Trouble With Writing

In the past few days, two strange men have been in my bedroom. And my bathroom. And my lounge… and well, you get it. They were estate agents, of course. I’m finally putting my house on the market.

What’s all this got to do with writing? Well, it’s yet another distraction. Instead of writing, I’ve been madly ‘de-cluttering’ (yes, all those piles of cr*p have been shoved under the bed), cleaning, jet-washing, sweeping up leaves, planting pansies and supervising the mending of my back gate.

Buying and selling a house is, I’ve decided, very similar to writing a novel. If you tell people you’re doing it, they want to know every detail. Which is why I’ve been keeping pretty quiet about both, until now.

To be honest, I feel a fraud saying I’m ‘writing a novel’.

You see, I set myself two targets at the beginning of the year:

1) To attend a ‘finish your novel’ (hah!) one-day course, which I’m signed up for and which is just a few days away now… and

2) The Good Housekeeping novel writing competition (which closes on 31st March).

Both were supposed to give me a deadline to work towards and the incentive I needed to actually get started.

And, to be fair, I have made a start. But not much more. I’ve got some ideas for a plot (which keeps changing) and characters (ditto) and I’ve written about 3500 words. I’ve also re-discovered a few pages of writing and an idea for a novel that I had a few years ago. And I still like it. So, I’m going to incorporate that into my ‘new novel’ idea. And hopefully, that’s enough material, at least to make a start. I just need to write it now.

I had a bit of a ‘light bulb moment’ today. I suppose I really knew this but it’s only when you start to try to write a novel that you realise how true it is: there’s no way round it. If you want to write a novel you have to sit down and work very, very hard.

And also, you have to really, really, really want to do it.

I reckon I need 100 hours of solid work before I’ll even have something resembling a first draft. And that’s before I start cutting bits out, realising that half of it doesn’t work and rewriting whole chunks. It’s easy to see why lots of people who say they’re going to write a novel, never do. And often those that do succeed, are not the most ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’ writers – but those that are driven, who apply themselves (and the seat of their pants to the chair!) and who, in the words of Nike:’just do it’.

And then there’s the time thing. Unless you set aside specific times to work on your novel – ie: actually make an appointment with yourself – it just won’t happen. At least, it just won’t happen for me. I’ve been intending to work on my novel, properly, for weeks. And each week goes by and I’ve still hardly done anything. Because other things (like hoovering and Mr Sheen-ing) have been getting in the way.

And I haven’t been setting time aside to do it.

It’s hard. And I admire anyone who’s ever written a novel, regardless of whether it’s been published and regardless of genre. Because just to finish putting together that many words, to have created those characters and to have plotted and planned until you’re finally at the stage of being able to type ‘The End’ is, I think, quite an achievement.

Anyone else out there writing – or finished – a novel and if so, do you have any tips for lessening the pain?!

Every writer I know has trouble writing. ~Joseph Heller

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17 Responses to Trouble With Writing

  1. Denise Bayes says:

    My writing group is focusing on novel writing but I just don’t feel ‘ready’ to commit to one. Full time work and, as you say, housework etc. leave very little real time. Short stories seem to fit more snugly into my life.

    • I know what you mean. It is a real commitment, isn’t it? Like training for (and then running!) a marathon, when you’ve only been going for short walks up until now!


  2. I am a procrastinator extraordinaire – but I’ve realised I don’t want to write a novel just yet – so I’ve shelved it for now. So thank you for re-affirming that I’ve made the right decision and good luck with yours!

  3. Julia says:

    Writing is hell, having written is swell. So do as I say and not as I do (!) because I always prolong the agony part too, and get that first draft down so that you can move along to the feeling swell part.
    Good luck. Julia

  4. I agree – it is so VERY hard to keep focussed and disciplined. And all the time you’re wondering, is this a complete waste of time? Will anybody ever read it? Would my time be better spent disinfecting the dustbin?
    Stick with it, Helen!

