Last week I made this poster for guest blogger Emma Greenwood’s post Keep Calm It’s Only Novel Panic.
But Emma pointed out very nicely that saying ‘it’s only a novel’ diminished the ENORMITY of the task.
On reflection, what was I thinking! A novel is not an impulsive decision, not for the faint-hearted - it takes a LONG time and once committed, you've got to keep going till the bitter end.
I should know, it's taken three years to finish my current manuscript. In those three years, I wrote 'The End' four times, pressed 'send' three times, and started from scratch twice.
(It is at this point that I usually recommend Libba Bray's blog post Why Writing a Novel is Like Falling in Love ... but oh no, the link has been taken down!)
Whenever I told friends that I was starting again, the usual reaction was, 'Oh you're so brave!'
Brave? I was petrified!
It wasn't courage but FEAR that made me start again.
Once the book is published, once it's out, it's OUT. There's no taking it back for a tweak, no more chances at revision, no 'Oh! I've got a better way to play that scene'.
And think of all those STRANGERS reading it, strangers who don't care about your feelings (unlike your friends and family who will always find the kindest, nicest, way of telling you that your writing sucks). Think of them discussing your book over too much wine at their reading groups, think of them casually posting reviews on GoodReads or Amazon.
Think of them sneering at your purple prose.
Well ... maybe it's better if you don't.
It's enough to make you give up writing entirely.
But you won't will you? People who write novels can't help themselves. It's practically a disease.
(Do read this heartfelt post by my friend Nick Cross What If You Never Got Published?)
I finish one draft and I'm happy. Then I read it again and I'm in despair. Then I write it again. Then I read it again. Then I write it again. And so it goes.
Right now, since you ask, I'm happy.
But I haven't heard back from my publisher yet.
(Read my prematurely celebratory post the first time I pressed 'send': What I Learned From Writing My Second Novel)
Through every long bloody process, I ask myself, but how do you know if it's going well? How do you really KNOW that when you get to the end it's going to be good? Is there a feeling? Is there a glow that you get? Is there a slow blossoming of confidence? Is there JOY?
Even though I've written several novels now (only one of which has made it to the bookstores), every book-writing experience has been so different, I have no answer.
I guess the only way to find out is to keep writing.