I’m writing a novel with the Faber Writing Academy. And it’s getting messy.
Many years ago I was told by a YA author that there were two types of writers: settlers and pioneers. According to her, pioneers wrote the whole story from beginning to end without editing or revision. Settlers, on the other hand, wrote bit by bit and couldn’t go forward without feeling that things were perfect. Righto, I decided, I’m a settler then, and off I went to write a book. My attempt at book writing involved years of word shuffling and chasing nice sounding sentences, and it left me wrecked with a sort of plot anxiety. What the hell was actually happening in my novel? Not enough, as it turned out.
Enter Faber Writing Academy tutor, James Bradley, and the beauty of this course: that every week, every session, we learn another way to move our novels forward, to grow them into full and complete manuscripts. The class has been given advice specific to character, voice, point of view, place, story, plot and dialogue. We’ve been shown ways of generating ideas and we’ve undertaken exercises to help find pieces in the puzzle of our work.
James has told us that the process is largely intuitive, that it will unpack itself as you go along. Try to tap into the sub-conscious. Put down the computer and pick up a pen. Don’t go back. Disengage the strict editor in your brain. He told us to write with freedom, to just get the words down and then turn it into a beautiful thing.
Early on in the course I decided to take James’ advice, so I gave myself permission to create chaos and mess, to carve up my novel. I stopped shuffling words. I stopped re-reading it and I shut the door on the nagging editor in my head. I gave up trying to make it look neat. Now, surprisingly, I’ve got a full draft. Parts of it have been written ten times, other parts are new and messy and unpunctuated. But it’s there – the words are down! And in all that letting go, the story appears to have taken on a life of its own.
It seems that once you have a full draft, you can more successfully serve the ‘big idea’ of your work, maybe even develop a clearer understanding of its premise, of what’s at its core. And there’s been a lovely discovery in this process of getting to the end: that it becomes easier to live in the world of your novel when you’re moving forward, not going back.
Anyone who has attempted to write a novel knows how difficult it can be, how easy it is to become trapped in the thicket of your own work. Undertaking this course is like being led into a clearing – it provides a sort of illumination of the novel writing process. James says that there are no rules, just different ways of thinking about how to write. The way of the pioneer is to plough onwards, to embrace the mess, get the words down, let the story take over. And finally, to try and turn it into a beautiful thing.