Tag Archives: writing a novel

How and Why I Started Writing Fiction

I’ve started working on a novel.

It happened almost by accident. One day this summer – a day when I had way too much energy and not enough to do – I saw a link to an online fiction-writing course with an irresistible teaser like “Write a novel in one year.” And since the tip came by way of the amazing Jane Friedman, and it was free, I thought…why not? I’ll do the first one or two sessions, and if I don’t like it, I’ll stop. No harm, no foul.

Although I attempted to write a novel once before, I never thought I’d do it again. My major stumbling block wasn’t that age-old defense, “I‘m not sure I’ve got a novel in me.” (I’m not sure, but that wouldn’t stop me from trying.) Nor is it that I can’t find the time. Now that I’ve fashioned a creative space for myself – and spent a good part of the past year writing a non-fiction book, I’m now a pro at carving out at least one hour a day for creative pursuits.

My problem is that I’ve never felt like I really “got” how to write fiction. It’s easy for me to write about my life. I do it all the time. And Lord knows I’ve got enough material. (Cough.) But invent somebody else’s reality? Even though I read a ton of fiction myself, I just didn’t know how to do that.

Until I took this course. There are two things I particularly liked about it. The first is that it’s very explicitly about learning how to rewrite your life. That’s actually the name of the course, Rewrite Your Life. (Here’s the book version.) In other words, fiction writing is all about viewing your personal experiences – and particularly your personal pain – in a way that, as she puts it, “helps you forge new reactions to old traumas.” You get to “choose who you want to be; not who you ought to be.” Your life experiences are “personal treasure to be mined.”

That’s hardly a novel idea (no pun intended). But Lourey uses a variety of exercises to enable you to resurface some of that deeply personal material and refashion it into new settings/characters/plot lines. These exercises are great because they all start with you: your pain, your secrets, your hopes, your despair. So there is a lot of emphasis on writing as therapy in this course, right from the get-go.

The second thing I like about this course is that it makes writing manageable. It takes a few months to work your way through the course. (The ten sessions you’ll see on the e-course are deceptive; Each of them takes hours, sometimes weeks, to complete.). But by the time you finish, as I just did, you’ll have loads of material at your finger tips. Lourey says you need to write one 1500 word scene a week in order to complete a novel in 46 weeks (less than a year!). But if you’re writing 5 days a week, that really only amounts to 300 words a day. 300 words a day? Heck, I could sneeze and write 300 words – (not necessarily good words, but the editing comes later.)

I’m really excited to try this. In addition to Lourey’s course, I also have some other resources to draw upon this time around. First, I’ve reached out to a (now close) friend from my erstwhile writer’s group and we’re going to rekindle a new version of it. Second, I’m also now part of an amazing community of writers here in London – called The Writing Coach – where I’m consulting. We have both online and real-world meet-ups to exhort each other forward and to hold each other accountable. I even found a post I wrote ten years ago on tips for writing fiction that’s surprisingly useful. (Always great when you can give yourself advice…)

Most importantly of all, I have an entirely different attitude to the one I held when I first tried my hand at a novel. Back then, I was utterly focused on the outcome. So I wrote a draft, sent it out to agents prematurely, and then shelved it when I didn’t have a positive response. That may well happen again. Indeed, I may yet decide that this whole fiction thing isn’t for me. But what’s exciting this time around is the process – that of challenging myself to try something new.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Image: Once upon a time by Ramdlon via Pixabay

Why I Joined A Writing Group

I’ve started a writing group. We met for the first time last night for an organizational meeting.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Back when I stepped down from the PTA (a full month and a half ago!), I vowed that I’d take a break from organizing things. So much for that.

But this is different. First of all, it’s only five people. And second of all – unlike the PTA, which was loads of fun but fundamentally about raising money for a cause – this one’s about me. I’m doing it for precisely the same reason that I encouraged all of you to join a club this Autumn: pursuing hobbies in adulthood is fun.

Of course, I’m not only doing it because it’s fun. I’m also doing it because I think that it’s going to be worthwhile professionally. Why is that?

For starters, the people in the group aren’t close friends. I know all of them socially, but what links me to them first and foremost is that we all share an interest in writing. (Most of us are interested in pursuing fiction within the confines of this group, though there’s one TV/Film writer.)

And that means that while it’s a friendly crowd, we’re not there to chit-chat about our lives. We’re there to get feedback on our work. So unlike, say, a book club, which is – at the end of the day – a fundamentally social experience, this club feels more serious. And that suits me just fine right now.

I’m also joining this group because I think that as a writer, working across genres really helps you to stay fresh. You exercise different parts of your brain. You get out of your comfort zone. You keep yourself from getting bored. I was thinking about this yesterday when I happened to be working on two different projects that took me away from my ordinary blogging duties. One was a travel piece and the other was an interview that I did for a commercial outlet. At the end of the day, I felt really refreshed. And I think that’s because I stepped away from my routine. So I’m hoping that by adding some fiction writing back into the mix, I’ll continue to keep myself crisp as a writer.

But mostly I’m doing this because I need to confront the beast. (That would be my novel…you know, the proverbial one that sits in a drawer somewhere, only to be very occasionally dusted off and sent out to greet the world?) It’s time for a fourth down, kick-0r-stick moment with that sucker. (Forgive the cheesy football analogies. I think we all know that sports isn’t my thing.) Either I’m going to go back to the drawing board, and use this writing group as way to workshop the hell out of that thing…or I’m going to have a fancy new footrest as I embark on some new ideas. Either way, it’s time to make a move.

Wish me luck.

How do you keep yourself fresh at work?

*****

For those who are interested, here’s a piece I wrote for Politics Daily on how some people in Germany seem to be forgetting the Holocaust.

Image: Writing Challenge by Starbuck Guy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.