Elaine Roberts talks about her demons, deadlines and Chapter 5.
From birth, our lives are governed by time. Our earliest memories probably involve having to be somewhere by a certain time, whether that’s attending family occasions, meeting friends and getting home again for dinner, or going to school and handing in the homework on time. We’re brought up on the importance of time and more importantly, the importance of not being late.
With most jobs, there are deadlines attached and writing is no different. As writers, we often work to them, whether they are self-inflicted or real ones set by someone else. Participating every year in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) shows what you can do and it’s fun, in a strange pressurised way. There’s nothing like a target of 50,000 words in a month and, hopefully, a rising graph to give you encouragement to continue trying to reach the target by the 30th November.
In the past, I’ve wondered if there’s something masochistic in me that makes me set my own targets and deadlines, after all I don’t enjoy the pressure it adds, or maybe I do. I definitely work better under pressure and actually having a deadline certainly focuses my mind to the job in hand, it adds motivation, especially if someone is waiting for the work to be finished.
Having said all of the above, deadlines can make you sloppy as well; I’ve definitely made mistakes that have all been down to “more haste less speed”.
In the last couple of months, there’s been a period of around five weeks where I haven’t written a word, and that has made me wonder what my motivation is to write in the first place. The demon, self doubt, has taken over, asking questions like “can I write a successful novel” or “why are you bothering, you’re useless at it.” I don’t think for one minute I’m alone with my demons, but it does stop me from moving forward. You maybe asking what brought it all to a standstill in the first place and I’m not sure what the answer is. I believe it’s partly because I like to discuss aspects of my writing with my son and husband, but circumstances meant I stopped doing that. I also tried to change the way I write. Several successful writers I know start at the beginning of their novels and work their way, in chronological order, through to the end. I, on the other hand, jump about all over the place. I write the scene that takes my fancy when I open my laptop and then ensure it joins together in a logical manner in the editing process. What have I learnt through this process? Do what comes naturally to you, I got stuck at chapter five and consequently never wrote another word for five weeks. Chapter five became an impossible barrier that I couldn’t get round or over.
Having had that break, I’m now writing again. Why? Mainly because it’s a compulsion, I can’t live without writing anymore. Mentally, I was stuck at chapter five, so I have reverted to my way of working and I’ve left chapter five to simmer in my sub conscious, while I write a different chapter.
I have two completed manuscripts with two different publishers, waiting to hear the outcome is nerve wracking and, while I believe the ultimate success is being published, it takes commitment to complete a novel, and I should also recognise that as a mark of success.