Paperback Writer: Novel Writing Is A Difficult Beast To Tame

I finished part one of the novel. It is going to be a triptych – a three part novel, and I was hoping to keep it under 90,000 words. I spent the better part of my writing day cutting words out of part one to chop it down to size. Part one is now a little over 32,000 words. I should be able to hit my target if I am careful. I don’t want to bore people, or to make it feel like it goes to slowly, or gets distracted. I am not writing for literary greatness, though it would be nice if it was at least considered intelligent and considered writing. This is not going to be my magnus opus, no. I am writing to entertain.

You see at some point in every writer’s life they have to think about what they want from writing. Do they want to write something intensely personal and emotive? Is the writer going for literary greatness, do they want to write the great American novel? I have to admit I would like to throw my hat in the ring and try and write one of those suckers, but I don’t feel quite ready. I am not a natural novelist. I consider myself more a poet, and feel my strengths lay in the shorter essays, audiophile pieces and my poetic efforts. To write a novel, for me, is not so much like running a marathon instead of sprinting, it is more like painting a mural on a ceiling, a big picture deal, instead of a small, 2 and a half foot by 2 foot painting full of condensed detail. These large brush strokes have confounded me.

I got into the swing of writing long things by having an idea which was going to end up as a short story, turned into a novella, and by the time it had tricked me into thinking I was only in it for the short haul, presented itself as in fact a much larger painting, a much much vaster state of affairs.

I knew it was all over when I found myself trying to find a used copy of a book on the history of San Francisco crime and the rotten underbelly of her history. Real Barbary Coast stuff. It was game over when I found myself making sure that the geographical aspects were in order, and the history of the real world that the very unreal story is set in, was not jarringly out of place. Once the dreaded research-cat was outta the bag, I knew I was in trouble. I had accidentally started a novel!

For me, accidentally starting a novel was probably the only way to go. I intended the beast to top out at 40,000 and be a novella, but the opportunity to carry on stopped being a tantalizing question and ended up being an imperative: this novel was made for walking off into the distance, not leaving the reader hanging with answered questions. I simply could not wrap it up neatly, I could not nail the damn landing, in under 90,000 words.

About a week ago I sat and planned the whole thing out, roughed-out how many words each section would take, and stood there confusedly listening to David Bowie and wondering how on earth I was going to do this. All in all the entire novel, all 90,000 words of it should take me another six weeks to finish, and then perhaps two weeks of editing. The entire process being over in under three months.

I had never wondered before how long a novel should take to write. It was only when Ruthie looked at me in surprise when I told her the schedule for writing The Thing, and informed me that people usually took years and years to complete their first novel, that I started to understand the immensity of the task. I am not a years and years kinda girl.

I am the type of girl that goes for the sprint, the intensity, the wam bam, thank you ma’am. If I am done with drinking or whatever, I go cold turkey instead of a more graceful landing over time. I am not built for slowness. I am a creature of speed, though it might not look like it to see me walk nowadays. Sometimes I have to use a stick. The old injuries are just too much, and I am irritatingly fragile. I am not meant to be fragile either. I was built to be a warrior. I am a raid and run sort of creature. I have no appetite for stamina. This novel will just have to be written at a breakneck pace.

I have started to get somewhat strange about writing it. Making outlandish comments – to myself only, and I guess now, you all – that I must finish this before I die. I am not planning on dying and I am not that kind of unwell. Despite my legs being messed up, and a horribly bad back the rest of me remains, as always, robust. I suppose I can pretty much guarantee that I will finish that poem by lunchtime, but if I start writing now, and don’t stop until sundown, I still won’t get this sucker finished. Wasted work is my idea of a horror story. I’ve wasted too much hard work over the years and left with no reward for it. At least my Boy is a shining example of work well rewarded.

I printed off part one, and gave it to The Boy. He read it in one sitting, brought it back to me in a folder ( I am notoriously messy when I work) and gave me a hug saying , “what happens next, ma?” I was overjoyed. There is nothing someone writing a novel wants to hear more than those magic three words. This is not painting with words, though I remain a lyrical writer, this is story-telling and without a good story to weave, the prettiness of the words really doesn’t count for a hill of beans in this dirty old world, to paraphrase and misquote my favorite movie, Casablanca.

As I was editing I realized I had cut off part one a little early, in my effort not to let myself run over my word goals, and so sat back down to actually finish that arc of the story. As I wrote the scene, set in the San Franciscan night, and it all came together like a puzzle slipping into place I felt an immense sense of satisfaction, immediately followed by a sense of dread at the edit. The edit is going to be a nightmare. I shall lock myself in the apartment, eat like a slob and never get out of my pajamas until it is done. I shan’t even think about querying this bastard child of the San Franciscan slums and Bauhaus singing Bela Lugoi’s Dead until I have to consider practicalities. Because, after all, this is why I am writing.

I am not writing for literary plaudits, though a few good reviews would be nice because, as awful as the prospect is, that shit means something. Reviews are intensely personal, a homage to the writer and should not be treated as if they are meaningless. No one wants to write a turkey. I am writing, my dear friends, for my life. I am writing for the money, not Joni’s velvet curtain calls. I am writing because this story is highly entertaining to write, and I hope will give people pleasure. I am not going for the intellectual, or the hip, but somewhat accidentally, I would say that it is a clever cool read, at least so far.

That is the problem. A novel is no good if it falls apart a third of the way through. A writer has to nail the meat and has to nail the fucking landing. And there is the rub, there is the thorn in my side. I can’t finish this while I am ‘hot’ and ‘in the zone’, sometimes I have to force myself into the zone and fight with the pull of the steering trying to force my entire work in progress of the edge of a literary cliff, and anyone who writes and writes longer pieces surely knows the feeling of having a goal to reach that day, but it just not happening. When that awful state of affairs goes down – not writer’s block, more novel-writer’s fatigue, there is nothing else for it apart from strong caffeinated drinks, a pile of THC sativa edibles (and I will admit it…a tiny little ‘temple ball’ of absolute fire hashish, some Nigerian Haze Wak, two hot knives and a considerable amount of care not to hurt myself), and a rotation of some very heavy sounds.

My novel writing playlist is not strictly my usual fare. There is a lot of Bauhaus, a lot of Velvets and Lou Reed, Bowie, Clash, Mazzy Star, The Gorillaz, Kendrick, Iggy Pop and Joy Division. It is partly an energy thing, partly the fact that this book has it’s own loud, fast, dark tastes. The novel has taken on such a life of it’s own, and the world it has created, which is a twisted and upended version of the place around me, with a few added twists and supernatural turns, is the kind of place where Frank Zappa and the Mother’s of Invention make absolute sense, and Joy Division’s perfect track, Disorder sounds like bubblegum pop. I end up singing California Uber Alles (Dead Kennedy’s) whilst mourning the fact I have to pencil time in to play the guitar and do everything else in the day that needs to be done.

In fact if things get too intense I have to go outside and take a walk, but even that has taken on a novel-writing imperative. I want to set a lot of the action over towards Jackson Square, because it makes historical sense to do so. The only problem is that I have never been to Jackson Square. I just don’t ever go that direction when I am in that part of town. So today I think I will take myself on another trip into the geography of my own novel, and go see if I like the lay of the land and if the characters might enjoy using it was their playground for the next 30,000 words. You never know with those reprobates…..


    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      Hello! I use google translate to read non-English websites. Really nice to meet you Cristiano! 6 years seems like a reasonable amount of time to write a novel. I hope you find a publisher soon! Be careful there are some real sharks out there who claim to be publishers. Thank you for trying to encourage me. I am going to push onwards and get this one finished!

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