Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Look, Mum - I'm Writing Karen Ball


Nothing Like Riding A Bike

Starting a new novel is never easy. During the zillion drafts of your previous book, you've almost convinced yourself you can write. You know your characters (they're so well-rounded!), the plot is stonking (even if you say so yourself) and you can recite the first chapter with your eyes closed, you've read through it so many times. Job done! Time to pat yourself on the back, put your feet up, accept the nice reviews, ignore the bad ones, cash your royalty cheques and plan the holiday of a lifetime. Isn't it...?

After a well-deserved break, either boredom, a creative impulse or your accountant will remind you that you need to write another book. What? You mean, I have to come up with another unforgettable opening line? But I don't even know what the book's going to be about! If you're anything like me, you will drift from one idea to the next, convincing yourself that, 'Yes! This is the one!' Only to wake up a week later and groggily think, 'Huh? What was that thought I had?' Oh dear. You forgot to write it down.

Eventually, you'll be invited to a party. Innocently, you'll accept, forgetting that parties are an author's conscience. Someone will ask: 'What are you working on, now?' You gulp, turn red, stutter. That's when you know it's time to put the martini glass down and drag yourself back to your desk. Crack the knuckles, shake out the shoulders, dust off the keyboard and turn off the Internet.

Some people start by gathering research, even going on trips. Others write a detailed outline. Still more people stare at a blank screen and listen to the sound of their brain frying. Ever wasted hours staring at a computer keyboard when you could have been outside, enjoying the sunshine? I have.

I wish I could say that I carefully plan each of my books, but I don't. I just start writing and see what comes out. Then, at least, I have something to mould. An opening chapter can work wonders for a writer's confidence, not least because you can see what's not working. Which means you have an idea of what might work. Which suggests you know what you're doing and where you want this story to go. I greatly admire the simple advice to write 1000 words a day and before you know it, you'll have a first draft. I love the moment when you pass the halfway mark, when you know that whatever else you write is taking you towards two golden words: The End. During all of this process, you've reclaimed your identity as a writer. This is me. This is what I do. Look, Mum - I'm writing!

Writing isn't like riding a bike, you can't always just get back on. Every novel is a brand new learning curve during which you will stumble and go down wrong paths. This much, I can guarantee. It's a very humbling experience and not one suited to everyone. The next time you meet a famous author (Hey! Because that happens a lot, right?) and find yourself trembling, don't imagine them naked - imagine them writing the first line of their next book. I bet they find it every bit as scary as we do.

Look, Mum - I made a poll! Vote here and allow us a unique insight into how most authors start a novel. There are no right or wrong answers here. Which option would you choose?

Please visit my website at www.karen-ball.com

13 comments:

昱宏彥良 said...

盛年不再來,一日難再晨;及時當勉勵,歲月不待人..............................

Linda Strachan said...

Interesting idea,the poll. Looking forward to seeing the results.
Not being the kind of organised writer who plans it all beforehand your post hit a nerve, and the party question guilt has just returned! Off to get started again. Thanks Karen!

Gillian Philip said...

I can hear my brain frying right now, as I stare at this keyboard and wonder how I can put off writing the next first line... all so true, Karen!

Mary Hoffman's Newsletter said...

I couldn't vote in the poll because none of the answers was mine!

If it's a historical novel I do loads of research, note-making, family trees etc etc. But I don't plan till the first head of steam has worn off. Usually around chapter four.

So I'm a mixture. It's not beginnings that scare me - it's middles!

Joan Lennon said...

Arggghhh! Middles! Don't talk to me about middles ...

(Ah, I realise this suddenly sounds like a rant against having become apple-shaped. Not crazy about that either! Probably a topic for another post though.)

karen ball said...

Ooh, yes - I would love to read a post about the middle bit of novels. Thanks for the comments.

Penny Dolan said...

Is that what that big empty fog-filled space is up ahead? A middle?

Great post!

steeleweed said...

I look for either an interesting character or an interesting circumstance. I bump into both with surprising regularity. If I want to start a completely new work, I just grab whatever thought happens to be passing by and go with that. The problem comes when I want to take the same character(s) into a new book - that doesn't work for me. I can stay in genre but will not create a series. Too bad, really, since a series has a built-in fanbase. Guess all my books have to be stand-alone.

:-(

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes I need help with my middle part too... desperate help in fact! When I start doing a word count of what I've managed to come up with in a day then I know I'm in trouble!!!

catdownunder said...

Oh it is so good to know that all you wonderful professional and successful authors have the occasional problem!

Brian Keaney said...

I couldn't vote in the poll because there was no option for suddenly seeing a flash of story playing out in your head like a movie.

I really agree that every novle is a new learnign curve.

Brian Keaney said...

or even learning curve.

Sue Purkiss said...

I'm a mixture. I have a vague general idea, and it's very important to me to get a first bit that feels good, even if I change it later. If it's flowing I let it flow, if it's not, I plan. I think I should plan more, though. I will next time, honest.