Monday, 25 March 2013

How to start a new novel : "As long as you have a word, there's never a blank page"

By Candy Gourlay


Last week on Radio 4's Open Book, Whitbread winning author Kate Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum) declared:
The trick is to get one sentence down - because once you have one sentence down you know you can write another.
Well, today I wrote the first chapter of my next novel.



I typed a title, typed 'by Candy Gourlay' under it. Put in  a relevant quote I'd found in an obscure book, inserted a page break, and then wrote 'Chapter One'  at the top of the next page. And then I began to lay down words.

And after I finished the chapter I was a little bit overwhelmed. Because here I am starting again. And who knows where it's all going to go.

The last time I started writing a new book, I was full of hubris. Ten months. That's how long I thought it would take. But it didn't take ten months, it took three years. So I'm a bit skeptical about this surge of exhilaration I'm feeling. Yes, you've begun again, Candy. But can you keep going? And are you on the right track?

I'm fascinated by Kate Atkinson's tactic of not thinking of the blank page. She believes just the fact of knowing the title for a forthcoming work-in-progress is a vote of confidence in the next novel. Words are like "iron filings" drawn to titles, she says. Once the title is there, the story will follow, it's inevitable.
I've become very calm about writing. I don't fret as much as I used to. I just think: if I've written one (word), then another one will follow. I also write slower so I am not rushing ahead of myself. There's never a blank page ... as long as you have a word there's never a blank page.

Now that my page isn't blank anymore I've decided to dwell, not on the worries of embarking on a new book but on the wonder ...

Wow, I've started my next novel, I've written my first chapter. Now all I need to happen is for more words to come.

24 comments :

  1. I hope they come thick and fast, Candy! I love the idea of words being like iron filings - it makes me think of those 'draw a face' toys, with the iron filings you could rearrange into whatever design of beard and eyebrows you wanted.

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    1. Oh if only words really were like iron filings. Then there wouldn't be quite so much blood on the laptop.

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  2. I'm in a similar position with my new project, Chapter One completed but can I do the next and the next! Yikes I hope so. Good luck and keep writing :)

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    1. Thanks, Suzanne. Luck is definitely what we need ... but oh the joy of that single chapter. Suddenly there is possibility where there used to be a blank page.

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  3. I started writing my second book recently. It took me a while to dare to open the word document the first time, but now I have I'm working on the principle of "don't get it right, get it written". Which is a good thing, considering how appalling first drafts (or my first drafts at least!) are.

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  4. Come they will! I too am in the first flush of love with my new novel - bumbling along, rushing ahead, making mistakes, loving the quirks I shall later come to hate. It's an addiction.

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    1. that is so true. I just can't help myself!

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  5. A world of possibility is a sentence full of wonder in itself. Having just finished my first novel, a new character is starting to form for another project but to commit her to the page feels like an act of disloyalty until No.1 is edited. And as for the surge of exhilaration - joy and anxiety in one go!
    Good luck with yours.
    Karen

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I know what you mean. These characters have been clamoring for ages but it's only now, with the other book on its way, that I have dared put them on a page.

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  6. I think new books are like upside down jigsaw puzzles. Once you turn one piece over you get a clue to where the next piece is because of the shape of the piece.

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    1. What a great image, Maureen ... you should blog about it!

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  7. Ooh how exciting! It almost makes me wish I was starting my next one. Enjoy the adventure. Does this mean we can expect book 2 in the shops sometime soon?

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    1. ooh yes indeed! I am told it will be in the shops this September.

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  8. Wow Candy how exciting. 'Happy' writing! I'm starting my 18th rewrite of my current novel after some excellent input from Golden Egg Academy last weekend. Hoping this time I know where it's going.

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    1. 18th!!! The journeys in this business take such a long time.

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  9. Thanks for this Candy-have just listened to the Kate Atkinson interview which was terrific. I love the idea that a potential book, perhaps just an image, a phrase or title exerts its own magnetic pull, attracting more words and sentences to as it lingers in the back of our mind. Interesting, also what KA said about writing slowly, allowing the book to take its own shape.

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    1. Basically the message of that interview was: Keep calm and just write what you have to

      Sometimes we're all chasing imaginary terrors.

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  10. At last, found the Kate Atkinson listen again.
    The iron fillings for me are that fist clenching belief that there has to be a story out there to hang on that title.
    And the shorter something is, the harder it is. That makes titles really tricky, so good idea to get it out of the way first! Brilliant, Candy.
    Or should it be: brilliant Candy.
    :o)

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  11. And here's a lovely quote from Hilary Mantel - "I think, every day, when you sit down at your desk, you're made new. And it doesn't matter what failures or successes you've had in the past, all you have to do is that day's work, and that's all you can do, and that's really where you should focus your imagination, and let the rest just happen around you."

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  12. Hooray! And some great comments here, too.

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  13. Great article! It's true a book can only be written one word at a time!

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    1. The trick is to get off the internet and write the one word!

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