‘You have to write the first draft of your novel to find out what the b***** book is about.’ Tom Keneally at the 2010 Adelaide Writers’ Week.
Writing the first draft of a novel or short story can be daunting, scary, puzzling, confronting or fantastically exhilarating. Often all those things at once!
When I was writing my novel last year I was pushing the limits of my writing abilities. I had a strict deadline, I was recovering from a serious illness and I was frankly terrified that I wouldn’t get finished on time. The adrenalin was pumping overtime, but I did it. I found that once I built a little momentum in the first few chapters, the story and characters took over. Where normally I can often struggle to produce a thousand words in a day, I found that the momentum built to such a degree that I was sometimes churning out over 2000-3000 words in a day. The feeling was great and the story quickly took shape, structure and character.
I did have a sort of outline for the story. I didn’t have a strict plot as such. Instead I let the story write itself. Events I had planned had interesting consequences that I hadn’t thought of in the planning stage. I find that this form of writing works best for me. I’ve never been one to plan out every element of the plot, every aspect of each character or even how it will end. In that I can understand the Keneally quote at the beginning of this article. Writing a novel or story can be a journey of discovery.
On the other hand I can also understand those writers who must plan every part of the storyline and do extensive character studies before they write even one word. This process is distinct from the research stage. I had to do a great deal of reading in my research phase because my novel was set in a country where I had visited but not lived. I didn’t take many notes from my research. Instead I preferred to merely absorb the culture, the environment and the nature of the people.
Adelaide Writers’ Week 2010
On a number of posts over the last few weeks I have written about the writers who were speakers at this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week (click here to read more). I have also written about some of the things Australian writer Tom Keneally had to say. Here is another quote:
“I am still in a marriage with one book when I fall in love with another story.” Tom Keneally, 2010 Adelaide Writers’ Week
I know that feeling well.
I start off all enthusiastically on my work in progress. I marry myself to The Story. I do everything possible to please her, pamper her and see her grow in beauty. I am head over heels in love with her demands, spending long hours wooing her, meeting her every need and seeing that nothing gets in the way of our delightful nuptial bliss.
Then unexpectedly, with no warning sirens blaring, another Story comes mincing seductively along the path, knocks provocatively on the door of my heart and whoosh…. I am carried off in flights of imagination, falling madly in love with this New Story. Something has triggered my heart into believing that this New Story is the Love of My Life.
In this situation I know I have to remain faithful to the original story. I need to keep focussed on what I am doing to the exclusion of all else. A very practical way of dealing with this new distraction is to spend a few minutes jotting down the salient points of the new story. File it away – in such a way that it is easy to locate again in the future. Then forget all about it. She will sulk, she might whine and carry on for a few hours but eventually she will settle down and bide her time until she can take her rightful place in your life.
Adelaide Writer’s Week 2010
I had the privilege of hearing Australian writer Tom Keneally speak several times during this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. On each occasion he was in fine form and proved to be not only a brilliant speaker, but also funny and instructive – often at the same time.
I didn’t take many notes during the week but preferred to just sit, listen and soak up the wonderful atmosphere while listening to such a fine parade of great writers. I did take a few notes for one of Tom’s talks.
“I am the one who needs my books – the world goes on perfectly well without them. I am no longer under the delusion that the world needs my books.” Tom Keneally, Adelaide Writers’ Week 2010
This is a sober reminder about the world and about books. He is perfectly right, of course. The world will continue functioning as it does without that novel or short story or poem you are slaving over. It will make no difference at all if that piece of writing is never published.
Tom is also wrong
At the same time, I believe that Tom is also wrong. The world may not need that novel, non-fiction book, sonnet or article, but there is surely someone out there – perhaps only one person, or a handful of people – whose lives can be changed, influenced or even enhanced by what you write. This is why we must, as writers entrusted with divine words, always strive to write the very best we possibly can.
Our writing can – and should – make a difference.
Adelaide Writers’ Week 2010
On the first morning of this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week I was suddenly struck by the importance of the opening session. The panel on stage was a who’s who of Australian literature. Chair of the session was novelist David Malouf. The keynote speaker was novelist and historian Tom Keneally. The chairman of the Writers’ Week Advisory committee was South African born but now Adelaide resident, novelist and Nobel Prize for Literature winner John Coetzee. And finally there was renowned poet Tom Shapcott, who received the honour of the whole week being dedicated to him. His latest book of poetry was launched soon after the opening.
What a line up of talented, prominent writers!
It was inspiring to be in the company of such eminent men of letters.
Today I attended the first day of the Adelaide Writers’ Week for this years’ Festival of Arts. This is an important and well attended part of the biennial Adelaide Festival of Arts. This time it’s the 50th Anniversary of the Festival and this week our premier announced that from 2012 it will become an annual event (a promise if he is elected again in a few weeks time!)
Adelaide Writers’ Week is regarded highly as the leading festival for writers in Australia, and one of the best in the world. A large group of international and Australian writers gather here every two years for a feast of talking about books, writing and literature.
I’ve only ever had the chance to attend once before and I am the poorer for this. (Because sessions are held during the day I couldn’t attend while I was still classroom teaching a few years back – in another life.)
Today the festivities were opened by none other than Tom Keneally (Schindler’s Ark), a very engaging and entertaining speaker. I didn’t realise he had such a clever wit and sharp humour.
Below I’ve included some photos of the setting in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens, a five minute walk from the heart of Adelaide.
I am planning to attend again tomorrow and later in the week. I’ll bring more reports as we go.