How I wrote my novel (by Babar Javed.)
It’s fun to write a book, isn’t it?
What — it’s a mind-bending form of slow torture?
Then why does everybody want to do it?
Okay not everybody, but many people, because when you conceive of an idea and become obsessed by it, there’s no escaping, and it becomes easier to write about than to avoid. That’s what happened after recent deaths of my family and friends, my parents ageing, and I’m heading towards fifty myself. Death seems inescapable.
Thinking about death is unusual for a cheery person like me, however I found that my thoughts were rarely gloomy. I thought along the lines of those having lived well being able to die well; I realised that my life has been a blessing in many ways, and why should my death not be also?
But what about people with terminal illnesses; those suffering from Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s diseases; from depression and dementia? Surely they would think very differently from my innocent simplification. What if there was a person with all of these conditions, stuck alone in a house, suffering additionally from government cutbacks, and becoming reliant upon a dishonest carer, who progressively stole their stuff? What if their awareness of death was not linear, but abstract, and what if the dying person’s consciousness did not contract, but expanded? I needed to know what happened to that person.
At about this time, Louise told me about her writing community and the ground-breaking course she was running; her promise being that you would write your novel in 90 days. Time was of the essence, I felt. I shouldn’t waste it.
I signed up immediately and was excited about writing my story. However, it’s not that straightforward. What do you think this is, Jackanory? Your new world must be built before you can populate it. So I spent a week fleshing out my three main characters, and developing timelines of how their relationships evolved. Louise’s lesson on the “Hero’s Journey” was a good reminder to structure the story along patterns proven– over millennia! — that ring true. Also her instruction to bear a paradox at the heart of the story gave the narrative a life of its own. A paradox can never be truly resolved, merely considered, providing an effortless momentum. So I never got stumped by what was going to happen next; the question — and answer — always appeared.
Saying that, I am a control freak. I had mapped out the entire story from Chapter 1 to 70, each of a thousand words, thus telling a 70,000 word story that would be completed in (plus or minus) 70 days. But that’s just me. I like to plan carefully and then stick to that plan. I know this may not be a fashionable way of behaving in these days of spontaneity, feedback and agile methodologies. But once I lay out my vision I have to keep moving. To stop is to die.
The early lessons added depth to my flow. For example, Louise instructed me to consider many stories — my story, the reader’s story, and the characters’ stories, each of which was related but not the same. Also I learnt that novels are essentially autobiographical; people write what they know. I lost my fear of being too personal, too close to the bone, too….. truthful.
A lot of death has occurred in the three months that I’ve been writing this story. There have been brutal attacks and tragic fires. The many poor people caught up in these events are also part of my story, reinforcing a need to celebrate life, rather than focussing on the darkness that envelopes us all.
I gave up my outdoor exercise regime for three months and wrote pretty much every day, and I had the first draft of my novel ready in 82 days. Then I was able to read the whole thing through and spend a week doing rough edits. As promised it was all done in 90 days.
I asked Dan at work if there was a quick way of printing my story to look like a book. He said sure, and tasked Alex with a new project. After Axelle sorted out some technical issues with the printer, we were ready to go. Following Happy Hour cocktails with my fellow writers, my first book-to-be was printed and ceremonially displayed — by me — at the world’s greatest bookshop, Waterstone’s Piccadilly.
However the structure’s not right: it’s too linear at first, and then too intense. Also the dialogue needs work. The characters’ relationships require fine-tuning. I should also ask Dr. Schatzman about the medical conditions. There’s a lot to be happy about but also a lot to be unhappy about. I guess that’s life, and death.
Now I must set my alarm for 6am tomorrow and start working on the next draft.