Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Feeling The Novel Fear

Image from Hist Novel Soc.
I had a serious novel-wobble a couple of weeks ago. I made the mistake of reading the NIP, all seventy or so pages. And it was awful. And I moaned to anyone who would listen - writer friends, regular friends, my sister, my husband - about how awful it was. Why had I wasted five months on it already? Wasn't I better suited to short stories anyway? What on earth possessed me to write hist fic after my last (disastrous) attempt at a historical novel? I decided it was not worth continuing.

I was convinced I did not want to go on despite the fact that I was quite enjoying watching the story develop. And I was definitely enjoying the research into things as diverse as breastfeeding in the nineteenth century; when STOP signs for traffic came in (1915, so too late for my purposes), and how to clean brasses before Brasso (with rum, apparently).

Even though I hated what I had read of the NIP, I could see that the writing improved as it went along. And, it occurred to me, that if it improved maybe it would keep on improving. I comforted myself with the thought that the more I write the more I understand my characters. And, sure, I can always go back and edit the start with the knowledge gained as I write forward.

And I remembered a conversation with novelist Claire Kilroy from a few months ago, when I had just begun the novel.
Me: 'I'm at The Fear stage.'
Claire: 'Is there any other stage in novel writing?'

So I decided to feel the fear. I stopped researching so much (I am convinced that is what killed the last hist fic novel I wrote) and I let myself just write. Every day I sat at my desk and wrote a little. And I found, by doing it, that I still wanted to write this book that is so scary and unwieldy and possibly awful. I love my two female lead characters too much to just leave them dangling in some horrible limbo. And anyway, I reckon I will learn more by pushing on and finishing the book, than by running away.

So, on I go. With lots of fear and trepidation. And a little sliver of hope.

31 comments:

dan powell said...

I am in the murky middle of my novel too, Nuala, so this post appeared on my RSS at just the right moment. I've been feeling the fear myself, worrying that I've been wasting my time. What you say is so true though, the best thing is to keep moving forward and trust that most things can be fixed in the edit. I look forward to reading your new novel sometime. In the meantime I'll be working through the fear too. :)

mocwriting said...

I love reading Hist Fic, but myself, am unable to write it to save my life. I am currently writing a crime fic piece which ironically, I don't like to read, but writing seems to come naturally.

I applaud your diligence to persevere and trek on. Maybe someday I'll step beyond my comforting boundaries of poetry and modern fiction, but for now, I'll support those that do.

Micheál Ó Coinn

alibacon.com said...

Hello Nuala
I sympathise with the novel fear. I'm also struggling with my first ever historical which has taken me 2 years even to start writing :( yes, the research bug took over. Now I've looked at last few scenes and noticed they are awful. Trying to pin down what's going wrong. But stopping not an option, just yet, anyway. Ali B

Tania Hershman said...

N, I take consolation from your blog post, because it all seems to me very scary. I wanted to tell you that I heard Andrew Miller and Clare Clark talk at last year's Bristol Lit Fest about historical fiction, and they'd never met but they both talked about the fear that happens a certain way into writing a new novel and you could really feel from the way they talked about it that they were being honest, and that this must happen to almost everyone working on something so all-consuming and large a project, not just historical fiction (although that perhaps has its own challenges). Anyway, take heart, dear, I can't wait to read it!

alisonwells said...

I love that line 'I made the mistake of reading the novel through' - so seemingly innocuous get leaving the writer in shreds of despair. Even at the best of times it's difficult to keep the faith. Perhaps novels require more courage if not more technique than short stories. And those writerly rants to nearest and dearest you describe, pacing the kitchen, circling the table, wringing our hands and beating our breasts while our loved ones look on with an air of bemusement. I still don't know when to go on. I've finished a book but I still don't know if it's right. I like the next one but stare out the window instead of finishing it. And every other project is shiny. Ah well, it's the nature of the beast, nothing for it but to fear him and face him all the same!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Wow, lots of lovely comments!

Dan - empathy. We can virtually hold each other's hands.

Micheál - best of luck with the crime novel. If its coming naturally, on you go!

Alibacon - the research bug. I love it. Yes, it is so sidetracky that I have had to learn to contain it. Please do go on. Maybe our books will offer us the solutions later?

Tania - I know this fear is widespread but thanks for letting me know about AM and CC's talk. I have had it on every novel I have attempted but somehow you forget about it and some madness makes you start another.

ALison I love 'pacing the kitchen, circling the table, wringing our hands and beating our breasts'. You forgot the tears ;)
As for when the book is 'right' - it just never is, as far as I can tell. This from John Banville:
“At the end of a novel I stand up from my desk with the sensation, queasy, fearful, giddy, that I have just leapt from a high place. The knowledge that one has failed, yet again, is inescapable, and all I can think of are the weak spots, the soggy bits, where invention ran out or my nerve failed or I just got fed up and said, ‘Oh, hell, leave it’."

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Oh I love this post. I also love the fact that Claire Kilroy was honest with you - as so many just aren't...

yours in utter trepidation, at 70K of novel number 2,

Vxx

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

70k! Brava, Vanessa. Hats and caps and bonnets off to you :)
70k is a far off misty horizon for me at this point. But I will be happy to get anywhere near that in good time.

shaunag said...

