Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Confessions of a Lazy Wannabe Novelist: A Call to Arms?

I have spent an inordinately large amount of time in my life penning the beginnings to short stories and novels. (My Mum still occasionally jokes that after I left home for university she went through my bedroom to transform it into a guest room and found box after box stuffed to the gills with hundreds and hundreds of sheafs of paper, all labelled 'Chapter One' at the top. This is almost certainly true.) I sometimes wonder if there is space in the market for a book of first pages to novels: here are 300 starts to stories - you, the reader, make up the rest! If there was, I'd be a millionaire before I knew it.

I have a short attention span, I am lazy, and I am hyper-critical of my own work. These are traits which I suspect most published authors have, but they get around them somehow. I know this, because I have managed to do so outside of the context of writing fiction (I wrote a 100,000 word PhD thesis; I wrote a 300+ page long RPG setting book and have another one close to completion; I have just about finished an academic monograph). So what is it about writing fiction that's different?

It is partly, I think, because I care about it too much. I don't want to write stories. I want to write work of heartbreaking and epoch-making quality. This sucks the enjoyment out of the process: from the start, I feel immense pressure to begin the literary equivalent of carving Michelangelo's David.

But also it's because, paradoxically, despite writing a lot, I don't write enough. I have honed my ability to write a good start to a story to a razor edge. But because I stop after a few pages, my ability to tell a good tale on paper, start to finish, lies unpracticed. I begin to bore myself very quickly, because I haven't figured out how to properly pen what I am compelled by the weight of history to call a "gripping yarn" - entirely because I never get far enough to do so.

Are you, like me, a lazy wannabe novelist? Are you caught in the paradox of writing a lot, but not enough? Let's start a support group. No pressure. Put your email address in the comments or where I share the post on G+. I'll set up a G+ group where we can share sob stories and cajole each other to write, and possibly even critique things we eventually get finished.

30 comments:

  1. No, I am doing fine on my novel. I wrote a very bad novel 25 years ago and then I got a little bit busy, but I'm working on my second one now and it's going fine.

    Don't be hard on yourself at all. You are a writer. A real writer. So what if fiction is not your interest?

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  2. I never even write a single word before I know what the ending will be. Simply starting and seeing where it goes seems like an impossible way to write a story to me. I'd never get anywhere close to completion that way.

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    1. Oh wow, that's amazing. I never know what the people will do when I let them into the scene. They just go, and then I write what they do

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  3. Yes! I feel like a mirror image. I've written Beyond the Pit, a 72,000 word sequel to the original Fighting Fantasy's Out of the Pit:

    http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/194792/Beyond-the-Pit

    I wrote the 40,000 word Titan Herbal, using the same setting and Advanced Fighting Fantasy rules:

    http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/218039/The-Titan-Herbal

    And I'm currently 86,000 words into a sequel to Beyond the Pit. But, despite many discarded attempts sitting around on various hard-drives ranging from 5000 words to 25,000 words, I've yet to finish that elusive first novel. Add me: Cheers!

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    1. Here is a link to the support group: https://plus.google.com/communities/117291215668629354240?sqinv=ZFk0WGZYdVdSN1NBODVxYzFOeFdKQ2ZSU2FmZVB3

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  4. Well - at least you had 300 beginnings. I sat down to write a book in my teens and got to page three, haven’t written much since (apart from essays and a dissertation). Recently, I’ve felt compelled to write again, something which has been kindled by sitting alongside my students and writing whilst they are engaged in the same task. I do aim to get something finished before April though.

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  5. Hey, I'll join that support group. I've started so many stories and have had so many ideas .. from graphic novels to games to epic fantasies. And I had the darnedest time finishing anything!

    So ... I'm commenting via my gmail. Hope that get's/warrants me an invite!

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    1. Here is a link to the support group: https://plus.google.com/communities/117291215668629354240?sqinv=ZFk0WGZYdVdSN1NBODVxYzFOeFdKQ2ZSU2FmZVB3

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  6. dusk.of.strider@gmail.com

    Please help me escape the curse of Chapter 1.

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    1. Here is a link to the support group: https://plus.google.com/communities/117291215668629354240?sqinv=ZFk0WGZYdVdSN1NBODVxYzFOeFdKQ2ZSU2FmZVB3

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  7. Okay sounds like we have an adventuring party here. The Fellowship of the Lazy Novelists or something

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    1. The Fellowship of the First Paragraph.

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  8. I know these symptoms all too well! I actually completed a novel, which a well-known agent submitted to various publishers - but they liked it less than she did (some encouraging comments, though). So it's been in a bottom drawer since. Work on the next one has fallen prey to everything listed in the post ...

    Can I be included via this gmail comment?

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    1. Absolutely. That's really interesting. What was the novel about?

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    2. Thanks!

      A friend described it as "RL Stevenson meets HP Lovecraft". It was about an ill-fated eighteenth-century sea voyage.

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    3. Have you thought about self-publishing or doing it through Amazon marketplace?

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    4. Yes - and also about some smaller publishers that I have some contacts with. But I'm in no rush: I have a feeling that I could make a few improvements to it, too. My main thought is to get the next one done and see what happens with it. The agent's advice is that number two (or three) can often be used to get number one reassessed ...

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    5. Here is a link to the support group: https://plus.google.com/communities/117291215668629354240?sqinv=ZFk0WGZYdVdSN1NBODVxYzFOeFdKQ2ZSU2FmZVB3

      Delete
  9. trollsmyth@yahoo.com

    A friend says that he failed as an actor because he cared too much, would only take roles worth of his time and agonized over those. He succeeded as a makeup artist because he was totally mercenary about it, taking any job that furthered his financial goals. I have succeeded as a pro writer largely by keeping his example in mind.

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    1. Harlan Ellison has made that into an art form I think.

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    1. There is the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook for that.

      I increasingly think that fantasy publishing is more or less moribund. It was always about fads and rehashing old ideas, but in the last 10-20 years those flaws seem to have become deeply entrenched.

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  11. You could consider playing to your strengths by piling these story openings as a series of embedded narratives like in the old middle-eastern tales.

    Otherwise, yes, your woes strike a chord. You've done a fair amount of posts on inspiration recently, take it to be related.

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  14. Your only hope is fanfiction: Take a book you think has an interesting beginning, then write chapter two. Then write another one, etc. with the work you were planning to do already done, there's nothing to do but focus on the next stage.

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