I have in front of me seven copies of the first complete draft of my novel, ready to give to my writing group and my husband for their summer reading. This is a reworking of the very raw (and not quite complete) first draft, but still quite sketchy. Nonetheless the reworking has taken me a full 12 months, never mind the five years drafting before that.
Writing a novel takes the absolute piss, time-wise. True, I’ve had a lot of ‘life-stuff’ (see Battering down the doors…), but as my husband pointed out, it’s not like producing a painting (or a poem for that matter). At the best of times it would take me a few years to complete a novel, and I have to keep faith with it throughout that time, without the benefit of encouragement from people who have seen a regular stream of finished work (as with my husband and his painting).
When I was writing my first novel I developed respect for anyone who has succeeded in reaching the end, whatever I might think of the finished product. Just the sheer effort of setting down 80,000 plus words in some kind of coherent order is an achievement not to be sniffed at. Novelists talk of how you can get simply sick to death of the thing; longing to be finished with the idea you had several years ago and to move to something more currently preoccupying you. And having reached this moment of pause I catch myself thinking as though I’ve finished and can properly contemplate what to write next. That’s when I’m not running through all the reasons I’m not happy with this book and questioning its intrinsic value.
Still mostly I will acknowledge my achievement in coming this far and allow myself a welcome summer break. I plan to have a holiday, catch up with myself, and focus on my brother, whose needs at the moment are the most paramount. He is declining very noticeably now and the weight of his terminal illness sits heavy and present with me. The time for this to take all my attention is close and who knows how long the pause in my writing will be. But perhaps with that ‘splinter of ice in the heart of a writer’ (famously defined by Graham Greene), I don’t doubt I will be back, absorbing my readers’ feedback, working on deepening the character stories and shaping the whole to something approaching satisfaction. For all the feeling sick of it, this crafting is the part I enjoy the most, and I am still able to carry some belief in this book. Here’s hoping the task will continue to feed as well as frustrate me and that the momentum I have gathered to get this far will push me to the finish in the not too distant future.