A couple of weeks ago, I started a new writing project. It’s a big deal for me, because I’m attempting something that I haven’t done since last year’s NaNoWriMo: to write a full-length novel.

I began dreaming of being a novelist from quite an early age, and at first I pursued this dream by writing stories based on my favourite books. When I was eight or nine, Midnight Dancer by Elizabeth Lindsay was particularly inspirational, a story about a young girl and her pony. And of course, the Harry Potter books were practically sacrosanct. I actually wrote to J K Rowling, and one of the questions I asked her was where she got her ideas from. She wrote a lovely letter back to me, and in reply to my question she said that she didn’t know where ideas came from, but if she did she would go and live there.

My attempts at novel writing continued sporadically through the years, intensifying when I was around 16-17, and quite into reading fantasy. I started writing stories of my own, usually getting a few chapters in before ditching the project on the grounds that it was too derivative, too predictable, too boring, etc. I had more success with short stories at that time.

Years later, and I still haven’t cracked it. To give some idea of just what that means, I think it would suffice to say that although my NaNo project of last year exceeded the required 50,000 word quota in the allotted time (the month of November), the novel at the end was very unfinished and, well, not very much like a novel, either. My mistake was probably in writing about something very personal to me, and therefore inserting myself into the story as a character. It was probably unwise to attempt something like this for a project which was an experiment to me, anyway. I needed a little more breathing space to do my ideas on that subject sufficient justice. So, no more NaNo sagas for me.

Anyway, that’s the closest I’ve come to writing a novel so far.

Right at the moment, I am attempting to redeem my record. What’s the difference this time? All I can say in answer to that is that years of failure have taught me quite a lot about the process of novel writing, and I have been aided along the way by people a great deal more experienced than me. When I was at university doing my degree in English Literature with Creative Writing, my tutors in the creative writing department were themselves published novelists and poets. I had the benefit of their experience in every seminar and lecture. Last year, while participating in NaNoWriMo, I’d get a pep talk in my e-mail inbox a couple of times a week, invariably containing great advice and motivational thinking. One of the best of these was from Neil Gaiman, who happens to be one of my favourite authors. Reading his pep talk made me realise that no book is written word-perfect on the first try, and every author grapples with doubt, feelings of de-motivation, boredom with what they’re writing and the feeling that it’s never going to come together. Novel writing is bloody hard work, in short. But look at Neil Gaiman’s achievements. The Sandman, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Neverwhere – I can’t think of a book of his that I’ve read which I haven’t greatly enjoyed.

Authors’ websites can also be great sources of inspiration – Holly Black, co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles and author of the Modern Faerie Tale series, has a whole section of hers dedicated to resources for aspiring writers. Being a Twitter user has led me to stumble upon more online resources than I know what to do with, and one of the best of these has been the Funds for Writers newsletter.

To prove that point, in the gap between drafting this blog post and uploading it onto WordPress, I checked my Twitter page. There was a new tweet from @torbooks linking to a blog post from one of their authors: “On Writing the Novel, Part One”. Talk about providence!

So, if it weren’t abundantly clear already: there is a wealth of information out there for the aspiring writer.

Another thing that NaNoWriMo taught me is that to have a goal in your writing is a Good Thing. NaNoWriMo participants aim to write a minimum of 50,000 during the month of November. Dividing 50,000 by 30, that’s roughly 1,667 words per day, if you write regularly throughout the month.

I may not have ended up with a manuscript I liked last year, but I still managed to achieve the word count. And I’m convinced that if I’d entered into the project with a little more preparation and thought, I might have been able to pen a story worth pursuing further once the month was over. The most valuable thing I took away from last year’s attempt was discipline, which every serious writer needs. Since last November I can’t claim to have been as prolific as I was within that month, but recently I have returned to the same ethos: write a certain number of words every day, no matter how hard it is. Otherwise, you will never finish what you start. Good writing doesn’t just rely on the inspiration of the moment. It has to be worked at.

I’ve attempted to start my new novel with this attitude. I’ve already had one false start along the way – I basically went back and rewrote the first five chapters – but I have a good feeling about this new project.

And now that I’ve publicly committed myself to a writing project and schedule, it really would be too bad of me if I gave up on it. So consider this my declaration:

I am writing a novel. I’ll let you know when it’s done.

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