I read a wonderful book by Caroline See called "Making a Literary Life". About her experience living as a working writer and sadly, also describing taking care of her husband who was dying. I also read another book, about the mechanics of novel writing, by a mystery writer who used a formula. These two books I read in preparation for trying to write a novel. Following the novel writing tips in the two books, in advance I wrote out character sketches for the 15 or so characters that would be in the book. Next, I also jotted down the 15 or so primary scenes I imagined. Then I titled the chapters and generally sketched what would happen in each chapter. That took me about two months.
I read once that John Irving often took as long as a year to plan out a book. I can understand that, reading his complicated novels, which I enjoy very much. At one point I read the book "Cidar House Rules", saw the movie and took the time to read the screen play, as he had written the screen play also. This was a great lesson in how novels translate to the big screen. I have a more complicated novel in mind. With these two novel writing experiences behind me, I am beginning to feel more confident to grapple with something more intricate. My final step was to actually begin writing the novel. I had the general novel in my head for two years and had mulled over different endings and scenarios. I had delayed the start of my novel due to my needing to finish my masters thesis first. It basically became a cross between connecting the dots and stream of consciousness, with flourishes of incredible detail.
I was very intimidated to get started. Who am I? I asked myself to pretend to be a novel writer? Isn't that for special people who are super intelligent and fabulous people? I didn't feel super intellegent or fabulous. I saw myself as of normal intelligence and looks with a flare for seeing things as an observer and an active imagination, loved to read and movies. The first time it entered my head to write was starting in my middle thirties. A full idea to write didnt emerge until I was 38 and suddenly I was trying to write my first novel at 42.
I saw the NaNO writers group online, the full name is National Novel Writers Month. Noticing that they during the month of November they had a writing contest of sorts. Where people met in pods or by themselves and tried to write 50,000 words in one month. I signed up. That was the fall of 2006. I did it. I wrote the 50,000 words in one month with the support of my step-daughter Manon and my husband Jean-Claude. My infant son Frederic was 6 months old at the time and just sitting up, he spent the month on my lap. Basically when he started walking the following May was the end of the my writing for a while.
Writing the first 50,000 words was basically my novel. I did go back and fill in atmospheric description bringing the novel up to 80,000 words. I had read somewhere along the way that they typical novel in an agents slush pile was 100,000 words. I always figured if I settled down for a thorough revision, I would bring it up to 100,000 the golden slush pile number in my head. That following July I took a class on how to find an agent and this experience helped me see how fewer than one percent of novels submitted, acheive being published. My chances lessened as I was getting a late start. People who had gotten some kind of media attention or connection in the publishing industry, had better chances of getting published. Also, even the children of movie stars with all their fabulous connections often do not make it in the movie industry. If I was going to take my writing seriously I quickly realized it was not going to be about fame or money. It really was going to be about my need to create and tell stories.
So, like any glittery type of field: movies, writing, art and stand up comedy, there is a certain hype that goes with it. I loved what Caroline See, wrote about being a writer. She mentioned that at least if you are in theater you can hand out those little billets. Artists make a sculpture; that their mom can show their friends. Stand Up comics bomb out in front of everyone at the local comedy club. Writers, what a horror, they don't have anything to show for all that quiet time,and rarely get any recognition.
Carloline See, in her book spoke about writing 1000 words a day. I envy these types of writers. I soppose if I had a steady income I could write like that. Not how I did it 50,000 words in one month and than with an infant son, writing inbetween feedings and taking him outside. That was how I wrote my first novel. Someday I would love to have enough money to write in the morning and do errands in the afternoon and spend the evening with my family.
My next step after taking the agent class in July. The first working draft in hand. I sent out 10 letters to agents as suggested in the class. It was recommended we send a self stamped address envelope with the letters, and I forgot. So I received email rejections if any at all. In the class they suggested keeping a notebook of my efforts. The following year after having written a second book, a sequel of sorts. I saw another class that you could take and actually meet an agent, who would offer you council and advise about your book.
I met this adorable, charming woman who reminded me of Carrie on Sex in the City. She was American and lived in England. She suggested I work on my book, very hard for six months and send it to her. I have never done this, although, I sent her a Christmas card the following winter. Soon after I took a full time english teaching job and my son was two and I didn't have the focus or concentration to make any progress. These last two years have been challenging, as I have begun to work in research now. My new work environment is all in french as I live in Paris, my old office was all in English. My son is four years old now and I am better adapted in France. So, I feel more stabilized and ready to write seriously. I feel grateful I was able to write those two novels during that hurly burly of having my son and adapting to a new culture. My objective writing these blogs are to talk about the writing process, and current events in general, as I read the New York Times and get all fired up with opinions. Perhaps other topics?
So, here I am now needing to revise my novel "Almost Paris". The novel is about a 38 year old women who is mentored by a 76 year old man in Paris to be a writer. A pygmalion novel of sorts. Not a romance story although it could have been like that, if they didn't have such an age difference. The novel is set in Paris in 2002-2003 during the ramping up of the Iraq war. The main character is named June, tall and bit overweight and a nurse from the southwest with creative tendencies, who comes to Paris to take an art class. The other main character is Henrich a german immigrant to Paris after WWII. They meet and seem to have an easy communication and due to both being a bit lonely team up and have a great year together and several adventures.
My hope is to continue writing here about June and Heinrich as I complete my revisions. Also to begin thinking about revising the sequel novel, after June meets Jean-Paul.