Writing the Unconscious: What happened after I finished Novel 1


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 an albatross 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.

I waited.

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 one I made earlier 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 flow. (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…


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