The novel manuscript’s needs are great, and constant. Novels are anti-social creatures that don’t want you to share yourself with any other manuscript. You return to it again and again, but it invariably wants more hours from you. You love it, and hate it. When you’re together, you feel boring. Only occasionally do you feel a frisson of excitement. Yet you hang on. Writing a novel is isolating.
I’m in a Zoom writing group.* We spend most of the hour and a half writing, with some chat time before and after. Last week a new writer joined in. She said she’s been writing a novel for years and has been having feelings of aversion and anxiety about writing. Her novel has been taking so long, she said.
So, how familiar does that sound?
My suggested solution is this: be polyamorous. Have more than one passion project underway. Two novels. Or a novel and short stories. Or a novel and poetry. Really a novel and anything short and creative that will get you away from the novel’s demands. Read that new short work aloud at a literary gig, get it published in a journal, or submit it to a competition. Write creative works that will come into the world faster than a novel can. You’ll feel good.
The long novel with its years of invisibility means no ego gratification, no recognition. Friends might even say, ‘Are you still writing that?’ They’re genuinely perplexed.
Around the time of writing my second novel Provenance, the evil tenth year, the children’s writer Jenni Mawter told one of my creative writing Master’s class about how she’d have sometimes two or three manuscripts out with various publishers. She’d work on revising one while waiting to hear back about another; begin a new project then put it aside to revise for publication a manuscript under contract. The point she was making that day was to not take rejection personally. The publisher wasn’t rejecting you, they were just saying no to that particular manuscript.
But for me, hearing about her strategy for managing rejections helped me see how isolated I was in my writing of Provenance. I didn’t have other manuscripts, short or long, underway, and I wasn’t confident about my prospects of getting it published.
I was then gifted with a potent idea for a new novel. The idea came to mind as I was walking down a street in Lane Cove on my way to a marriage counselling session. By the end of the day, I had a title that inspired and focused me: ‘The Happiness Project’. The new book was my own happy project to cheer me along. I started work on it, dividing my time between it and Provenance.
I discovered something very important. Having two projects, one almost done, the other very new, gave me confidence and hope. In the new novel manuscript, I had something to look forward to. We were still in that early enthusiastic, uncritical flush of new friendship.
After Provenance was published, I focused on writing Hopscotch. I’d learned that value of having more than one project underway. Now my other project was the radio drama Dear Dr Chekhov. It was broadcast on ABC RN the same year that Hopscotch was published.
Be the writer who has a portfolio of works underway.
It’s a very nourishing thing to do for yourself. If you’re a short story or poetry writer then really there’s no excuse: get a few stories started, ready for revision after a rest, finished, and in circulation.
I’m now writing Raven Mother, a memoir-biography. It’s also a major undertaking of a few years’ work. While working on it I’ve written an online narrative game with a research team from Macquarie University, The Great Fire, a noir visual game story. That was a new challenge, and a lot of fun. I was also writing a few shorter works — which I’m now revising, adding to, submitting.
On the change of name from ‘The Happiness Project’ to ‘Hopscotch’: By the time my manuscript was ready for publication, an American self-help writer had published a book with my book’s name. I was not happy about this at all. But, I got out pen and paper, started on lists of names and found my way to the very apt life-hack, Hopscotch.
*The daily writing group meets via Zoom each weekday. We have a quick chat, then write, then meet again in an hour and fifteen. It’s an initiative of Varuna the National Writers’ House for Alumni Writers, that began during the first long Melbourne COVID 2020 lockdown.