Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Guest Blog by Laura Nelson - The Climb Towards the Clouds


I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said to people that I’ve finished the novel. After the first draft, I was beaming. I’d felt I’d reached the top of the ladder. “The end!” I hollered. But I looked up and realised I was still on the bottom rung.

After the third draft, I’d landed on some sort of platform – the editing step. I paused, wobbling. I’m scared of heights; I had to keep going. There were serious flaws that called for a substantial re-write. The re-write took me over a year.

The fifth draft emerged. At last, something I could hold in my hands. Something that resembled a novel! But the first chapter was cracking under the strain of holding up the rest of it, and needed to be built from scratch. And there were inconsistencies in the plot. There was lazy language; there were under-imagined scenes.

Months later, the miracle happened. I emerged from the mist and saw the top of the ladder. I made myself a cup of coffee. I did a dance around my living room. I called a friend. The book is finished – at least for now. I bought a laser printer and some Jiffy bags. I checked what time the post office opens.

I waited for the ‘end-of-novel grief’ that novice writers are warned about. It didn’t come. My novel isn’t dead; it’s just a child that has grown up and left home. In any case, I have a folder full of cuttings and post-it notes. And the sharp, demanding voices of unwritten novels, like spoilt children, vying for my attention and saying: “Write me, write me!”

“Be quiet,” I say. “I’ve already decided which of you is coming next.”

People sometimes ask: why novels and not short stories, which are, well, shorter? I do write short stories, and I like writing them, but for me they are a hit of adrenaline – they come to me in a flash. Then it’s all over.

A novel is a long term commitment; it’s hardcore. You lead it through good and bad, love and hate. You see it evolve, flourish, hobble; balloon and shrink. It’s a warm feeling. It’s a living force. It has to be tamed. It’s an enigma.

Apart from my day job, which I also love (for very different reasons) and which puts the roof over my head, writing the novel is the most important, exciting and pressing thing I have ever wanted to do. That it’s a feat absurd, almost unattainable, makes it all the more worth trying.

Back at base camp, I’m eyeing the ascent in front of me. The huge, Herculean hillside. Experienced novelists say it doesn’t get any easier. It’s going to be a hard slog. Any sensible person would have been put off by the first attempt.

Am I a masochist? Am I a maverick? Am I mad? These are questions, as writers, we ask ourselves. Why do we write, when it’s so hellishly difficult? Well, we do, don’t we – we get it done – because we love it. And that’s the greatest miracle of all.

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Laura has two short stories published in the April 2009 issue of Litro magazine (http://www.litro.co.uk/?cat=33), has published fiction in Nature, and has read her stories live at Tales of the DeCongested (http://www.decongested.com) and Litro Live! events in Foyles bookshop, London.

9 comments:

Rosy T said...

Laura, what a wonderful description of what writing a novel is like! Great post.

Helen Black said...

You've really captured the essence of what writing a novel is all about - the despair and the ecstacy.
HB x

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Brilliant post, Laura - I love it that you aren't feeling the Despair, but are itching to begin the next one! Very best of luck with them both.
Susiex

CarolineG said...

Masochist? Check. Mad? Check..this all really resonated with me, Laura.
I bet the result of all that climbing is something extremely polished. Good luck with the submission process and thanks for a great post.

sarah fox said...

Good luck, Laura - it's so true that when you think it's finished - it never is.

Samantha Tonge said...

Great post, Laura, and all so true.

Laura Nelson said...

Thanks all for your comments and kind words. It's great to know there are many of us trying to be mad and masochistic, and enjoying it all the while.

Laura
lauranels@yahoo.co.uk

Caroline Rance said...

Sorry I'm late to comment, but thanks for a lovely post, Laura. I'm glad you didn't have the end-of-novel grief. Someone warned me about it too but I never had it either - I was just happy to get the wretched thing out the door!

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Great post and resonated so loudly with me you probably heard the echo! I'm about to start subbing my ms and though I'll miss it, I'm hoping like when my children went to uni, I may still watch it grow.