In a few weeks’ time I’ll temporarily relocate to a lovely apartment in the south of France, making it three years in a row that I’ve done that, and I’ll try to complete my novel while I’m there, making it three years in a row that I’ve done that too.
The key word there is try. Why can’t I just finish this damn book?
In my defence, things are quite hectic in Catherineland. (But then people with far more hectic lives than me write books all the time.) And it hasn’t been the same novel for the last three years. (But it was the same novel this time last year.) And some progress has been made. (A messy ‘discovery’ draft completed, but what since then? You finished that at the end of July, for feck’s sake!)
Time is definitely a major factor—and I don’t mean a lack of it (because we all know you can make time for anything when you really want to) but more so, how much of it I need to write anything at all. I can’t remember who said it but years ago I heard an author say, ‘I need the whole day to write for an hour, the whole week to write for a day…’ (possible paraphrase alert) and I totally understood what she meant. It might only take me an hour to write a thousand words, but in order to write those thousand words, I need to feel as if I have the whole day, or at least a great big chunk of it. I’ve never been one of these writers who can get up an hour earlier and cheerfully bang out ten pages before work. My process is more like bang out a few paragraphs, swim around in them for a few hours, tinkering and changing and rearranging, bang out a couple more, repeat as required.
I know a writer who sits down at her desk and just writes, one word after the other, sentence by sentence, never looking back or even having to look back, until a perfectly coherent draft is completed. She immediately whisks it off to her editor, and the edits are always little polishes, never major reconstruction. To me, this sounds like voodoo. HOW IS SHE DOING THIS?!
My method, on the other hand, is very circular. That’s the only way I can explain it, and perhaps it’s not the best explanation. But although I know what has to happen in each chapter, I don’t know how I’m going to write about how it happened. I have all the words, and the facts, and I scribble down all of them onto the virtual page, and then I mess around with them for hours on end, seeing where they go, changing where they went, moving that line from the middle to the end, etc. etc. I’m constantly coming back to the start of the chapter to start again, afresh, until I’m somewhat satisfied with it. Only then do I move on. As I said above, I swim around in my chapters rather than write them from start to finish.
Is this normal? I’m starting to doubt it. But then is there any ‘normal’ way to write?
A few years I happened upon a documentary about John Banville that, quite honestly, made me want to throw things. In a scene set in his writing room, he introduced the audience to his writing process. It begins with him sitting at a desk, writing in longhand until he has perfected a sentence. This could and apparently does take all day. Then, when he has a perfect sentence, he turns to a second desk that’s at a right angle to the first and types that sentence into the MS Word document of his novel’s manuscript. Then the process begins again.
Now maybe that’s why Banville has won the Booker, may win the Nobel Prize and writes lines like the past beats inside me like a second heart, while I can’t kick an adverb habit or even finish my novel, but I just can’t fathom spending this much time dwelling on single lines.
Tell me: how much time do you need to write? What’s your process? How many words do you get done on an average day? And could you even imagine writing your book the Banville way?