The Big Question: What If I Could Only Ever Write One Book?

Hauling Up Ideas…

I am now happily mid-WIP, first draft. This novel’s been through the foundation and scaffolding stage of creating an outline. Characters have been sketched and expanded upon, settings painted, much research done and, at last, I’m getting to grips with Scrivener. The first few scenes and chapters are progressing well.

And then, even more illuminating detail appears while I’m writing the scenes, or even while watching television or just as I drift off to sleep. For that, I keep a notebook and a block of post-it notes on my bedside table.

I’m learning to field all those well-meant, and perfectly understandable, questions. Q: What’s it about? A: About a hundred thousand words, I think. Q: When can we read it? A: When it’s ready to be read.

Work in Progress

I have withdrawn from JuNoWriMo and CampNaNoWriMo for June because I now see that the novel I’m writing needs rather more care taken with it than I could possibly expend during a frantic, elation-making, word-counting frenzy.

I proved to myself last November I could write 70k words in three weeks. Now was the time to, say, aim for 1 to 1.5k words a day – especially while new ideas and thoughts about it were still effervescing in my mind.

Then, one morning last week, I woke with a restless head. Ever done that? I was restless about the fact that I needed two or three particular aspects of this WIP to become clear to me before I could write another word of the manuscript.

That morning, I sat on the edge of our bed and The Big Question pushed itself through my mind in pulsing, bold, Times New Roman and red, edged in black. The question was this: What if I could only ever write one book – would this be it? Followed swiftly by these: Is this ‘the one?’ And what if it were never published? Would I still have been proud to have written it? Then I wondered what part of me was asking the question. My inner critic? My ego? Or my soul?

My well-loved but tattered, old copy of To Kill A Mockingbird

Of course, then I had all these ideas in my head. Nothing less than a To Kill A Mockingbird or a Crime and Punishment or even an Enid Blyton (more particularly, the Adventure series) would do! And then… I realised I was putting myself under considerable unwarranted pressure and being quite unkind to myself to boot. All by myself, mind – I hadn’t even had the first coffee of the day at that particular point.

These were impossible standards against which to set my own writing. I reasoned, if those writers had been thinking like that, they may never have written a thing. I wanted all the humour of  Marian Keyes, the assured flair of Sebastian Faulks, the page-turning qualities of Peter James, or the deliciously colourful writing of Joanne Harris combined with the popularity of J. K. Rowling. There. Surely not much to ask? And without so much as ever attending a book signing or bookish event! And it would have that additional je ne sais quoi that no-one else could ever reproduce. But where was it? Something indefinable was missing…

My well-loved but tattered, old copy of The Castle Of Adventure

So I had to think along that thought’s path a little further.  It came to me like this. Those writers could only write the books they wrote because of who they were, the lives they’d led, what they cared passionately about, the experiences they’d had, the interests they had and the talent they had. The lights had come on! There was a little thought bubble over my head with an exclamation mark inside it.

I realised that it had to be my inner critic, Mrs. Negatori upstairs, who asked that question and I was only setting myself up for failure or nervous breakdown. I could stop my ridiculous doubting right that minute, I said to myself in that positive, Doris Dayesque tone of voice I use when addressing fear. The very je ne sais quoi I’d thought that my novel needed had been with me all along. I should have paid more attention to Paulo Coelho.

I can only write the things I write because of who I am, the life I’ve led, the things I care passionately about, and so on. I now love, or dislike, these characters and I love the story they’ve revealed to me, enough to keep putting bum on seat, hair in a bun and writing every day until that story is told.

My well-loved but tattered, old copy of Crime And Punishment

Since the morning of The Big Question, and then the thinking it through, the things I’d thought were missing from my novel have been coming to me. I am that medium conjuring the spirits again. The answers are all there. It’s been a matter of asking the right questions about my characters, being willing to look or wait for answers, sometimes thinking laterally and then to be patient with myself on this steep learning curve and with the work in progress.

I’m proud I wrote the last NaNo novel, even if it was rather rushed, and have decided that, for now, that book can sit and wait. That and a half-completed manuscript written years back. They’re good stories but need so much more care and attention, thorough rewriting and editing – possibly a complete overhaul – if they’re ever going to be sent to an agent.

A Twitter writer friend once told me never to hurl any work away, because one day it may be revivable. When I’m ready, that is. I realise now that those two drafts were part of my novel-writing learning process – and therefore not utter failures – and I see now what they taught me.

Just Learning

In both of those drafts, I made the classic mistakes of the novice. Writing to get revenge on the villains from my past. Writing a thinly-veiled biographical account of one terrible year of my life. I’m glad I can have a sense of humour about this when I look at them now but I know this new work is not about me – it’s about them. All I’m doing is bringing them to life and allowing them to tell their story. In that, I have a duty of care. Vive la difference!

With this Work In Progress, the difference is that I genuinely care more than ever before about my characters (now my constant companions) and their story, so much that I’m determined this book will see out the whole process. From the wispy, half-formed ideas and scribbled notes that began it, to the gawky first-draft, to the later drafts and revisions, to the editing, beta-reading and beyond, to the rejection or acceptance it will eventually receive. There. That’s a commitment from me.

Back, then, to my original question. If I could only ever write one book, would this be it? I stop for a few seconds to gag my ego and Mrs. Negatori – and answer with a resounding ‘yes!’

I think I have found ‘the one’ – at least for now.


Pictures: Microsoft Office 2010, and My Trusty HTC



About Tessa Tangent

I write and I often go off at tangents. Tessa Tangent's my nickname and, at home, I'm called Tessa more than I am my real name, Heather. In the 90s, I had short stories published in magazines like Ludus and For Women. I also won a cherished second prize in a BBC travel writing competition, was the writer of a newsletter for a dry ski slope and had a newspaper article about the slope published. At the same time, I wrote half a first draft of a novel then, for reasons I may reveal, I stopped writing. After a long fallow period, I am writing again - and not a moment too soon...
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