Crisis at the Novel Factory!

And I make no apologies for the overly-dramatic title. I do feel I’m at a crisis point. (I was going to put an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence, but decided having ‘dramatic’, ‘crisis’ and an exclamation mark was perhaps too much.)

HeadacheAs anyone who has cast even a cursory glance over my posts during the last few months will know, I’ve been struggling to write my current novel. I’ve forced myself to push on even though, at times, every word has been torment.

I’ve got three point of view characters – Marsha, Ollie and Helena. Ollie is the pivotal figure who plays a significant role in both Marsha and Helen’s stories. But Marsha and Helena? ‘Aye, there’s the rub.’ Their plot lines have to be forced together.

Back in September last year, when it first came to me (or first acknowledged to myself) that there were problems which weren’t to do with procrastination, writer’s block, the lovely summer etc etc, I wrote a list of advantages and disadvantages for continuing with the current plan. I wrote then that if I continued with the Marsha/Ollie/Helena set-up, the issues, relationships and psychological states would not be explored in enough depth. I asked myself a key question

Have I got two novels and I’m trying to squash them into one?

Despite this, I’ve persevered. But in the months since then I’ve managed to write only three more chapters. If I’m kind to myself, I can say that period included the launch of

the pian player's son v.8 flat

with all that that entails, so it’s not surprising I didn’t manage to write more.

If I’m facing the cold, hard truth, I think I must accept that there are two narratives in there. Two narratives that are suffocating each other.

Last week, hoping to find a way out of my trough, I went to see editor, Lorna Fergusson at Fiction Fire. Without knowing my thoughts, Lorna had written in her notes ‘interest spread too wide and therefore dissipated’.

So, that’s it. I’ve written 50,000 words – can I go back to the drawing board?

open book

Do I have a choice?


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  1. Derek Taylor says:

    So sorry to hear your troubles have come to a head. But perhaps that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t dream of advising whether you should split the MS or not. Only you can decide that. But just remember what we saw scrawled on a Spanish wall this week – ‘Every storm dies down.’

  2. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Derek. It’s a daunting task, but I think I have to face it. Love the Spanish graffiti. It reminds me of Macbeth’s line ‘Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.’ Given what happened to Macbeth, perhaps I shouldn’t find encouragement in that, but I do!

  3. Christine Steenfeldt says:

    I know that you’ve been struggling for some time with this novel. Perhaps the fact that you feel you have to ‘force’ Marsha and Helena’s plotlines together is telling. As the previous comment says, only you can make the decision to split the narrative but perhaps if you do take that step, you might find the writing will come more easily. It’s hard though- a bit like Solomon chopping the baby in half!

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the support, Christine. Solomon and the baby? That’s even more dramatic than I was feeling about it. But I think I’m coming to accept that I have to do it!

  5. Polly says:

    Just do it! You know you want to… and anyway, I’ve just read your FB post, you’ve made your decision 😉

  6. Lindsay says:

    You’re right, Polly – I have decided. Now I’m vacillating between the two narratives!

  7. Lisa says:

    Lindsay, I really feel for you, and at the same time am joyfully shouting ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ because it seems like you have uncovered the reason for the recent procrastination/low productivity/intuitive stalling – and the solution, however difficult that may turn out to be. I hate the phrase ‘writer’s block’ because there are so many reasons for wanting to write and not doing so, I think it does a disservice to a genuine and perhaps necessary creative stall.
    On the surface, I’m committed, I’ve written 50k words already, and the plot seemed to work when I thought of it a few months ago, so why has my productivity ground to a halt? (Sound familiar?) And my financial support will come to an end in 8 weeks and I have to finish this novel in that time, then find a publisher… no pressure! Meanwhile, underneath all that, there’s a small intuitive voice saying, but what you’re doing isn’t right… the plot doesn’t work… that thread doesn’t belong in this book… And we try really hard to squash those thoughts but one day… up they come, and if we don’t listen the creative spirit stops us working anyway, because it knows that we’re going the wrong way.
    Intuition – ignore it at our peril!

  8. Lindsay says:

    Lisa, thank you so much for your comment. I also feel for you as we seem to be on a similar journey. Your thought about the phrase writer’s block doing a ‘disservice to a genuine and perhaps necessary creative stall’ is so insightful and relevant. On the surface you are commenting about my dilemma, but it sounds as if it’s also yours. Don’t know whether it helps, but when I first tried to consider this possibility on a course last September, Sarah Dunant – one of the tutors – having already commiserated and said she had been there herself, then said to me after some discussion ‘Consider yourself hugged’. So, here’s a virtual hug in the light of ‘the small intuitive voice saying – but what you’re doing isn’t right.’ That voice? It’s probably right!

  9. Lisa says:

    Lindsay, hug gratefully received and returned! We do seem to be on a similar journey – your last few blog posts have been uncannily relevant. Well, I decided to take my own and your advice… My novel had a major thread about a magical book; the book framed the story, and was even the title of the novel. I couldn’t quite believe it when I realised the book thread didn’t belong in the novel any more. The decision was agony, but now I’ve made it, I feel so energised, and have actually done some real work for the first time in weeks. Joy!

  10. Lindsay says:

    That’s brilliant news, Lisa. So glad you’ve been able to make the decision, despite the agony. Glad to hear your energy and creativity have returned. My decision is also made, and I feel better for it. But a bit of agony remains as I vacillate between my two narratives. Which story to write first?!

  11. I didn’t want to say this earlier because I couldn’t guess whether this really was two novels fighting or whether it was just one particularly rich novel. But if you’re havering this much, throw the 50,000 words away and crack on with the new ‘un.

    It’s only 50,000 words. And I think you just threw something at me for saying that, but you’ll be back up to that count in no time and you’ll never look back. Promise.

    But I DEMAND that whatever doesn’t make it into this novel, gets into the sequel.

  12. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, William. The one good thing is that I don’t have to ditch all the %0,000 words. Because the two narratives exist in parallel for the first half of the novel, I can probably make use of at least 15,000 words of the original in the two separate novels. And I don’t think one will be a sequel – they will be two distinct novels. But I’ll have to see how it goes. Fingers crossed I can make it work.

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