It’s now been almost 8 months since I put the first words in an empty Word document, which I later named Jeremiah and Natasha (which is also the working title of my novel). Fast forward 8 months, and this document has grown to be 136 page, containing 74,000 words, most of which I am proud of. And I’m not done!
Today, I wanted to pour my heart out to you. Talk to you about the ups and downs of my novel writing journey so far. Because, as much as I love writing more than anything else in the world, writing an actual novel isn’t all glitter and unicorns.
So, is it a waste of time? Or is it the coolest thing you’ll ever do in your life?
When I was younger I pretty much only wrote fiction, grand majority of which was fan fiction. For a teenager who had hardly experienced anything in life just yet, it was the best, and easiest, thing to write. I think a lot of us start this way, and there’s nothing wrong with using fan fiction as a learning ground before attempting bigger and better things. Some fan fiction I’ve read was better than many of the books I’ve stumbled upon (a good example is Wide Awake, a Twilight fan fiction, which is roughly 25 times better and more interesting than the original story). You can read more about my fan fiction adventures in the linked post.
I used to find it really hard to come up with fully original stories, and it was really frustrating to me. My mum, who can be a funny mixture of extremely motivating and very demotivating, kept on telling me to try writing something that would be really mine.
But I just couldn’t. Nothing was coming to me.
Then school obligations won with my passion, and I stopped writing fiction altogether. When I think about it now, I don’t know how I survived 4 or 5 years without taking advantage of my imagination, but, frankly, I wouldn’t even have known where to start. I felt I’ve outgrown fan fiction, and I had no original ideas. I was stuck. And then non-fiction came to my rescue. I could write blog posts about anything and everything, and all I needed was a quick idea. No story, no characters, no universe, no dialogue. So I wrote non-fiction (and enjoyed it, as I am now, writing this blog post for you), putting the thoughts of fiction writing at the back of my head, as one of the things I used to do (as I did with ballroom dancing, horse riding, and aikido).
But, no matter how much non-fiction I ever write, I will always love fiction that little bit more.
Then a year ago, I had a vague idea of a story, about five students in London, studying different degrees, coming from around the world, who meet when they join a Jane Austin Lovers Society at their university. I was on a mission to show the world that immigrants don’t have to be uneducated, or ‘cheap labour’, because I really don’t like this stereotype. This idea evolved over the course of the following few months to become what I’m writing now.
Ok, so this is big. I’m going to tell you what my book is about. I have to say, this is a bit emotional, because, although a lot of people know I’m writing a novel, only a select few know what it’s actually about (and only two had the chance to read it. This includes Mr Arguably Honest). In other words, I’m about to let you in on a secret.
To say my initial idea has evolved would be a bit of an understatement. The only thing that’s really left is that I have more than one main character (I have two of them, instead of the five I was initially planning), and the fact that they’re students. The Jane Austin society features somewhere in my early notes, but never actually made it into the novel. To be honest, I can’t imagine Jeremiah reading Jane Austin…
But what is my book about, then? In short, about two people, Jeremiah and Natasha, who meet in the first week of their second year at university and form (what initially appears to be) an unlikely friendship. Natasha is Russian and has more money than anyone would know what to do with. She is a smart and funny, if rather lonely, young woman, but has her secrets that she’s not particularly eager to share. Jeremiah comes from an Orthodox Jewish family and grew up in Birmingham. His parents have decided he will become an accountant, which, to be honest, is the last thing he wants to do in life. Jeremiah has a dream, and he’s making this dream come true – he wants to be a fashion designer. If only he could tell his family about it…
I did it.
I think I now know what it feels like to post a picture of your firstborn child on Facebook… (or maybe I don’t, but this was emotional). I initially planned to write around 100,000 words, which is a sort of reasonable word count for a book of this type. This idea now makes me laugh – I will probably finish my first draft closer to the 120,000 mark, then try to shave 20,000-25,000 words off it. It’s one of the many things I learnt when writing a book – you never know how many words you actually have in you. However, I’m actually super proud of myself that I got to the almost 75,000. It feels surreal, to be honest. Never before have I written something so… well… big. Substantial. Because, I hate to admit, I am brilliant at picking up things and then abandoning them swiftly. But this time I persevered, and I can’t see myself stopping.
