You’re Going in There?
Is there anything scarier than starting a novel? I mean in terms of writing – I know there are far scarier things out there in the real world.
It’s a question based on personal experience. I’ve published a few books now – two novels and several shorter stories/novellas – and the thought of starting a new novel both excites and terrifies me.
By the way, I don’t mind being scared. I write horror and apocalyptic stuff because it’s what I like reading and watching. It’s good to be unsettled, distracted from the everyday. Having a spooky little diversion that echoes our reality is a great way of staying sane.
This isn’t like that though. There’s less in the way of escapism here.
As an aside, I used to do a lot of carving and starting a new novel reminds me of starting a new piece of sculpture. You can see the possibility of something lovely, but it’s very distant. Many, many hours away. You also know you may not get there and, if you do, it’s going to involve aching hands and a sore neck.
Let me give this some context.
The last few months, I’ve been concentrating on shorter stories/novellas. They’re not straightforward, they require a certain skill and an almost indefinable deftness of touch. Not saying I necessarily have either, but the idea of starting one is always pleasant. The pleasure mainly being that you can usually see the destination from the outset. Get tired and stop half way there? So what? You won’t have been walking long.
There’s the rub. That’s what it’s all about. Novels are a huge commitment for a writer. They’ll chew your days and spit them out in a hideous pulp. You work in a fever of optimism and leave in a vaguely ecstatic state. Then return and feel nothing but despair. Writing is treacherous business – you can’t trust the words. They’re tricky little bastards. Get too many together and they’ll betray you.
So why even attempt one?
Well, I guess the novel is a more highly regarded accomplishment. Rightly so perhaps, the time and dedication involved is definitely a pant-pebbling prospect. Plus, there’s something genuinely enjoyable about roaming your fictional landscape for an extended period. Without sounding overly poncey about it, creativity on any scale carries its own rewards. A deeply satisfying, personally enriching process. It’s fair to argue that the larger the work, the greater the sense of achievement.
You might even sell a few copies!
But that’s not the whole story. Kicking off a bigger work is like standing at the edge of a dark, rarely trodden woodland. You’re going to enter and you don’t really know where you’ll end up.
There’s always the chance you might get 40k words in and feel it float away from you – get sidetracked, simply lose interest, or hit a roadblock with the story. However much you plan, in my experience longer fictional works inevitably develop a life of their own. They’re unruly and unpredictable. Wilfully disobedient. Offering 6 months to one is asking for trouble – tantamount to gambling.
So, do you feel lucky? A huge investment of time and effort when the payoff might be nothing more than an (at best temporarily) abandoned manuscript.
Fear of writing the long story? I suppose there’s no great mystery. Writing an even half decent novel is damned difficult.
Don’t think you can’t do it …but don’t think it’s going to be easy.
Now I just need to decide if I’m feeling lucky : )