Letting go of what you have already written and starting a new creative project
Ronan, of course, is always happy to offer his advice….
Ronan, of course, is always happy to offer his advice….
I have another guest post on Story Machine– an interview where I discuss finishing a writing project – a novel in my case. There are a number of questions, for example, “How do you maintain momentum to finish a first draft?” and “If I need help with my work, a professional editorial eye, where can I find it?” You can read my answers here.
Ronan waiting patiently (not!) for me to get off the computer….
I have a new guest post at Your Writing Launchpad that talks about what I do to help me get back to writing when my illness (ME/CFS) has chomped away at my confidence, or I am only able to write for a very short amount of time per day. The tips work for anyone however, and are focussed on how to create a daily writing practice that you can stick to. You can read the blog here.
My ever trusty ‘nurse’, Ronan (he does great acupuncture…)
I was going to title this blog ‘When you finish your novel, what then?’ Not that I have any tips, but simply because I’m in this awkward no-man’s land of having finished one long work, and I haven’t quite started writing a new project. I don’t like this place at all. I then Googled (of course) ‘When you finish your novel, what then?’ and found (of course) a plethora of blogs on the subject, in fact one titled with this very question. Holly Robinson writes:
Unfortunately, what follows isn’t always instant acceptance by an agent, an editor, or even your beta readers and friends. Usually what happens is the calm before the calm, a big yawning hole of deafening silence as you wait for somebody, anybody, even your mom, to please please please read the book and tell you what they think.
Meanwhile, you experience doom-and-gloom sentiments: “What good am I? I can’t even pick up the living room!” Maybe you think, “The novel is dead. Why do I bother? Nobody reads anymore.” Or, “I’m not earning money doing this. In fact, I’m costing myself money! I should quit before my family has to live out of the car!”
Most of all, you feel bereft, because the characters you’ve been living with for the past nine months or nine years have stopped living in your head. The voices are quiet. Gardening and housework can help ease the pain of saying goodbye to those people you came to know better than your own friends. So can reading — because it brings you back to that place where you can marvel at other people’s sentences instead of gnawing over your own…
I hear the “big yawning hole of deafening silence.” Not from my mother, God forbid. I have no plans on showing her the manuscript. It’s too violent. Besides which, she’s not doing so well and isn’t reading lately. And, it’s not that I’m wanting feedback, I’ve had plenty of feedback and a lot of support along the way from some very fine writers and teachers of writing. The silence is from agents. In November I submitted a query letter to a select handful of literary agents. I received one quick and outright no to the letter, one very appreciative no to the letter and first 40 pages, and one who started reading the manuscript, told a mutual friend she was enjoying it (at about 30 pages) and since then, I haven’t heard back. And the others, they haven’t replied to the query letter. It was an email, actually. Now I’m worrying I should have sent a letter by post.
What is the etiquette here? Can I, after 8 weeks, send a little note asking if they have actually received my email? I’m sure if I do another Google I’ll find out.
As for quitting before my family has to live out of the car, well, my little family almost lives out of a car already. I’m not too bothered not to be hanging out with my characters anymore. I’ve been with them for five years, through countless drafts. I’m fully aware that once an agent falls in love with the work (yes please), I’ll be asked to do more edits, and there will be more when it’s picked up by a publisher. I’m ready and waiting. It’s the waiting I don’t like.
I know most people say start something new, and I do have two projects planned. A short story and a longer work that will be closer to memoir than fiction, based on a series of crazy events that happened when I lived in Donegal, aged fourteen. I have thought about this work for years, and will title it either Seagull Pie or Anywhere But Here. I’m attending Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s Freefall Writing retreat in Portugal at the Monte Rosa Retreat Centre in April (join me, I think there are still spaces!) and this is when I plan to dive in to this longer work. I hope it will simply write itself. If anything I have too much material to work with. I just have to get it all down (famous last words).
The short story feels more difficult, an idea I have that will be set in the early years of the space race. I have a big book from the library filled with pictures: Spaceflight : the complete story from Sputnik to shuttle and beyond. It’s a bit weird, to be reading this book. It’s the kind of thing my brother would have devoured while I played with my Barbie dolls. Am I actually interested? All I can say for now is that I feel interesting with this tome in my hands, one that I can barely hold up. I’m taking notes. I am, I promise.
I have also applied to the Artists’ International Development Fund to do a Live Literature road-trip along the east coast of the USA with the fantastic Robin McLean later this year. So I’m not entirely hanging about doing nothing. The UK Arts Council grant writing process is at least a two week full time job, exhausting and challenging and just a little terrifying.
And, this morning, I started, once again, the “page-a-day” writing practise I once set for my Diving Deeper writers’ group. Some years ago doing this practise produced a number of pieces I was able to easily re-work into flash fiction – most of which are published. And, it always made me feel I had achieved something, even if I knew what I’d written would never be read by another person, ever.
I know it’s what I ‘should’ do. I keep starting, and then giving up. Let’s see how long I can keep it up this time.
If you want to try it, here’s the deal: One page. Just one page. Of writing. There are no other rules. You can handwrite or type. You can type the same word over and over until your page is done. You can double space or single space. You can use a huge font but that is cheating. You can write separate pieces, or connected ones. It doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s a good idea to write as badly as you can. Just do it.
And…if ‘I should do this’ is one of those awful cacophonies in your head that make you feel bad about yourself (it is in mine), read the ever inspiring Dani Shapiro’s blog, On Art and Life. As she says…
…it helps to remember that every single moment you wholeheartedly experience becomes part of your instrument, part of what you know.
The Page A Day assignment has been so successful on my online group Diving Deeper, I would recommend it to anyone who is struggling with their writing, or simply trying to find a back way ‘in’, or just wanting to start a writing practice.
Basically you write about a page a day, on anything. Whatever comes up. Not trying to write a story or an article: let yourself run wild. Write what comes up, even if what comes up is “I can’t write I can’t write I can’t write”. Amazingly, something always will come up. Another tack is to write what you don’t want to write about… write what makes you sweat.
Out of my May month of page a days (some examples are in the blogs for May) I have one piece accepted for publication as flash fiction, and other one I’m sending out, and several that could end up being a longer story, woven together. I did not plan any of this, most certainly did not plan to write publishable material. What I was doing was following a suggestion of another writer, to write a page a day to just keep one’s hand in , so that when the bigger work, the novel, the short story, perhaps the piece that we are ‘blocked on’ or simply don’t have time to write at the moment, is not so difficult to dive into.
At the moment I am using the practice to help me write my novel, Serendip (draft title). It has been a difficult work to get into for a number of reasons, but the short, finite shape of one page feels a much more manageable goal than ‘finish the novel’.