We are constantly telling stories. The unconscious wants coherence. And so we fill the spaces with narrative.
Beginning, middle, end.
I have to stop myself, sometimes. I catch the writer in me wanting a midpoint. A moment of dramatic reversal.
A year ago, with the help of a wonderful developmental editor, I finished writing my first novel. I remember her asking me afterwards if I missed my characters. How I felt about all that work and then the moving on.
In all honesty it was a relief. The novel had started to feel like a noose around my neck, preventing me from exploring other forms.
After I was done, I queried literary agents and came across tons of brilliant resources for querying writers,
like this video:
and this blogpost
and this podcast.
I spoke to family and friends, I gathered my strength and sent out around 20 queries.
But no one took the bait.
I did however receive some valuable feedback from one agency, the people who represent Damian Le Bas who wrote the The Stopping Places *
My novel is set in modern (and 1960s) Spain with a cast of almost entirely Spanish characters.
The agency said they’d enjoyed my writing but didn’t think they could sell this book to a UK audience. They asked me to send them the next one once it’s written. Two other UK agencies responded similarly. (Gimme a sec, I felt like saying, I’ll just whip it out from a drawer!)
So, I stopped waiting for agency replies and started experimenting with poetry and short fiction.
Short stories are a technical challenge. A person can tinker with them for days or weeks, sometimes getting stuck on a paragraph or sentence where nothing seems to work. But I’ve found that if I show up day after day – if I keep going – the story, eventually rights itself, like a ship heading back on course.
The waves of my subconscious are calmer when I write. As I start on novel 2, the bulk of the work seems to happen when I leave my desk. The body moves and the mind loosens its grip. Some problems are practical: How old are my characters? How do they speak? Chunks of imagery or dialogue present themselves when I’m out walking or in a downward-facing dog. Words seem to dance through the mind like a song.
Short story writing has taught me to be tight about sentences but a novel first draft is an outpouring that I try to let spill as it will. Listening hard to how my characters want to tell it because if I plan too much, I might just quash their mood. (This is a great resource from writer Lauren Sapala about keeping things alive and not dampening our ideas with too much preparation…)
I’ve set myself the goal of a messy first draft by Christmas. Readers of my blog, family and friends: please keep me accountable. 🙂
With love, as always
*(a memoir about growing up in the UK Gypsy community and the author’s revisiting of the ‘stopping places’ of his childhood. Incredible book! My stand-out read of the pandemic.)
Readers, writers, poets, actors, artists, what are you working on? Feel free to comment below…
If you enjoyed this post feel free to get in touch via Twitter here , and you can follow this blog by going here and clicking on ‘Follow Muscat Tales.’