So I’ve written a novel. Still quite hard to believe it’s done. But it somehow is. A novel that started alone at home in Johannesburg and ended in a North East corner of London a year later. I wrote it in coffee shops, in bed, on trains, in restaurants and in living rooms. At 46 000 words it ended up being much shorter than I initially anticipated.
It’s called Better Demons and is set in the Karoo region of South Africa. Maybe one day I can link to it on Amazon from here. Maybe. The novel could be great, and it could be utter trash. That’s part of the fun though – creating something that you genuinely don’t know the quality of, but creating nonetheless. Such is life, sometimes you just have to do it.
While I look for an agent who might be interested, it gives me a chance to reflect on the experience, which was a rewarding one. And while the lengthy process of writing a novel is not really for everyone, I do think act of writing is beneficial no matter who you are.
In terms of my own experience, here are the things I took out of it:
Your voice is your voice
About three quarters of the way through writing my book, I picked up Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Part of me wanted to just give up. How could I compete with this? Conrad’s eloquent use of language and his majestic, sweeping descriptions made me feel incredibly useless, and of course, next to a titan like that, I am a bit. But a week or two later I picked up Charles Bukowski’s first novel Post Office. In his typical style, it’s rugged, real and gritty. It doesn’t conform to any ‘style’ and certainly isn’t eloquent in the classic sense. Yet it’s utterly readable.
This was an important realisation for me. Every writer has their own style. Every artist, in fact. Writing is art, and art should be an expression of something within you. Why should one worry about conformity of style? I don’t care if my novel doesn’t read like complicated work of William Faulkner or if it isn’t the length of a Dostoevsky novel, complete with paragraphs two pages long. My style is my style. I’m willing to own it.
You learn about yourself
I recognised early on in the novel that the main characters were essentially versions of myself. The interesting part about all writing is that the act of getting words down on the page requires you to dig deep into yourself to find the truth and the right words. The process leaves plenty of time for doubt. Is this really what I think? Is that right? That’s not always as easy as it sounds. Any fool can talk, read news articles and have thoughts swirling around their head about what they think is their point of view on things. But the act of writing forces one to put the microscope on those thoughts and worldviews and make them visible.
I couldn’t just have one character putting opinions similar to mine out there. These thoughts needed to be challenged by another character, which I realised was also me. In this way I did realise that some of the things I believed with certainty maybe weren’t so certain, when you’re finding the best possible argument against them.
You have to love the process
If you want to do anything well, that is. Whether my work is good or not, I still don’t know. What I do know though is that I could never have finished it if I didn’t enjoy the process. I’ve realised you have to have this philosophy in order to achieve anything worthwhile in life. You have to love the process.
If you want a fit, lean body, you have to love the act of working out. If you want to thrive in your career, it will be quite difficult, if not impossible to do that if you hate your job or the work you do. If you want to raise successful, good kids, you probably need to enjoy the process of parenting. And so on.
Writing a novel was no different. In order to finish it, I had to love the process. Whether it gets published or not is a little irrelevant to me in the bigger scheme of things. I’ve discovered with certainty something I love doing, and something I will keep doing.