Writing a First Novel

Like many self-deluding fools, my new year’s resolution for 2012 is to write my first novel. Unlike many self-deluding fools, however, I’m announcing this publicly. There’s a very simple reason for this: a public announcement means that I can be held to account for what I said I was going to do; in other words, I’m hoping I can force myself into writing a novel through sheer fear of shame. You could call this the “Catholic” approach to novel writing: confess your sins to the world and the world will ensure you tow the line. (As opposed to the “Protestant” approach which involves entire days of guilt-induced suffering and privatised soul-searching).

I’m not going to say what the novel is about (partly because I don’t even know myself) other than to make it clear that it won’t be a literary masterpiece. I imagine it will be a below-par first novel, possibly a run-of-the-mill genre piece, possibly something more unusual. But whatever it is, it has to get written in the next twelve months. The task of writing this novel is as much a moral as a literary one: can I commit myself to a future and stay true to it? That, my dear readers, remains to be seen.

I warn you now, there will be excuses: conference papers need writing, essays need proofreading, translations need doing – not to mention the small fact of actually writing my Ph.D. – but by hook or by crook this has to happen. And on this blog I shall be publishing some reflections on the writing process. I guess these will include pieces ranging from general writing problems (characterisation, point of view etc.) all the way to the politics of form (why do we automatically assume that a novel must include characters and point of view in the first place?). I won’t bore you with extracts from the work-in-progress, but I at least hope you’ll find the occasional post of interest. Think of it as a communalisation of writerly misery – a sort of socialist redistribution of autodidactic ineptitude.

But that’s enough of that casual 2011 pessimism: here’s to 2012!

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7 thoughts on “Writing a First Novel

    1. Daniel Hartley says:

      Thanks very much, Susan! I just took a look at your blog and saw that you’ve just finished your first novel: congratulations! I hope in a year’s time I’ll be able to say the same myself…

      1. SusanKColeman says:

        “Finished” but still far from done. I’m really keen to see how you make the leap from scholarly to fiction writing. Very different beasts, but you seem to already have a great sense for imagery and cadence, so I’m betting your novel will be riveting.

      2. Daniel Hartley says:

        I appreciate the encouragement. You’re absolutely right: they are two very different beasts indeed. It’s like having to train a whole new set of muscles. Have you written anywhere about your novel? (i.e. what type of novel it is, what it’s about etc.) If so, I’d love to read about it. Or maybe it’s still early days yet?

  1. SusanKColeman says:

    I have not made a peep about what the novel is about here on the blog. I’ve told some friends and generally the response is a weak smile and an “Oh, that’s interesting.”…because that certainly is nicer than just telling me it’s a crap idea. 🙂 I need to get section 1 out to more readers later this month and, if the responses are at least partially positive, I may post some excerpts on the blog. My first reader’s reaction was heartening – she had intended to work her way through it 20 pages at a time and ended up reading the whole thing in one go, wanting to find out what happened next. I’m guessing it would fall under the genre of chick lit, as a sizeable portion of the plot revolves around a love story. But I’m hoping to refine the style enough so that it’s not a fluff piece, but actually has some literary appeal.

    1. Daniel Hartley says:

      I’d offer to read a section myself, but I have so much on at the moment what with the Ph.D., translation work, writing the novel, writing book reviews, planning conferences etc., that I just don’t have time. I’d love to read any extracts that you publish on the blog, though. As for the “Oh, that’s interesting” response, that can often be a sign you’ve hit on something new, something that falls outside people’s comfort zone, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that 🙂

  2. SusanKColeman says:

    Thanks so much for the words of encouragement. Once I get a green light from my readers, I’ll get the excerpts posted. How are you planning on squeezing in novel writing, what with all the other (highly taxing, no doubt) activities? I used to translate as well (German to English), in addition to my full-time job, but it just got to be too much. Even though I was just doing corporate documents (financial reports, board meeting minutes, press releases etc.), the additional time irradiating myself in front of a computer screen was wearying. Now at least I’m clocking the overtime (unpaid…) hours doing somethig I love.

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