Why writing a first draft is like having a baby

Writing the first draft of a novel is a bit like having a baby. Hidden from view, the most amazing creation is being formed inside of you, and then one day, a small slimy, mass emerges – and you instantly fall in love with it.

Who doesn’t love a beautiful pink, chubby, smiling baby? Even though your baby doesn’t quite look like that yet, you also know babies grow. You have faith in your baby, and can already imagine what it will look like in your head.

So you assume that everyone else will love your wrinkly, red newborn, which cries incessantly and smells strange – because that’s not what you see. You are already looking at your baby with the benefit of birth hormones and nitrous oxide. You know it is the most beautiful baby in the world and everyone will agree with you.

In short, you are deluded.

Writing a first draft, I have discovered, is a bit like that. Growing a book inside you is like being pregnant. So much is going on inside your head that it can begin to take over your entire life, you live and breathe it, think about it during the day, dream about it at night. But it’s all going on inside you – so no one can really understand what’s happening, or appreciate the magnitude of what is taking place.

Then one day you announce you have written a book. Plop.

Some friends will immediately ask to read it. They’re either ignorant of all of the slime and blood still covering your creation, or they just love books (or you) so much, they want to read it, even if it means having the literary equivalent of meconium dribbling onto their laps and never being able to get the smell of sour milk (and poorly formed, clichéd characters) out of their noses.

You can give your stinky newborn book to your best friend or sister or partner or mum to read, but beyond this circle, it’s best to at least wash and dress the baby book before passing it on to the next visitor. After all, you’d like your visitor to come back again and not slink away in embarrassment, wiping vomit from their shoulder, never to look you in the eye again.

And while you may be convinced your book will grow up to be as handsome as Orlando Bloom, this does not give you permission to thrust your infant novel, still in nappies, at the nearest publisher demanding they agree ‘how good (looking) it is.’

And so as writers we must allow our newborn books to grow, to develop. We must wait for them to move through the stages at their own pace, and never be impatient for them to run before they can walk, or indeed, before they can even crawl.

Personally, I am hoping it won’t take 18 years for my freshly delivered, still mewling newborn book to develop to the stage where it’s ready to take on its own life, but I am fascinated to see what happens from here, and how it will grow and change.

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100 Days of Writing

Almost six months ago I made myself a deal. Wanting an incentive to sit and write every day, I promised myself that if I wrote for 100 days between that day – the 18th of February – and my birthday, which falls mid-August, I would let myself get a Little Street Library.

I love Little Street Libraries. I keep my eyes peeled for them when I am driving around. I have seen them at churches and in laneways, outside shops and homes. My favourite is one that looks like a small red phonebooth, brimming with books and stories. I wanted my own, partly as a way of recycling books I no longer needed, and partly as a source of new reading. I didn’t even know where I would put it, I just wanted one.

I had no goal with regard to how much I would write, just the simple act of climbing out of bed at 4am or 5am or even 6am, regardless of how much light was in the sky, or how cold my legs were under my robe, and sitting at my desk and placing my fingers on the keys.

I started strongly, writing almost every day for the rest of February, and was thrilled when I had put almost 10,000 words on paper in only ten days. This was a new story, and it flowed easily. I had reached my halfway point of 50 days by the start of May, and with it a count of over 46,000 words.

Today, on August 1st, a fortnight before the deadline, I ticked off my 100th day of writing. It’s been harder to write during the winter months. It’s just harder to get out of bed. And as I have neared the end of my novel, the story has slowed down, and uncertainty of how to find closure has decelerated my speed of writing.

But I now have a first draft – an enormous first draft at 93,000 words – that is 99% complete. And in theory, I have earned myself a Little Street Library.

Except about three months ago, as we were driving past my neighbour’s house, I could see her painting a beautiful, hand made little library that she had fixed to her front wall. My heart sank. Later that afternoon I walked to her house, carrying the two big bags of books I had been saving for when I got my own Street Library. There was only a matter of metres between our houses, and even I with my deep love of books, could not justify two Little Street Libraries right next to each other.

It turns out it didn’t matter. The reward for my writing, was the story itself. It spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s and is full of both my childhood memories growing up in Perth, stories I had heard, and research gleaned from the internet. It is rich with history, from the Meckering quake to the change to the metric system. The old Coles cafeteria in the city makes an appearance, as do the swans at Perth airport.

I don’t know if the story will ever be more than just 500 pages of a Word document on my laptop. I hope so. But even though I probably will never get my own Little Street Library, I feel so proud today of my 100 days of writing. I think I might buy myself a cupcake!

The Wall

It’s been ages since I sat down to write a post for my writers blog. I think about this website all the time. After all, this is more me than Relentless: it has my name on it. I should be working on it regularly, pimping myself, polishing myself. But I don’t, I let it slide.

My problem, in a nutshell, is that I lack discipline.

This isn’t probably something I should admit to in public, not when one of the goals of shannonmeyerkort.com is to showcase my work and abilities as a writer to potential employers and publishers.

But another goal of this blog is to be upfront and honest about life as a writer: its failings and its unmentionables. Writing is a hard slog, often with few tangible rewards.

I am halfway through a Post-graduate Diploma of Professional Writing at Curtin University. I undertake a single unit a semester so that I may still have time for my other writing and more importantly, be there for my children. During term, most of my writing time tends to be focussed on my university assignments. Other writing, such as Relentless and my articles over at WeekendNotes tend to suffer.

And then I reach that point. For this unit, that point is about 3,300 words into a 5,000 word essay. The wall.

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It’s not writers block. I know what I need to write, and how to finish the essay. It’s just rather than sitting down and completing it – as a disciplined writer would – I am now procrastinating. I have done more loads of washing in the past fortnight than in the previous month. I have been dreaming up more inventive articles over at WN. I am playing with the plot to a new children’s story.

Anything rather than write the one thing I am meant to be writing.

I read once that the difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is that a professional writes every day. I also remember reading that if you want to be a real novelist, you should write at least 100 words every single day, whether you want to or not.

Part of the reason of attending uni is that I am forced to write in new genres, about new topics and for new audiences, with a deadline.

It is the deadline that keeps me moving. Keeps me honest. Last November I wrote over 18,000 words of my novel for NaNoWriMo. Since then I only have penned around 500.

500 words in 10 months.

Someone told me today that unlike paid work or commissioned writing (or university assignments) there are no consequences if I do not write a post for my blogs every day. There are no repercussions if I do not finish my novel. No one else suffers for lack of my craft, except for me.

So, I appeal to you: how do you make yourself write? Do you set yourself targets or do you make timetables? How can I restructure the way I work so that I am more disciplined in my approach?

Because I obviously need some help.