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.
Originally published at realdelia.com