20 years ago I wrote an elaborate screenplay called 'Sex with Friends'. It was the story of a group of people, not dissimilar to the group of stoners whom I spent the majority of my life at the time with. It was the story of love, death and drugs from the perspective of a group of carefree twenty-somethings who seemed to have too much money to waste. I can vividly remember when I finished it and printing it out and feeling the heavy weight of the work as I flicked through the freshly printed pages. Though it wasn’t the first screenplay I’d written, it was the first one I thought was good. Turns out, It wasn’t very good, but the joy of completing the final scene and typing “Fade to Black” into my illegally downloaded copy of Final Draft (along with free malware) was a real sense of achievement.
At the same time, I also started thinking about a different story, but this one was going to be a novel. A story with complex themes and characters. For the time, in the early 2000s it was thematically and politically quite controversial and the world I’d been picturing was one that frightened me. I was immediately intrigued. As the years have passed I’ve found myself often revising the story and the characters and that world. I feel like I know these characters better than I know my friends and partner - and as I’ve grown, experienced life and matured the story and the characters have also. However, until about 2 years ago, during the pandemic I finally thought of an ending. All these years had gone by and there was never an ending. I used this as an excuse as to why I’d failed to write the first chapter - the first sentence, even. The story wasn’t ready. That’s what I said, but the truth is that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to sit down and face my inexperiences as a writer and I was genuinely afraid. I was afraid that these characters who I’ve become so close to and whose devastating story, which would unfold over many pages, will never get the literary justice I felt they deserved.
With an ending, another year went past, and my attention had turned to the YouTube channel that I have with my husband and with a promotion at work, time was now a precious commodity. Along with the practicalities of simply making the time I decided that the novel needed to be written. This was a story that laid bare my beliefs and fears about the way the world was turning and the societal injustices that we see every day. I started to do some serious research, organised in my Obsidian vault. Character biographies, complex plot lines, world building - I watched videos and guides on the best practices (There really isn’t one) and I started to listen to sort of music that would shape the mood and tone of the book. I began to write and the blank page wasn’t blank any more.
But then I stopped. I wasn’t ready. So I started to read more fiction, and began Not Entirely Boring. If I wasn’t ready to write fiction, I’ll continue to write and establish my tone of voice on the page. I’ll learn from my mistakes and keep developing my skills. So I write - every. Single. Day. Blogging, journalling, short stories, essays and so many unfinished pieces of work! But I kept on writing.
However, blogging, or writing essays isn’t the same as writing a novel. I’m not building a world, I’m not creating new characters and I’m not evoking emotion from my readers. I’m laying out my opinions and my passions and my experiences in life - but I’m not writing fiction.
So I set myself a challenge. I am going to write a novel.
I am going to write a novel that is at least 100,000 words long and I’m going to do it before my birthday in May.
That works out at around 1,000 words a day. Easy. I’ve written this blog in one sitting and this is word 617 (on the first draft of this blog anyway).
There are rules to this challenge - and I’ll warn you, I’m breaking these rules already.
- I have to write at least 1,000 words a day
- I am not to plan my book or think too much about it.
- The story is to develop organically.
- I am not to beat myself up if I’m stuck on a scene. I’ll only procrastinate with writer's block. Write a different part and return to unstick the scene when I’m ready.
- If it’s terrible, that’s fine. That really isn’t the point of the exercise.
The reason that I’ve set myself a challenge of writing this book isn’t because I want to publish this book, it’s because I want to work to develop the various plots, themes, and characters and to actually finish it. At the point of writing this, I have been at this challenge for a little over week now and have nearly 8000 words. I have based the characters on people I know (and who won’t be annoyed by my using them) - a few days I didn’t write (thank you, alcohol) and others I exceeded the daily goal. So I switched the goal to a weekly one within a few days; annoyingly Ulysses, my writing application of choice, limits to only daily goals (from what I can see).
I am (sort of) planning. I have recently purchased the most gorgeous traveler’s notebook, which I intend to keep on me at all times. The catalyst for my buying this book is in part due to the research I’ve been doing on another blog. Also, I as in the bathroom at work the other day and I realised that I needed to add a new scene to the opening chapter, and as my mind wandered I’d begun to structure it, but after a few meetings and a commute home the amends in my head were gone. Forgotten. Damn.
This notebook is small enough to live in my back pocket so when I next have a moment like that I’ll write the idea down. (Yes, I could have used my iPhone, but I’m really trying to have a more analogue life.) I’ve been writing broad chapter structures as they come to me. I’ve got about a fifth of the novel planned and so when I sit down to write, I know exactly what to write. My time, which I have already mentioned is a precious commodity, so with basic planning this is being optimised, somewhat.
So what about the 20-year story? I am going to take inspiration here from one of my favourite authors, Bret Easton Ellis. I’m currently reading ‘The Shards’, and having it read to me thanks to the Whisper-sync feature on kindle (Bret has an utterly brilliant narration voice). In the preface to the novel, Ellis writes about how the story of The Trawler had been haunting him, and though he had tried to write the story, the time was never right. “…it wasn’t until 2020 that I felt I could begin The Shards, or The Shards had decided that Bret was reading because the book was announcing itself to me-and not the other way around.” (The Shards, Page 5)
So I have to wait, and hone my skills as a writer. And in about 15 weeks, I should have a terrible novel. The first of many, I hope.
Thanks for reading! If you subscribe at www.notentirelyboring.com (it’s free) I’ll be updating readers with my progress on the project in my monthly newsletter.