Earlier this year I read a couple of blogs, by author bloggers I follow and admire, about the dangers of Writer Burnout. ‘If you normally write 1,000 words a day—and then suddenly notice you’ve written 10,000 words in three days—you might be on a slippery slope to burnout.’ ‘I’ve slowed down a bit (phew) and have written another eleven thousand words.’ And while I have no doubt this could be a serious complaint, I won’t have been alone in my Oh, to have such problems reaction, as I despaired of ever finishing my novel.
I am a Long Distance Novelist in the sense that it takes me forever to write a novel. The trials of being a writer with a job and family responsibilities that have neatly shifted from the kids to the older generations. I started writing RIDING THE HIGH ROAD in 2009, still recovering from a severe nervous breakdown. After the focussed push to get WIRE ANGEL out (my first novel), I was going easy on myself. My progress was slow and intermittent, but when in late 2013 I was able to drop a day at work, I decided to step up and get the first draft finished. Life got more demanding again, but the revised version of this draft was presented to my writing group in July 2015. Most of the rest of last year was taken up with my terminally ill brother and the aftermath of his death in October.
But this year I was determined to press on to the end. As well as absorbing my writing group’s feedback, I set about working on the full back-stories of my four main characters. This approach worked for me with WIRE ANGEL: setting out the bones of the story in the first draft, making up the characters as I went along, then going back to work out how their lives had led them to where they were in the novel, and threading through the novel, once character at a time, giving them more depth, motivation and consistency of voice.
I don’t remember this taking SOOO long with WIRE ANGEL, but by this spring I was hopelessly lost in the life story of my artist lesbian mother character, the one I was finding most problematic. I wrote 18,000 words, clocking up 42 hours on my timesheet just for this task. It was already March and I hadn’t started trying to thread this material (or a small percentage of it!) through the novel, with three more main characters to go.
There followed an Existential Crisis: Why the hell am I doing this? I’m bored stupid with this story that no longer preoccupies me. Why would anyone want to read it?
WIRE ANGEL took close on five years and at least attracted an agent. I have posted extracts online, made copies of the manuscript available for people interested in reading it. This one has taken longer already and this spring it felt nowhere near finished. I think of all the time and energy spent writing one and a half novels. I could have been having a nice time, earning more, both?
In the end it’s stubbornness that keeps me going: what I’ve written isn’t so bad, I’ve come this far, it’s a waste of all that effort not to finish. My impatience wins through as I pick myself up, dust myself down, and remind myself I can’t be the only writer unable to dedicate herself full time to the churning out of books, who battles with constant broken resolutions and empty timesheets, but somehow can’t, won’t, give it up. Writing is engrained in who I am, and it only takes feedback such as that from an old work colleague – who told me WIRE ANGEL was a book she had very much needed to read -to give me reason to carry on. If I can give one person that feeling of connection across the abyss that I experience reading novels I love, then that is motivation enough.
And now, a year since my last blog, I can report that persistence is starting to pay. This morning I felt a little surge of excitement as I opened my Complete Draft 2 document, to spend half an hour putting the finishing touches to the threading through of all four main character stories. Now I just need to work through the secondary and minor characters, which shouldn’t take long (famous last words?). Then it’s just a case of checking through some of the factual detail about motorbikes, art and the Scottish referendum campaign that provide the context for my story. I should be ready for the fine edit early next year and my aim to have it completed by Easter suddenly feels doable. I wouldn’t say I was exactly hitting Writers’ Burnout, but the shorter the distance to the end the greater the momentum and motivation.
This novel will be read! Watch this space!