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Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The First Novel (Part 3) ~Lessons I have Learned Along the Way

(Post originally published September 28, 2012)

descriptionAre the old proverbs about writing true or false? Did other authors have the same experiences? Writing my first novel was one way to discover for myself.

“Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else.” ~ C.S. Lewis

He most certainly offered excellent advice. Whatever you choose to write, be it historical, fictitious, academic or poetic, if you do not write about subjects and themes that interest you, it is difficult to keep the fires of inspiration burning bright for long. Motivation smoulders quickly with the death of inspiration and a creative project may die with them, or be hurried in anxious anticipation to reach the end of the tedium, which in the end will reflect poorly on the author. Write about subjects that fascinate and intrigue you, and you are assured of presenting your finest work to the reading public.

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~ Saul Bellow

Amusing, but yes, it is true. Inspiration can strike at the strangest times when you are not thinking or working on your book at all, and this includes more than the story line, actual sentences will fall on you from out of the blue, forcing you to drop everything and sprint to the closest sheet of paper at hand lest everything that the invisible muse has whispered disappears for good. It is a mystery, but these lightning bolts are near perfect when they strike and need very little revision in comparison to lines poured over and pondered on for hours at the desk or computer screen. Some instances, I have had these “midnight bolts” while just settling into my best sleep of the night, but more often when I’m house cleaning, especially vacuuming! Scientists may attribute this to the limbic system, that when you move and exercise, brain cell growth is stimulated and hence stimulate new ideas. While this explanation is not as romantic as the image of the “hidden muse”, whatever gives these inspirations, long may it continue.

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ~ F. Scot Fitzgerald

Guilty, guilty, guilty. What is it about us lady authors and our fascination for the exclamation mark? My personal e-mails are heavily peppered with the dastardly things, and my first drafts are no better. Dashes are also a glaring weakness and cost many hours of revision time. Out they must go, and still, I cannot bear to part with a number of them. Are men also afflicted with punctuation addictions? Enquiring minds would like to know. I am comforted by the fact that it is not just this age in which we ladies have been afflicted with this mania as Louisa May Alcott discloses in “Little Women” when Josephine prepares to send her latest short story to the local paper:

“Lying back on the sofa, she read the manuscript carefully through, making dashes here and there, and putting in many exclamation points, which looked like little balloons, then she tied it up with a smart, red ribbon, and sat a minute looking at it with a sober wistful expression, which plainly showed how earnest her work had been.

I suppose it is a good sign a writer has learned to recognise this fault when they remove exclamation points and dashes from a manuscript and not add more of them before going to the press.

“The hardest part about writing a novel is finishing it.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Hard? It’s downright torture. Not that you run out of things to say, you have too much that will remain unsaid. The author creates a whole world of characters and has only just begun to scratch the surface of their story. How to stop is the question. Eventually, one does come some point they can call ‘the end’, only to find no else wants the book to end either. When having reached the finale of “Brushstrokes”, my greatest critic, vis my mother, was in turmoil. “You can’t leave them all like that! You can’t! It’s not right! I can’t see it end there! Not like that! You’ll have to go on! I want to know what happens!” Yes, I shared her sentiments, including the exclamation points in her voice. I cannot say goodbye to Katherine and her world just yet, and so, work begins on the sequel. I shall see what new lessons lie in store with the new project.

To be continued...

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