A Novel Ambition

I’m writing a novel.

I know, I know. I can sense the eye roll from here. You think I’m one of those people.

You know the type. Nobody in the history of human kind has ever experienced things quite the way they have. Their quirky, startling take on the world is going to knock people to their knees. (As soon as they write it. And find a publisher.) They sit in cafes looking earnest and tortured and frightfully intelligent as they observe people (don’t all the best how-to-write websites tell you to do that?) and scribble bitingly witty, insightful notes into a suitably dog-eared notebook.

At parties, they corner you as you queue for the toilet and tell you that they’re just working at Starbucks/Farmers/Westpac/The Beehive “for now” but they’re also “writing a novel at the moment.” You are supposed to look impressed, and ask what it is about. DO NOT DO THIS. You will be bored rigid – and what’s more you’ll probably wet your pants, because they’ll bang on about it for at least 15 minutes and you’ll lose your place in the queue.

Right, cynicism aside. Because I have officially become one of those people. I am writing a novel at the moment (well, a novella, actually; a cross between a short story and a full-blown novel). Let’s make some important distinctions, however. I do not corner people at parties and tell them this. I do not write earnestly in cafes. I do not anticipate my novel winning any major literary awards. I’m not even confident it will ever be published. And to be perfectly honest, I have no idea if it’s any good. Really.

So why am I doing it?

I could share wise words about the journey being more important than the destination, which is perfectly true. Or I could admit that there is a small, hopeful, slightly embarrassed part of me that dreams of having a novel published one day.

But the main reason is this: I love it. I just love the adventure of sitting down at my keyboard on any given day and seeing where the story takes me. I am creating something from scratch that is all mine to shape, and design, and play with. I’m not trying to be clever or esoteric or intellectual. I’m not trying to be anything except happy. And (most of the time) it’s working.

I qualified that last statement because the truth is, it’s not all beer and skittles. Sometimes it’s bloody hard work, when writer’s block sets in along with the self-doubt. At times I wonder why I’m bothering, and often I wonder if I will ever finish the damn thing. But then I find myself lying in bed or driving to work or walking my daughter to school and my mind drifts repeatedly towards my delicious secret, my creation, my precious. I am like a child with a fabulous, complex, infuriating new toy. I can’t put it down.

My goal is to finish it before the end of October, in order to enter an Australasian novella competition. It won’t win, or even place. (Honey, it won’t even come close.) I may not even meet the deadline. But it’s something to aim for. I want to write this thing, goddammit. I don’t want a half-baked draft mouldering in a drawer somewhere for my daughter to discover after I shuffle off this mortal coil.

And so, I write. And in the process, I struggle. I cry. I laugh. I eat a lot of chocolate.

Here then is my advice if you want to write, but you’re not sure where or how to start: Don’t aim to be great. Don’t let yourself be stifled by fear and perfectionism. Just write. Write something you love. Something you daydream about in the bus. Something you would turn your favourite movie off for. Something you steal time for, like those treasured, giddy, stolen moments with a new lover.

And here’s the quote that sits above my computer to guide and inspire me:

If you write to impress it will always be bad, but if you write to express it will be good.

– Thornton Wilder, 1897-1975

Wise words, Mr Wilder. I wonder if you wrote them in a cafe?

Comments Off

2 Comments on “A Novel Ambition”

  1. Aimee Gray August 21, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    You write so well, Trish – I would buy your novel 🙂

    • belllettres August 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

      Thanks Aimee! For such a nice comment I’d give you a free copy 😉

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