The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
Five Ways To Write like Ali.
1. Write fast
The Brexit vote was 23 June 2016. Ali Smith's novel Autumn, dubbed the first Brexit novel, was published October 16th. Ali Smith wrote this book within three months or ninety days.
"It’s a brilliant and unsettling conceit, leaving you marvelling that writing this good could have come so fast." (Financial Times.)
"I've been thinking about writing a seasonal series of books for about 20 years now, and in 2014, after finishing How to Be Both, I realised it was time to start. This might simply be because I knew now it was possible, after Hamish Hamilton made such a beautiful finished book-form for How to be Both in a matter of weeks (!), to turn a book around quite speedily compared to the usual time it takes, and this excited me about how closely to contemporaneousness a finished book might be able to be in the world, and yet how it could also be, all through, very much about stratified, cyclic time." Ali Smith.
This is one of the most common questions I'm asked.
Here's the answer.
Yes. But don't make it about yourself.
“All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.” P.D. James.
“It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there's not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“The Coetzee who emerges from an informed reading of his papers is very different author from the one we thought we knew. Most surprisingly, his writing process turns out to be highly autobiographical, at least in its points of departure. It then involves a gradual, but determined process of writing himself out of the narratives, a ‘burning off of the self’ as it were.” David Attwell.
A novel starts with you, yourself, and ends without you.
Why? And how?
Writing is, and I'm not ashamed to say it, the...
See this picture?
The little lodge in the middle of nowhere, with a raging fire and food and drink and you inside all toasty warm looking rather charismatic putting down thousands of words of pure poetry onto a page. That ain't going to happen.
Never. No way. Not even one day. That 'golden time' to write your novel? It's not coming for you. Nope. Sorry.
So you're going to have to buck your ideas up a bit. Don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today! If I sound a little 1940's, well I am thinking that today's novelist needs to be like the wartime housewife.
This is more like it.
Think of writing your novel as if it's war time.
I've got a recipe for you from the Kritikme Ministry of Novels this week. (One day, your 'designer writer lifestyle' might come but when it does, you’ll still be using this chicory-stained tried and tested recipe from our scrap book.)
1. Dig for victory. Go scrump and scrounge.
Go get some free ingredients for your...
There is a commonality to the writing writer’s writing life. It is a love of reading and the joy of the craft and getting better at it.
The joy of the craft comes from daily tickling. Tickling that joy with good habits and wise reading is what we do at The Novelry for 90 days on the trot, then it’s there for life.
A funny bone, on the house.
It took Annie Proulx almost 60 years to write a novel. In the video interview, she says she's still learning; it's her life.
Proulx briefly went to college in the early 1950s, but left to get married. There were two further marriages, all of them unhappy. She raised three sons alone. It was a time of grinding poverty.
'I had a talent for choosing the wrong people . . . I'm just the sort of person who should never be married. I like living by myself. It's odd, but I think in my whole life I have had almost no one understand what I was trying to do with the writing, or why it was so intensely important to me. So it was...
Are you normal?
As part of our peering over writers' shoulders to see whether we are in any way 'normal' please find here the calibrations.
I write hundreds of thousands of words to reduce down to the 80k or so for a novel. This is a fool's economy of course, but then as Dolly might have said 'it takes a lot of money to look this cheap'.
During the first draft, please don't worry about word count, you will find your way, just be regular.
If you need to get your novel done in ninety days, then aim for 1000 when I tell you 'GO!" which is after we have got your concept nice and tight and made sure you're well prepared. Otherwise, Graham Greene found he could knock out a novel every 9 months this way at 500 a day. It's better to go slow and steady.
Daily Word Counts of Some Authors:
Graham Greene wrote 24 novels as well as travel books, children’s books, plays, screenplays, and short stories. His daily writing goal was only 500 words.
"Over twenty years I have...
A cautious accounting would reckon on some 3.5 million words of serious writing chalked up between us all at The Novelry so far this year.
From our collaboration as novelists working side by side - shush - beyond The Novelry prescription of discipline and routine- have popped three things in the last few weeks:
- the worth of moving between longhand writing to the keyboard and back, when and why
- journalling the big write and to keep the first draft productive ‘deep’ play
- and we have have been fairly gobsmacked that the process and it’s blues - or ‘motion sickness’ as we call it at The Novelry is so damned commonplace
We're hunkering down for another season’s write, beginning September, driving forward first or second drafts, propelled by the knowledge that writers from Steinbeck to Stephen King came to know the virtue of the 90 day write.
We know now that a draft of a novel is not only possible but more possible than not,...
"We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic." Gore Vidal.
In 2008, I was invited to the Galle Literary Festival to speak on conflict having published a work of historical fiction on The Troubles in Northern Ireland which detailed the Blanket Protest in the run up to the Hunger Strike.
For 'This Human Season' I had spent an year interviewing participants from both sides - the 'RA and the Proddies, been to the West and East Belfast on alternating visits, and sat with former prisoner officers, mothers, priests, and former 'soldiers' from either side including some of the most senior ranking members. I told the story of one mother and her son (in Long Kesh) and a former British soldier, 'looking after' her son as a prison guard in alternating chapters, one chapter female and Catholic, one male and Protestant. The book 'This Human Season' received kind praise both in...
Top tips for writing better books.
From Booker listed, award-winning author of literary and historical fiction, Louise Dean.
1. At the core of every good concept is a paradox. (Find it, and you've got a story.)
2. Don't write for money. Don't write for free. In other words, don't write to make sure you can eat, but don't spill your words without getting paid for them. Making it your living is the best way to keep your standards high. Besides no one wants anything that's free.
3. A novel is best with one timeline for the main story, written in the present tense, narrated in the third person. Now we have that sorted let's move on.
4. 'The voice' is yours. Fix your mind on someone you care about and feel relaxed enough with to be yourself, probably someone dead, and talk to them. Sing your heart.
5. In the first chapter everything changes. It's all fucked up now. But remember, you and me both know it's going to get a whole lot worse for Mrs Wright or Mr Wrong.
6. Stop making excuses...
Dear hearts don't be faint-hearted. It can be done. Don't be hard on yourself. Get your first draft down in 90 days so as to become acquainted with the story in a real sense.
I commend to you Mr John Steinbeck's good counsel:
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have...
When I was living in New York in the late 1990's, in my early twenties, I wanted to be a writer. I was writing short stories and poems and thinking about writing a novel. I decided to learn as much as I could about the craft from writers themselves so when a great writer was in town, I was there. In those days everything was possible. I used to sit on the sidewalk downtown with my notebook and sketch in words what I saw passing me by which in New York was varied and bizarre enough to fill notebooks. A man riding a bike with an elephant trunk strapped to his face. A large black woman who has roughly whitewashed her body. These things moved me terribly.
Seamus Heaney came to read from his work and after the talk he gave I jogged up to him and asked him in my naive way - I was twenty five then - what it was all about, writing? He had kind eyes and a wry, bemused avuncular manner and he said to me 'It's all about starting and stopping and starting again.' I went to hear Annie...
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