I’ve been writing for a while now, mainly short stories and the occasional poem (which is like an occasional table, but less functional and less likely to be a tripping hazard). I’ve studied writing, edited writing, listened to writers, most recently at Aussie Con4, reviewed texts etc ad lib and so forth.
Also I’ve been working on a novel. But such a thing, with its bulk and thready plots and passage of time kinda unnerves me. How to keep track? To plan ahead or wander along? Which tense, from which point of view? Should I know how it ends, or be just as surprised as the Gentle Reader? Do I do a stream-of-consciousness-life-in-the-day Mrs Dalloway-style, or a vast realist epic like Centennial?
And of me? Do I have a big enough idea; can I people it with believable characters? Do I have the focus? The time? Can I commit to it for as long as it takes? Can I finish it? What sort, historical, SF, magic realism, horror, the Great Australian Novel, serious, comic all of the above? None of the above? Some of the above? Do I bother with trying to categorise it before it’s really started? Should I think about publishers and marketing and agent things now?
The problem is, and you may’ve noticed this, is I’ve a magpie mind. Shiny, shiny trivia in glistening glory, which means I’m pretty handy in pub quizzes, but can I sustain the focus and drive needed for a longer work, before I’m captivated again? Should I adopt some formula for the text, or some sort of software? I suspect these are gimmicks and just because they’ve worked for some, doesn’t mean they’re a fit for me. Too many questions! So I’ll start with a list.
The Novelist Skills Audit*:
- I have written long things: a 12,000-word Honours thesis that took two years. But I did finish it, unlike the MA, which was substantially longer.
- I have the grammar and spelling skills. Notwithstanding posts on this site, I might add. I learned the lessons and know when I can break or ignore them.
- I have written complete stories with multiple differentiated characters. Ok, they weren’t really long stories, but I understand the difference between a story and an anecdote and a story and an idea.
- I’ve studied novels. I recognise them when I see them. Dunno know if it helps, but I think writers should be familiar with the kind of work they take on.
- I can edit and self edit. I have experience editing the work of others. As a result I know the pitfalls and mistakes of inexperienced writers. I learned, through slow, painful experience to avoid repeated words and sentence structures and the starts of sentences and those descriptions that adds nothing to the story. I know how to make every word count, especially when word counts count. If you follow.
- Mostly I can avoid passive voice. Hehehehe.
- I can sit for long periods at the puter. Sounds simple: it aint.
- I like solitude. Can’t be a novelist in the middle of a committee.
- I’ve found my voice. I think.
- For starters, I can write starts. I love starts.
- I understand the technology needed and I know my way around post-its, puters, pens and notebooks.
- I have the research skills. Basically I know how to ‘look stuff up,’ to quote Buffy and Giles.
- I like writing. I think it’s important to like it.
- I can meet deadlines.
- I have ideas.
*So Gentle Reader, you too may have these skills or some or none or others I’ve not realised a novelist needs. This list shouldn’t preclude you from your own novel. It’s just considerations…I’m considering. Feel free to consider them too. And add skills I’ve forgotten.
What can a starting novelist benefit from? What are the resources a writer needs.