Novel Writing Winter (NWW) 2013: using research as a trigger

At the beginning of this week, on Day 14 of Novel Writing Winter, I came up against the sort of blank wall that threatened to put an end  to my project. Why on earth was my writing proving such a chore, when once it overflowed with joy, energy, and boundless new  ideas? Rather than submit to despair, I came up with some possible culprits.

  • rejection fatigue
  • the harping inner editor
  • higher goals
  • declining youth
  • cynicism about the marketplace
  • economic pressure to succeed
  • the strictures of routine
  • shrinking time syndrome
  • insomnia
  • grey skies
  • the library

Yes, you read it right — the library. More specifically, the public library, rather than one attached to a university or school. Twenty years ago, when I started out learning my craft, libraries were filled with books and not computers. And they were staffed by real librarians consumed with passion for their work, who were enthusiastic to assist you in your research. If they didn’t have relevant material in their local  branch, they would bend over backwards to source books from across England.

In contrast, the last time I visited my local library (a year ago) and asked them to order a book for me, I might as well have asked them to fetch a lump of rock from Mars. This left me two options — to sit in a noisy library at a computer (and that’s another of my complaints, as libraries used to have “silence please” notices pinned up in them) — or sit in my quiet office at my computer with a cup of tea, which I’d try not to spill over the keyboard.

So how did I tackle this week’s blank wall from my desk? I’m writing an experimental minimalist novel, which doesn’t mean it should contain little of interest. Quite the opposite. It requires me to dip into a huge pool of information my brain can’t contain alone, and then strip down that information to the literary equivalent of a pencil  sketch. But I am not a person who enjoys weeks or months of research before embarking on a novel. I prefer to see what questions it throws up during the writing process, and answer or expand upon them during short research breaks, which, as you’ll already have gathered, used to involve trips to the library!

If a writer is to research on-line at home, it requires both focus and immense self-discipline. It means not allowing social networking, emailing, or irrelevant reading material to lure you from your path. The down side of this is that there’s a danger all your on-line contacts and friends forget about you, or think you’re neglecting them (fellow-bloggers, I haven’t forgotten you and will catch up with you soon).

On Monday and Tuesday, I found out everything I needed to know — and more — about the Renaissance castrati (ouch!), the ecology of oak trees, and how to climb high trees without ropes or safety harnesses. This research gave me such a buzz, it triggered off new ideas and I could see the light shining through that darned wall.

Has anyone else resorted to research this week, and if so, what form has this taken? Did you find out your information on-line, from books (borrowed, purchased, or already on your shelf), journals, magazines, by talking to people, or experiencing something firsthand?

Novel Writing Winter (NWW) 2013 — my first week: battling with self-doubt and procrastination

Now what did I say in a earlier post avoiding showing your work in progress to anyone, especially friends or family, and trusting in your own judgement?

A couple of days ago, while participating in the English custom of afternoon tea with my family, my grown-up son, Joshua, gave me a ticking off. Our conversation went something like this:

S : What if I write my novel and everybody hates it?
J : You’ve only been working on it for a week and you’re already doubting yourself.
S: Could you have a look at what I’ve written so far, to see if it works?
J: You said you weren’t going to show it to anyone until you finished it.
S: But it’s such a strange novel. What if people don’t understand it, or find it boring?
J: You know if I look at it and pass my opinion, you’ll want to know all the whys and wherefores.
S: I don’t want an in-depth critique. I just want to know if you find it in the least interesting.
J: Do you find it interesting?
S: Yes, but I’m feeling overwhelmed by how difficult it is to write.
J: Well then, write a bit each day, even if it’s only a few paragraphs, and see where it leads.

Yesterday, I wrote a few paragraphs, the quality of which pleased me, but then I spoiled everything by checking my word count so far. And what did I say in my earlier post about not obsessing over the word count and just getting the bare bones of the story down? To check a word count on a daily basis can prove as unedifying as weighing yourself too often when you’re on a diet. From now on, it’s once a week only.

Today, I dared compare my novel to those of the award-winning novelist Rose Tremain. Yes, and yet again I’m not following my own advice. The result of this comparison was that I temporarily abandoned my latest ambitious project and spent all morning reworking a few pages of my first rather mediocre novel (written twenty years ago), having decided myself incapable of writing a literary masterpiece like Rose Tremain.

At three o’clock this afternoon, I found myself floundering with the old work and  returned to the novel I’m meant to be working on. Casting my eye over it, I decided it really wasn’t that bad — not as brilliant as Rose Tremain’s novels, but not as bad as some others.

Onward, I say…

P.S. By the way, I’ve started a page listing participants’ links so you can find each other. Please check out the page and let me know if any information needs updating, including adding any further relevant links.

Novel Writing Winter (NWW) 2013 – be my guest, Catherine Z!

Catherine Zgouras is an English Language Teacher (ELT) who writes books for her profession and is presently trying to enter the world of children’s fiction. We first met through an on-line writing colony — — and now belong to the same closed, invitation-only, writing group on Facebook.

In Catherine’s words, this is what her novel-in-progress is about:

Ilda is a beautiful but very mean witch. She zaps everyone and anyone in sight. Somehow she manages to get stuck up a pole and becomes the star attraction of her town. Everyone refuses to bring her down because of all her past nasty deeds.  Her dog, Rottenbud, goes on an adventure to bring back Priscilla, their long-lost Siamese companion. On their return, they manage to get Ilda down from the pole, but has she changed for the better?

Novel Writing Winter (NWW): countdown to January 1, 2013


I hereby give notice of my New Year’s resolution for 2013

For further information, visit my new page, where I hope to encourage as many people to make the same resolution as me and join in with some hard work and fun, starting January 1 🙂

I’ve won the Man Booker Prize…only joking;-)


Back to reality, the truth…

Fellow blogger, David Kanigan, who is a great inspiration to me and a huge number of others, has kindly nominated me for THE BOOKER AWARD. After you’ve read this post, please do check out 

The Rules of this award are as follows:

1. Nominate other blogs, as many as you want but 5-10 is always a good suggestion. Don’t forget to let your recipients know.

2. Post the Booker Award picture.

3. Share your top 5 books of all time.

As a bookworm who reads at least thirty novels a year, I found choosing my five top books extremely challenging, so I cheated and threw in two trilogies as extras–my literary equivalents of after-dinner chocolates. I’ve based my choices upon which books I’ve loved so much that I didn’t want them to end.

Top Five Novels

  1. Far from the Madding CrowdThomas Hardy (classic fiction)
  2. The Stand – Stephen King (horror)
  3. No Name – Wilkie Collins (Victorian Sensation Novel – precursor to Detective genre)
  4. Advent – James Treadwell (fantasy)
  5. Dances with Wolves – Michael Blake (general fiction) *

Top Two Trilogies

  1. Millennium Trilogy – Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked over the Hornet’s Nest)
  2. His Dark Materials TrilogyPhilip Pullman (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) (Fantasy)

* Poor old Michael Blake never gets a mention, but, for those who don’t know, the film “Dances with Wolves” is based on a beautiful novel written by one of Kevin Costner‘s friends.

My Nominees for the Booker Award

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