In this series of posts, I’m going to be taking you behind the scenes of Greythorne and the process I went through to write it. Click to read Part 1 (The Idea), Part 2 (Plot and Structure), Part 3 (Setting) and Part 4 (Characters).
In recent years, I’ve learned the hard way – as I suppose all writers must at some point – that the old ‘1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration’ rule is absolutely true. Although I’ve been writing stories since childhood, it was only when I reached my late 20s (and completed a PhD) that I really learned the discipline required to finish a novel.
My PhD was in international relations, which is about as far away as you can get from creative writing while still remaining in the humanities/social sciences. But despite being totally unrelated to my creative work on the face of it, it was still a book-length production (80,000 words) and had to be written up against a deadline. Finishing it taught me discipline and some valuable strategies for breaking down terrifyingly long writing projects – but most of all it taught me the value of sheer bloody-mindedness. Sometimes – often, in fact – you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when you hate what you’re doing and it’s not working and you wondered what in the world possessed you to even think you were capable of doing this.
I had a chance to try this philosophy out when I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in 2013. This is an annual, international writing event, which runs from 1-30 November; it started in San Francisco but now reaches worldwide. Participants challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word first draft during the month of November. Although people talk about ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo, you’re not actually competing against anyone but yourself, and what it provides is a real sense of community through online forums, pep talks from well-known authors, and in-person get-togethers run by regional organisers all over the world.
Like most things writing-related, completing NaNoWriMo is a whole lot harder than it sounds. To achieve 50,000 words you need to be writing around 2600 a day, every day (including weekends), which is actually quite a bit! It’s probably doable if you don’t have too much else on, but I was also working a full-time job and trying to maintain some semblance of a life as well. The routine I eventually got into was getting up around 5.30-6am, getting ready for work, then writing for an hour, before leaving for work round 7.30-8am. The advantage to living in Australia is that November is coming into summer, so at least the mornings were warm and light. I can’t even imagine trying to do that in the cold and the dark (actually, I can, which is why I don’t bother to even try keeping a routine like that in the winter, when temperatures here can get down to -8 overnight and getting up on a normal day is hard).
I didn’t ‘win’ NaNoWriMo, but I did get around 31,000 words on paper by the end of November and, more importantly, I got into a routine. During the first week it was a novelty and I was enthusiastic; during the second it was hideously painful and I began to question my sanity; during the third I finally had more words written than I had left to go, and by the fourth I was actually enjoying the structure and the sense of achieving something before my day had even started. So even after NaNoWriMo finished, I kept up my routine, and by New Year’s I had a completed first draft.
And then the real work began – but that’s a topic for Part 6: Editing.
Everyone works differently, and we each have to find the way that works best for us. For me, NaNoWriMo saw Greythorne go from a sketchy idea to a living, breathing book in a short space of time, and I learned that, even though I’m most definitely not a morning person, I can actually work quite effectively when I know my time is limited – probably more effectively than if I’ve got an entire afternoon to spend staring at the screen. So this year I’m going to be doing it all again to make a start on my new novel, an Australian Gothic thriller tentatively titled The Dark Before the Dawn. I’ll be blogging about the triumphs and tribulations of trying to bash out 50,000 words in a month in my next series of posts, Anatomy of a Novel. Stay tuned.