What a crazy little thing a book is. It begins as an idea in one person’s mind, and eventually ends up on a whole host of strangers’ bookshelves. But what happens in between? I’m not too sure how it works for JK Rowling, for instance, but I can tell you how it’s happened for me, with my soon-to-be-released novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot.
There are a number of steps on the journey to a book, most of which are at best gruelling, and at worst soul-destroying. Sounds like a blast, hey? So what are we waiting for?
Step 1: Write the damn book!
I think Ernest Hemingway described this step in the process quite succinctly:
Yikes. Tell it like it is, Hem. Actually, though, writing doesn’t feel like that for me. It’s hard work, but satisfying, in that ‘I-just-planted-a-field-of-corn’ kind of way.
My approach to writing is pretty organic. When I begin a new novel I don’t have a plot outline, or character sketches - just a couple of ideas that come together in my mind and make sparks fly, and then I sit down and see where those ideas take me. In this case, I had the idea of structuring a novel around the radio alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie etc), and I had the character of Charlie, one half of a pair of twins. The rest grew as I wrote. I relate very much to the quote by EL Doctorow:
[Writing is] like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
I wrote Whisky Charlie Foxtrot longhand on the backs of old bills, training materials (from my day job) and other assorted pieces of scrap paper, (which tell their own story, if anyone would are to look for it).
There’s something revealing about writing in longhand. Re-writing the same sentence, two, three, or even four times, it was clear which words or phrases weren’t working. Once I was happy with the draft of a scene, I would type it up, and then there would be more changes.
The first part of this novel was written on the dining table of my flat in East St Kilda. After I moved back to Perth, I wrote at the State Library. I was the unofficial shushing monitor of the third floor. I had three grades of shushing but on the rare occasion that this failed, I wasn’t afraid to escalate it. I’m all for chit-chat but there’s a time and a place …
Have you ever read one of those articles about people who write novels in six weeks? Well, this isn’t going to be one of those. A lot of other things happened while I was writing this book, including moving interstate, having my first novel published, falling in love, getting married, moving house, changing jobs and moving house again. Oh, and did I mention HAVING A BABY? (Which, though it has its upsides, is not a recommended strategy for finishing a book).
Sometimes it seemed like it would never happen, but, four years from when I started, I came to the end. I didn’t type THE END because that’s just too cheesy. But I knew I had reached it…
So there you have step 1. Tune in next week for the rivetting soul-destroying section.