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Thread: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

  1. #1
    Friend of Gossip Rocks! ourmaninBusan's Avatar
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    Default A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    The Brit paper telegraph.co.uk (you have to register) has just started a column by Brit novelist called "A Novel in a year". If you are sick of your putrid, futile job and want to live in a stately colonial mansion in the tropics, here is a series of exercises to get you off the ground...and there's a message board for feedback.

    You have to register for this, but it's free.

    Here's the first article I saw, in its entirety:

    A novel in a year
    (Filed: 06/01/2006)

    The acclaimed novelist Louise Doughty here introduces a unique new column teaching the art of fiction

    Some years ago, I was sitting in a caf with a writer friend. He had just come from giving a talk to a group of sixth-formers and one of them had asked, "Why did you become a writer?"

    "You know what?" he said to me, stirring his cappuccino, "I gave them some flannel about the joy of language, but actually, the real reason I became a writer was so that I could move to London and sit in cafs with other writers and talk about why I became a writer."

    For those of us who come from decidedly non-literary backgrounds, there is something wonderful about being a writer - all the shallow stuff we are supposed to despise; the caf talk, the book launches, the scanning of literary pages feeling guiltily gratified when a friend gets a bad review. Forget for a moment the loneliness, paranoia and financial insecurity, Being a Writer is great fun.

    But there is a catch. You have to write. This is something that would-be writers sometimes appear not to have grasped. Like many novelists, I often give talks at festivals and a common question is, 'How did you get your first novel published?'

    It's a perfectly valid question but I often suspect the motivation behind it. What was your trick? is what they mean. Tell me your trick, because when I know it, I will be published too. The honest answer, I'm afraid, is, "I wrote a good book. And if you want to be a published writer, you will have to write one too."

    Throughout 2006, I will be writing a column in this newspaper called Write a Novel in a Year. Can you write a novel in a year? Well, yes, if you don't do much else and you work hard and are talented.

    But in actual fact, if you follow the column, and do the exercises I set (yes, exercises) what you will end up with will not be a novel, it won't even be the first draft of a novel, it will be a body of work, the raw material, which you may one day be able to shape and work on until it becomes a book.

    How long does it take to write a novel? Well, it depends. My first, Crazy Paving, was written while I was a part-time secretary, young and single with no domestic ties. It took me 18 months.

    By the time it came to writing my second, I was theatre critic for a Sunday newspaper, which meant I had all day to write before going to the theatre in the evenings: as day-jobs go, it was a corker. Dance With Me was written in seven months.

    My third novel was sold on the strength of a one-page proposal when I was pregnant with my first child. I promised my publisher the book would be delivered before the baby but I was lying through my teeth. Baby arrived when I was one chapter in.

    My partner worked full-time and I had no childcare, but I still had to finish the book as we had spent the advance on buying a flat to have the baby in. Honey-Dew was written in eight months while I was sick with exhaustion. There's a reason why it's my shortest book.

    My fourth, Fires in the Dark, was a huge departure. The first three had all been contemporary and peopled in the main by female characters. The events in them weren't autobiographical - Honey-Dew is about a girl who murders her parents - but it's fair to say that in terms of their scope and landscape, they were within my own experience.

    Fires in the Dark is set in Central Europe and is about a boy from a tribe of nomadic Kalderash Roma. Born in a barn in rural Bohemia, he grows up during the Great Depression and the rise of Nazism, is interned in a camp, and escapes to take part in the Prague Uprising of May 1945. It was three times the length of Honey-Dew and took me four and a half years to write.

    So, in other words, how long is a piece of string? Your novel will take you as long as it takes you - but I'm going to stick my neck out and say that if you haven't written a book before and are really serious about it and have a job or a family or - heaven forbid - both, then you are looking at around three years from start to finish.

    This first year is just the taster, the generating-material-and-having-a-go year. At the end of it, you will have a huge amount of work remaining. Still interested? Good, we'll get started in a minute.

    Before we do, let's establish a few things that the column will emphatically not do. It will not - repeat, not - give advice on how to get into print. Any letters or message board posts asking me how to get an agent or publisher will be weaved into a ceremonial pyre in my back garden and torched.

    Getting published may seem impossible, and often is, but if you haven't written your book yet then quite frankly it's the least of your problems. Your only concern should be to write. Write your book, write it well, then re-write it even better.