  5. Sally, that’s so funny, we can find a million excuses instead of writing the words on the page can’t we. Helen, you’ve had lots of stories accepted, so imagine you’re writing a story, then another, then another, etc. then put them all together, voila, le novel.

  6. ‘Really, really really want to do it.’ So very, very true Helen. I think sometimes we are too hard on ourselves and start off on projects with all good intentions, and then the steam (or whatever) runs out and we get disappointed in ourselves (well, I do anyway). These days, I think (yes, I’m always thinking) when the passion runs out it’s ok to put that project on hold (the inspiration or motivation needed just hasn’t surfaced/appeared yet) and work on something you do feel passionate about. But then again, lol, what do I know! Good look with the house sale – Mmmm you never know what is around the corner!

  7. Good luck with the house move 🙂

    I’ve had 65,000 words of a novel sitting on my laptop since December 2010, untouched lol so I’m probably not the best person to comment 😉

    Good luck!


  8. JohnY says:

    “There is a pleasure in poetic pains which only poets know.” William Cowper

    Ergo the pain you feel must be good for you ? so grasp the nettle. (Bloke logic)
    Must be something to do with this multi-tasking thingy taking all your time up ?
    As I have never suffered from this complaint maybe my advice should stop here ?

  9. Stephanie Holliday says:

    I’ve got half way through a novel and enjoyed writing it but its been ‘lurking’ now for over a year. I was trying to explain to a friend who read the first half and loved it just how hard it is but I don’t think she understood. Its only people like us who have tried to do it who realise that even just keeping track of characters, their environment and incidental characters is hard work, let alone progressing the story and making yourself find the time.
    One of my new year resolutions was to make writing a priority and write every day – unfortunately I haven’t! I’ll have to try again. I think I frightened myself when I realised how much time it will actually take.
    On a different subject I’ve just received a cheque for £20 from ‘Best of British’ for an article (The Dreaded Home Perm in Feb edition if anyone’s interested). Not a lot of money but worth a fortune to me in confidence building. They have altered it slightly but I suppose thats to get it to fit in.
    Good luck with your novel and the house sale.

  10. Tracy Fells says:

    Good luck with house move and novel writing. My top tip would be to record in a diary how many words you write each time you tackle the novel – even a few hundred a day then starts to mount up. What shocked me is what happens after finishing the first draft – a year on since completing my children’s novel I’m re-writing sections (following feedback from reviewers), editing and always tweaking something. And still plucking up the nerve to send it out again…!
    I find conditioning helps too – if you write articles/stories as well as working on a novel then try putting together a specific novel playlist, then always put this on when writing the novel. Even now if I hear certain songs or pieces of music I can remember writing certain sections. The downside is you may never want to listen to that playlist ever again once you’ve finished!!

  11. Prue says:

    Good luck with the house sale, and the novel writing.
    I suppose one really does have to want to write a novel – or at the very least, not have anything one wants to do more; and as far as I’m concerned, enjoyment has to be in the equation too 🙂

  12. Linda says:

    Hi Helen

    I don’t envy you the house move – incredibly distracting, especially when you get a sudden viewer and have to run round madly trying to hide the clutter. My only advice for writing the novel is wordcount. Set yourself a target for each day and do it. Even it’s it not much and even if its rubbish you’ll be that much closer to finishing.


  13. Tracy Burton says:

    Hi Helen, I just stumbled upon your blog – and love it. I’ve started writing my first novel last week – and I’m hoping to enter the Good Housekeeping competition with the first 5,000 words. I’ve only written about 3,100 words so far so I’d better get a move on. I also liked your idea of writing a letter a week to a magazine (what wonderful prizes you’ve won). I’ve had some minor successes with magazines in the past – and a story in TAB Fiction Feast last year – but have never really taken it seriously. Maybe it’s time I did! I’m aiming for another 1,000 words today so I’d better get on with it (the Mr Sheen was put away an hour ago!). Good luck with your own entry. Tracy

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