Monday, 8 June 2009

Writing a Novel: Trials and Tribulations -- it's a job hunt!

Someone was asking me the other day how long it takes to write a novel. People seem to think a novel is something that just comes to you on the spur of the momet. You sit down, start writing frantically for a few days or weeks, and bingo! There it is.

There are some writers who can produce a novel very quickly, within a few weeks. But those are not the majority by any means. I would say they are a very small select group -- and if they can write that way, I certainly envy them.

Now it's not that I consider myself a slow writer. I can write quite quickly, once I've started to know the characters, and once the general feel of the novel is clear. But the writing part is only a small segment of what goes into producing a novel.

Here's what it's like for me. It's exactly like the process of applying for a new job -- twice. Knowing that if you can't get this job, you can't pay the rent.

1. Sending out applications: You start with several "concepts". You work on each one for a while, and try to see if you can come up with a plot idea. This stage takes some time because it's a process of elimination. You try things, they don't quite work for you, then you move on to the next idea. Then finally something gets through.

Result: Someone likes your application letter.

2. Going for an initial interview: Then you start brainstorming, trying out your concept. You're asked (as they always do in interviews) where you see yourself in X amount of time.
Which is what you need to do with your novel at this point. You have to have a clear vision of where it's going -- a plot or at least some sense of the shape of the novel. The vague plot usually has to be rethought over the process of days and even weeks before it finally takes on the shape. Since my plots depend completely on the characters themselves, at this stage I'm working hard to work out who the characters are, what they want out of life, and in what direction they are planning to take me. Even at this stage, there is the danger of elimination. I have several dead-end novels that ended in the trash and never went beyond this stage. If that is the case, then I'm back to square one.

Result: You don't get the job, or you are invited for a second interview.

3. Going for the second interview: This time, you get a clearer idea of the people you're going to work with. Now is the time to serious. You need to know your characters: to hear them talking to each other, see how they move, know exactly how they will react in certain situations. You work out whether you will fit with them or not. More importantly, they'll figure out whether they want to work with you or not. (Funny things, characters. They can be very uncooperative).

Result: You've been offered the job, on probation. Unpaid. If you prove yourself, you might be offered a postion.

4. You start the new job: This is the part where you give it everything you can. This is the part where you actually write. But remember -- you're still on probation. Things at this stage can still get so messy, you may have to start all over again.

Result: You struggle to prove you can do it.

5. End of probation period: You have a rough draft. You clean it up. Then clean it up again. Then again. Until it's ready. Now you present it. Your boss calls you in, and tells you...
"We like what you're doing..."

Result A: "...but you're not quite what we're looking for, so..."

It's time to apply for a new job: This is when you start sending letters to editors, and hoping someone out there will like the book you've just spend hours and days and weeks and months of your life writing without receiving a single penny for it.

Result B: "... and we love your creative spirit, you're just what we want, so..."

You've been offered a position: You get a three book contract, and you're all set. Until your next book, of course. Because it all starts all over again, and your next book still has to be approved.

Trials and tribulations. You have to really love writing. But more than anything, you really have to love working very hard...


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