    I'm afraid I also can't read any manuscripts - I have to be ruthless about that or I won't write a word myself this year. There is something I will do, 'though. The Daily Telegraph has now set up this section of its website, where you will be able to post your writing to be commented on by fellow followers of this process. This article and exercises from subsequent columns will be posted there as well. Every now and then, I'll be dropping in, just to check how you're all getting on.

    A word of caution, though. I used to teach a creative writing evening class. My least talented students were invariably the ones who came with a curled lip, convinced that they were far cleverer than anyone else in the group and that the only reason they weren't a published writer like me was because of some vast conspiracy against them, of which I was naturally a part.

    On the one hand, they wanted to touch the hem of my garment. On the other, they were convinced they had nothing to learn and despised themselves and their fellow students for even being there. Here is this week's apercu: we all have something to learn.

    Even Ian McEwan or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison still have something to learn, and the reason they are great writers is because they know it and work incredibly hard on each and every book.

    "Every time I am about to start a novel," says Susan Hill, "I look at it, and it is like a mountain and I say to myself, oh no, this time you have gone too far." If you simply sit back and think about the prospect of writing a book it will seem a vast and unconquerable task.

    The way to make it less so is break it down into its constituent parts, which is what we will be doing over the next twelve months. "The art of writing," Kingsley Amis said, "is the art of applying the seat of one's trousers to the seat of one's chair."

    So let's start. Take up a notebook and pen, and write one sentence, beginning with the words, "The day after my eighth birthday, my father told me..." Write more than a sentence if you like but just one sentence is fine.

    If you feel so inclined, you can post yours on the message board, or send it to me on a postcard c/o the Daily Telegraph Books Desk. I'll be talking more about first sentences next week and printing some of your efforts the week after that.

    While you are doing this exercise, you may well find a small, mocking voice whispering in your ear. It will be saying things like "Don't be stupid, you can't write a novel", or, maybe, "this is stupid, I'm too clever for this".

    Both thoughts are equally destructive and both must be ignored. Everyone has to start somewhere. Lawrence Sterne, Emily Bronte, Nadine Gordimer all started somewhere. Turn off the computer and go and get a notepad and pen. Go on.
    Last edited by ourmaninBusan; January 25th, 2006 at 12:08 PM.

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    Elite Member aabbcc's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    They do something similar on the Harlequin forums, except the members actually write complete manuscripts. A couple of the manuscripts are chosen at the end for a professional critique - it's been around for a while there and is very popular.

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    Default Re: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    A year? A year is for pussies. Do it Nanowrimo style and crank that puppy out in one month. It is possible.

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    Elite Member aabbcc's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    Quote Originally Posted by UndercoverGator
    A year? A year is for pussies. Do it Nanowrimo style and crank that puppy out in one month. It is possible.
    As someone who participates in nanowrimo, I'd say sure it can be done ... but nano is all about quantity, not quality. You should see some of the crap I churned out in November!

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    Default Re: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    Great post, ourman! This woman is right about it taking time (I've been working on my first novel since the womb) but her 'kissing the hem of my garment' comment was fucked. Anyway:

    They do something similar on the Harlequin forums, except the members actually write complete manuscripts. A couple of the manuscripts are chosen at the end for a professional critique - it's been around for a while there and is very popular.
    I hope I don't offend anyone--although I probably will--but I just can't take Harlequin seriously. Bosom-heaving 'novels' just don't count as real writing in my book.

    I think SVZ should publish 'carry on the story'...except he'd probably get sued. How about we all try to write a novel (each alone) and post what we feel like? Any takers?
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
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    Elite Member aabbcc's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    No offense taken ... I don't read them either. Their Book In A Year club is quite helpful though, if you are someone who needs structure.

    The first manuscript I wrote took me five years from start to finish. It began as a lark ... just to see if I could actually do it. I think it was pretty good for a first effort. It's still around in a drawer somewhere.

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    Friend of Gossip Rocks! ourmaninBusan's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dramatic_structure


    This ought to give you the basics of dramatic structure.

    I realize we ought to experiment when we write, but I also believe
    that you have to write a book that they'll recognize as a book,
    something they can sell.

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    Default Re: A Novel in a year (Attention GR! Writers)

    Quote Originally Posted by aabbcc
    As someone who participates in nanowrimo, I'd say sure it can be done ... but nano is all about quantity, not quality. You should see some of the crap I churned out in November!
    We should trade crap! I've participated for three years now and have reams of crap written as a result. This year's novel involved the pageant world...

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