapt from there.
Also, most lucky, I get another chance to work with an editor too. Out of the blue, after I’d signed up for the course, a short story of mine was accepted for publication. The acceptance email came at a perfect time, and the team will contact me for changes to the story in the near future. It’ll be interesting to see what changes they suggest. It’s always fabulous to have fresh eyes on your work, so I’m really happy about this. Perfect timing. Sweet serendipity.
(Photo of the start of one of my favourite mountain bike trails in Wellington,. NZ by Morag Turnbull. Thanks Morag)