Nuala, I hear you, I am bang in the middle of the fear ... nice post though, a bit of hope and a gentle reminder that it's the writing, the writing, the writing that has to keep on going...

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

That's it, Shauna. We have to push through and just keep on keeping on.

View ReView said...

Thanks for this post. At the moment - literally - an agent is reading mine, so I'm alternating every other minute between terror and confidence. The novel is the same novel either way...

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

View - 'The novel is the same novel either way...' Ah yes. This is the thing, isn't it? I find that hard to remember especially when I have a book under consideration. As I do now (Novel No. 2). It is nervewracking. Fingers crossed for both of us :)

james claffey said...

nuala, thanks for the timely reminder. i've become bogged down in the middle of my own book, and read it through, found no discernible plot, and went in search of the carving knife. you've reminded me that it's all about keeping going, trekking on, writing one's way through the plotless landscape in search of that indeterminate something that will be the answer. i suppose it's the writer's version of field of dreams--if you write it, it will come. and good for you taking the plunge with historical fiction. that's a brave move. best, james

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

James, I think to myself, brave or foolhardy?
Thanks for your comment - 'the plotless landscape' is right, perfect.
I defo learn from pushing on. Since my wobble two weeks ago I have learnt so much about the novel I am writing and about how I want to write it. The wobble was clearly needed though it felt awful.
I haven't got it all figured out or anything, but I am in a less stressed out place about it.

Rachel Fenton said...

So refreshing to read someone being honest about the novel process! I do know you'll get over the wobble.

I was 50,000 words into current NIP when I had a major wobble. Went back to the beginning, re-wrote until I wasn't ashamed of my writing! Did some major editing and that enabled me to move forwards. Eveyone's process is different but I salute you for just being able to jump right into the thing and go for it.

(PS - over-research killed my previous novel. I'm not doing historical in the same way EVER AGAIN. Though, ask me in a year and I'll have a different opinion!)

Best of luck with novel two - excited for you and looking forward to reading.

A. J. Ashworth said...

Keep going, Nuala! I'm feeling the fear at 10k of my first novel so this is comforting. I have found with all my writing that how it reads in any given moment depends on my mood. I'm sure it will be great.

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi AJ. Yes, I think mood has a lot to do with it but as for it being 'great'. Hmmm. Nowhere even near 'good' yet :( But on I go, on and on!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi Rae,
I rend to edit as I go along. Just the previous day's work and, sometimes, things a bit further back that have to change because of something new that has happened. It's always been my way.
I am sort of happily moving forward now, though the 'happy' part is precarious. Wobbles are never far away in the novel writing process, I find.
It's all part of it.
N x

Louise said...

Keep on writing - the fear is awful, but you'll work through the murky waters - get to the end, and then it's an emerging beauty waiting for it's final recreation. xxx L

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

I'm writing as we speak, Louise. (On the net for research - honest!) The wobble was a couple of weeks ago but I am only spotting its value now.
I am moving on with the novel, TG.
Thanks for dropping by. N x

EMC said...

Hi Nuala,
Great post. I'm two (probably 3) years into my novel. Have cut about 100k and still at 50k and now think the start needs to be rewritten (again - AGAIN!), but perservering nonetheless...

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Good on you, Edel. It is hard to cut such huge swathes of the work. Best of luck with it. I have everything crossed for you. N x

EMC said...

Thanks Nuala, it's a learning curve alright but want to make it the best it can be. Although I do wonder if I'm somehow putting off reaching the end... because of an altogether different kind of fear... but I don't think so... I hope. :)

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Maybe too much analysis of the process stymies us and we should just forge ahead to the end? And then see what we've got. It's worked in the past, for me, so on I go.

EMC said...

Well, I didn't have a satisfactory ending for a long time, was missing something and I didn't know what. And that's definitely one reason why I was avoiding the end. Now that I know what it is, I'm happier to rewrite the start knowing where I'm going.
But yes, for my next book / torture-exercise I'll be racing to the end before I do any rewriting/reworking.

Words A Day said...

you have my empathy - on 20,000 words & feeling the fear too - reading over the work in the early stages is like looking down when your trying to climb a tree, it gives ye the wobbles:)

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Thanks a million, Niamh :) I love that analogy. Thanks 4 commenting!

Jacinta said...

Head down and no looking back Nuala. So impressed by your ability to take your balls out of your handbag on a daily basis. Sending a virtual "onward" nod, supportive slap on back, and strong cup of tea.

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

'take your balls out of your handbag' - hee hee, what an image!! Thanks a millo, Jacinta. Trans-atlantic encouragement and cups of tea always welcome. Nu x

Sandra Jensen said...

I love this post. Very supportive -- I'm on my, what, 8th draft? And in some ways it feels scarier now than when I first started.

And the knowing when the book is "right" -- I take great heart in what you wrote, and what John Banville said! I can almost smell that feeling of 'oh hell, leave it' - it's just around the corner, I know it! (Please god!)

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Thanks a million, Sandra. Yes, the fear just never ends really does it? And yet we go on, and on. It's half mad, the whole business!