Writing a Novel (or at least getting some letters, words and sentences down on paper)
Our Faber Writing Academy scholarship winner Michelle Wright, recently shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award, shares her thoughts a few weeks into studying on the Writing a Novel course in Melbourne.
It’s interesting that the name of this blog is “Things Made From Letters”. Because that’s more or less how I’m starting to view the novel that I’ve finally begun to write. It is, for the moment, a vaguely defined “thing”, made from lots of smaller disjointed “bits”.
Before starting the Faber Writing Academy Writing a Novel course in early March, I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the thought of the seventy thousand words I had committed myself to write in the coming six months. I tried to keep reminding myself that writing shouldn’t be this difficult. It hadn’t been difficult up to now. I’ve written short stories. Lots of them. But while I’d been thinking about writing a novel for a couple of years, and had put the idea for a story down in dot points on a page, I hadn’t been able to actually start writing the thing.
At the first session in the East Melbourne offices of Allen and Unwin, our two tutors, Toni Jordan and Paddy O’Reilly, asked each of the seven students in the class how many words of our first draft we’d written. The answers ranged from one hundred thousand all the way down to zero. (No prize for guessing who that last answer belonged to!)
We’re now well into the course and we’ve discussed point of view, tense, showing and telling and dialogue. We’ve done numerous, very stimulating writing exercises and workshopped extracts of our stories. Toni, Paddy and my fellow students are incredibly open and honest and in just a few weeks, there’s already a feeling that we can trust one another with our vulnerabilities.
Somehow (though I’m not sure how) I’ve progressed from zero to fourteen thousand words. I’m not sure if I dare say “fourteen thousand words of my novel” yet, because I still can’t picture this finished “novel” I’m supposedly creating.
But what the course has managed is to get me to stop worrying about writing a novel and to just start getting something – anything – down. I’ve started stringing words together into paragraphs, putting paragraphs together to build complete scenes and I’m not worrying too much about how they’ll eventually find their place in the completed story.
My main character has changed gender. Another key character no longer exists. I’m still adding flesh to all my characters’ bones and working out their relationships. The setting is no longer clear in my mind and I have no idea where the story is going. The writing is pretty polished in some small parts, really crappy in many others.
All this might sound messy and scary and not a good way to tackle writing a novel. But what Toni and Paddy have helped me to understand is that all this is fine and natural and a necessary stage to go through. They’ve given me the push I needed to get started and they’ve managed to make me believe that I will get this novel written.
You can read more from past students of our Faber Writing Academy students here, containing a wealth of writing tips both from their personal experiences and from our wonderful tutors.