A Novel Idea

What I don’t want to admit

Posted on: May 27, 2010

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Here I am, brazenly quitting my job, delaying my dream wedding by a year, turning us into a frugal one-income household. All so I could write. So I could let the novel clanging around my brain escape and get paid for it.

It was all going so well.

I banged out three chapters. I had people read it (people who have no incentive to stroke my ego). They liked it. Wanted to read more.

I got brave. I sent it into a competition.

I kept going. Chapter four materialized.

Then I did something that sounds like a really good idea for a beginning writer.

I went to a writer’s festival.

The Sydney Writers Festival.

That was last weekend. I haven’t written a new word since.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. I have written this blog. I have also edited my previous words. I’ve handed in a university assignment. I’ve texted.

But I haven’t furthered my story by even one new word all week.

Why? I’ve been asking myself this since Monday afternoon.

I have a daily word target. 800 words a day, 6 days a week. That may seem a lot, or it may seem miniscule to you. I’m not a fast writer. At least not so far. I currently owe my story 3,200 words. ACK!

Why this debt of words? I blame the festival.

The highlight of the weekend was sitting approximately 5 metres away from Peter Carey, listening to him discuss his new novel, Parrot and Olivier in America. This made me feel good. He seemed like any other person, albeit with an exceptional talent.

I went back for a second day of back to back author panel discussions. I absorbed.

I pondered.

I came to the realization that though my novel has a clear ‘voice’, I don’t know my characters well enough to write purely in their ‘voices’. This is a problem.

It’s not that I don’t know my characters. I know what they want, I know their fears. I know their passions. Yet somehow I’m still not fully in their heads.

How do I know this?

The dialogue. The words of the main character and his sidekick are virtually interchangeable.

If they were fully formed characters that wouldn’t happen.


Clearly it’s not the festival’s fault. Being in the presence of so many authors, talking about their own work, sometimes entertainingly, sometimes not, made me examine my own.

Essentially I’m not letting myself write because I don’t really know what I’m doing.

I know enough to string sentences together, but I have a gap. An experience gap.

I’ve never written at novel length before. I’ve never had to construct characters of such depth.

I’m worried this is going to take some time to ease into. I don’t have the luxury of time.

I have a deadline. I’ve sent the first three chapters into a competition. If, by some wonderful happening my work actually rates a mention and makes it ‘on the list’, I have to cough up the manuscript. The full manuscript.

I now have 30 days to write another 37,000 words. Not only do I need to snap out of this not writing limbo, but I have to bump up my daily word count by more than 50% to 1233 words.


Deep breath.

I’m playing hard-ball. No chocolate until the 1,233 words are written and saved each day. No, that’s not consequential enough.

Unless I write at least 1,233 words each day, the entire chocolate stash is being thrown out.

That’s more like it. Connor has a sweeter tooth than I do. If I have to throw out the weekly chocolate ration, there’ll be hell to pay.

Write well. Write often.


  • None
  • Violet: Thanks Alannah :) Apologies for not replying sooner: I'm finally catching my breath and the year is almost over!
  • Alannah Murphy: I remember your first post, way back when I had my old Here Be Dragons blog, and I am glad you are still writing. We all find out, sooner or later, ho
  • Violet: Good to hear that Aaron. Good Luck with your work.
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