Top tips for novelists (1) ( So, a story walks into a bar …)

The most infuriating advice for would-be novelists has to be ‘Just do it’. Unfortunately, it also happens to be most practical thing you’re likely to hear.

You’d think that those of us who’ve seen several books into print already wouldn’t need to be reminded of this core principle, but we do, we do.It’s so easy to be seduced into other activities: readings, workshops, reports, a mouth cancer awareness campaign, short stories. And that’s before life kicks in, with its accusing “what about me?”, and sets about wrecking the most carefully-laid of narrative plans.

Having recently succumbed to the wiles of a short story, I’ve come to see this as a kind of infidelity. A short story can sidle up to you like an attractive stranger in a bar, murmuring secrets into your ear. Before you know where you are, you’re in the grip of an idea, swept away on currents of language, the thrill of the unfamiliar, the fresh, the other. It’s hard to find yourself washed ashore on the far side of it, certain phrases echoing in your brain and rousing you from sleep at ungodly hours, the fingers of lost paragraphs plucking at the edges of your dreams. It’s hard to accept that it’s over, whatever it was. That brief, tempestuous, exhilarating thrill has burned itself out. It’s time to go back to your long-term commitment to your novel-in-progress. You slink back to the desk, contrite, promising reform. You can’t blame your novel if you find it in a sulk: resistant, stubborn. Impenetrable. Telling you to leave, go and find a whole damn library to live in, if that’s what you want.

Never apologise, never explain. But some concessions are necessary, like an overhaul of your attitude, a renewal of your commitment to the more long-term relationship, the novel-in-progress. Give it good reason to stay. Can it trust you again? Are you worth it? If you’re allowed back, there might be conditions. You have to stay in more, pay close attention to the matter in hand, be there when the bulbs blow and the fuses need re-setting, stand ready with the toolkit and the paint if things threaten to come undone. Avoid temptations to stray.

In other words, dear reader, I’m taking a bit of time off from the blog. I have a draft to finish.

But I’ll be back. After the break ….
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One Response to Top tips for novelists (1) ( So, a story walks into a bar …)

  1. So, it’s time to renew the vows to the novel. A Hello spread, somewhere on a beach in Thailand, as you commit yourself once again to the love of your life: the brief, heady insanity of a short story over, done and dusted. Til the next time. Problem is, you can’t claim that the interlude ‘didn’t mean anything’. Because it did, it will: it will inform your long-term relationship in ways you could never have imagined. At first, its influence will feel exasperating, intrusive: why can’t I forget about you? It’s over. But little by little, all the exhilarations that keep you awake at night will filter, one by one, into your day job. Illuminating, changing, challenging the ongoing work: but ultimately enriching it.

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