My Te Papa Tupu journey continues, and I continue to learn about myself and my writing.
In August I was able to meet up with my fellow writers and finally meet my mentor James George in person at the Auckland Writers Festival. James and I got along just as well as I expected we would, and in diving into my manuscript, we really broke it down into its essential components. We also spent almost an hour talking about Seinfeld in the context of characterisation and plot efficiency. Having Matua James to guide me through this version of the manuscript really is a dream.
I caught up with old friends from my time at the IIML, made many new ones, and was able to meet in person at last many writers and editors that until then I had only known online. It was a true highlight of my year so far.
I was fortunate enough to attend four workshops, Lydia Davis and Helon Habila via video link, and local legends Charlotte Grimshaw and Kate De Goldi in person. All of them were excellent and invigorating, with a reassuring theme across all four. Regardless of genre or audience, in nonfiction and writing for children, you use all the same tools and literary devices of adult fiction, and the writing will always be engaging.
On the less fun side, I’ve had some rough health stuff going on lately, that has put me a little further behind than where I had hoped to be.
I’ve found myself in familiar territory. I have a manuscript that when I ‘completed’ it (ha!) in 2019, it was the pinnacle of all of my learning, writing, and healing. In the three years since then, I have learned, written, and healed so much more, and it’s so easy when going back through the manuscript to see only its faults. To only remember the continual grind, the frequent moments of utter panic, and the exhaustion of my creative writing thesis year.
It’s easy to gloss over all of the moments of triumph. It’s easy to cringe over passages, scenes, and sometimes whole chapters that you were once so proud of. It can feel impossible to have any perspective on a project you’ve been so close to for so many years.
Every time I went to tackle a chapter, I found myself going in circles. Trying to remember where I was in 2019, why I had made the choices I had, and trying to throw out things that weren’t actually bad, they just weren’t new and shiny to me anymore.
I needed a new approach.
I needed to fall in love in my manuscript again.
Instead of chipping away at the bad, I’m combing through and finding the good, the parts that really work, where the writing crackles, where I find myself pausing and feeling joy at my own creation. Where I laugh. Where 2019 me genuinely surprises 2022 me. Not only am I falling back in love with my manuscript, I’m remembering why I loved it to begin with, and why I’ve felt compelled to stick with this story for so many years. What I loved about my characters, to begin with. And I do love them, a lot, and I want to give them the best novel I can.
In my first blog, I gave the reassuring advice that thinking about writing is writing. Here’s the other side of that advice.
The only way to write a novel is to write a novel…
We all have parts of writing that we love, and parts that we dread.
I loathe starting first drafts. Once I begin a first draft, I usually continue until I need to finish, but even the idea of starting a first draft gets my heart racing and my stomach clenching.
But first drafts have to be done.
For you, starting might not be an issue, ending might be. Or rereading your own work. Whatever it is, your reaction to it might not be as extreme as mine, you will have parts of writing that you are less excited about.
But they still need to be done.
J’s take: do something easy before you tackle something hard
A trick I learned by accident that works surprisingly well.
My extremely talented sister gifted me one of her homemade candles. When I was struggling to begin a first draft, I would light the candle, and tell myself that while the candle is lit, I have to be writing. At first, I called it my ‘candle of inspiration’.
Now, I call it my ‘candle of discipline’.
Starting a first draft is hard for me. Lighting a candle is extremely easy.
Again, no need to go and buy yourself a candle right away. Mould this advice and make it work for you. Marketers know that this works. They know that getting people to spend a large amount of money right away is hard. So, they aim to make customers buy something small, which is relatively easy. Once customers have spent a small amount of money, they’re much more likely to spend a large amount.
Literally ease yourself into the parts of writing you find hard.
Having this view while writing certainly helps too.