I really love writing. There definitely are more ups than downs in my book writing journey (I’m expecting far more downs when I start editing it/start trying to get the bloody thing published), but I’m sure you all know that, no matter how much you adore writing, it can’t always be ups.
They say the hardest thing is sitting in front of an empty Word document, and not knowing what to write. I agree, but only when it comes to university work, or blog posts. In my fiction writing, the hardest moment is sitting down to your very full Word document, with tens of thousands of words already written, and not knowing where you’re going. It’s a paralysing feeling – you might know where your story is going, but you can’t, for the life of you, think of where that particular scene is going. There are days when I stare at my screen and think ‘why did I even get them into this situation, I have no fucking clue how to get them out!’. Those are the days when I put my laptop away and go read something, or turn Netflix on.
The hardest moment isn’t sitting in front of an empty page. It is sitting in front of your very full Word document, with tens of thousands of words already written, and not knowing where you’re going.
There are also days when I’m too tired to write. I wish I wasn’t. I know there are people who write every day, and who write in a week what I write in a month. But after a whole day at work, or revising, or filled with lectures, my brain just won’t comply. On one hand, I know it’s ok not to write every day. On the other, I feel guilty. Because, really, what’s more important than finishing my novel? But I’ve written more about writing every day on my Facebook page – you can read this post below.
There are also those moments my carefully imagine situations or dialogues, scenes I can see in front of my eyes, need to be tossed in the bin. Because I sit down to write them, and the only thought going through my head is ‘what’s the point, Gaby? What’s the bloody point of them doing it?’. I just know they won’t work written down, but the realisation only comes as I start writing them. Those are moments that really annoy me, but which are also necessary for me to realise that not ever scene I ‘see’ my characters in needs to make it into the book, because some of them would not bring any value to the story.
But the hardest moment in writing a book actually came recently. Having written close to 70,000 words, I realised that one of my main characters hardly has a storyline. You see, she is a very private person and it takes a while for her to open up to anyone. But, as a result, she sort of just exists for the first half of the book. Not much happens in her life. When I realised it (and I took my sweet time before I did), I just got so sad and angry with myself. I really like Natasha. She’s a strong, smart young woman, well read, and funny. And I didn’t do her justice. I, the person who created her, sold her short (I’ve done too much finance this year, when I write about ‘selling something short’, I immediately think of short selling stocks… Update: I just googled it – the phrase actually comes from short selling stocks). I know I will have to fix her story in edits, and that makes me even more petrified of reaching that stage. When I started writing the book, edits to me were just what I do for blog posts – making sure spelling and grammar are in order, sometimes rewriting a convoluted sentence or two, or removing a paragraph if I deem it unimportant. The fact that book edits can involve changing the story significantly never crossed my mind (during a writers’ group meeting, I met a man who was on the eighth edit of his novel, constantly changing back and forth between past and present tense. I think I’d go mad.).
It might sound like I’m complaining, but those negatives make maybe 5-10% of my book writing experience. They’re just little stumbles on the great journey that writing a book is. It’s so different than short stories or blog posts, which you will at most spend a few days on. A book is something that’s with you for months, sometimes years. Watching it grow under your fingers is such a beautiful experience. Of course, I have terrible writing days. I also have non-writing days, or even weeks.
But then comes a day when I can spend the whole day writing, with a constant supply of tea and snacks, and the story flows so beautifully, the scene comes out exactly like I pictured it in my head, and I forget about all the bad moments. I am happy, ecstatic even, in those moments. There’s nothing more beautiful to me than getting completely lost in telling a story. Sometimes it’s on a sunny Saturday, after I’ve woken up well rested and have all the time in the world. Other time, it might be a half an hour after a whole day at university, having started writing at eleven at night. There are also those moments in random places, like the shower, or a crowded train, where bits and pieces of my story finally fall into their place in my head. It’s such a beautiful feeling when a problem you were carrying around with you just solves itself.
Is writing a book all perfect? No, it isn’t. It’s hard work. But it’s also the most fun work I’ve ever done. So, to answer the question from the title, is it fulfilling? Hell yes it is!