Story timing

Stephen King writes his entire first draft in 3 months. He can fluff around for months before with the research and general procrastination, but once he starts on that first sentence the clock starts ticking.

For those of us who can take ten time that long (and longer) to write a novel, it is not obvious why (beyond fiscal and contractual reasons) an author would force themselves to do that if they didn’t have to. I am now starting to wonder if part of it is to do with the growth of your characters.

Even when I am not actually working on a novel the characters come and visit me. Snippets of story reveal themselves and play out, sometimes the same way, often differently, and each time they shape the characters slightly. If you are just thinking about it, not writing it down, you can miss these nuances that develop your characters.

Last weekend I read from start to finish the chapters I had written thus far for a novel I have decided to focus on for the rest of the year. Shockingly, I could see a lack of continuity in the behaviour of the characters. It didn’t help that I had written earlier chapters after later chapters to insert foreshadowing and do some proper introductions that were missing in the original first chapters.

Many of the chapters were written with huge gaps of writing time between them (sometimes well over a year). During those writing hiatuses I had continued to think about the story and grow the characters. So when I wrote my new first chapters, the characters were more developed and gave more of themselves than they did in the (now) fourth and fifth chapters.

If I had written the whole thing in three months this would not have been a problem. I would have watched them grow on the page and my readers could have watched them with me. If I had written the whole thing in three months when I first started writing it, it would have been a VERY different story, the characters would have ended up in different locations and the end would have been completely different, but that would have been the right story for the time I was writing it.

So I have tasked myself with fixing and finishing this novel in six months (Stephen King writes full time, so I figure I can double his timeframe). So let’s see where the characters go this time, and I’ll record the right story for them now.


Hello, my name is Natalie, and I am a bookaholic. Last week I bought three books. This week I bought three books. I also borrowed one from the library. I have now returned it.

We have the best kind of curse near me; a cheap, well-stocked, high-turnover second-hand bookshop. They have so much stock that they even have a freebies rack out the front with slightly damaged or sat-in-the-shop-too-long books.

Their kid’s books (including YA) generally range from 50 cents to a dollar, adult books from about four to six dollars (even for hardbacks). I generally spend about $10 when I visit, and now my bookshelf is bulging. Even going to two and three layers of books deep it is full.

For any of you who are in Adelaide, this book shop is called The Book Shed and it lives at the back of the car park for the shops in Stirling, near Apex park. I would highly recommend you drop by, unless you have flown in and you didn’t pay for luggage. You’ll need it for your return trip if you visit the Book Shed.

What’s even better is that all the money goes to charity and all the workers are volunteers who are also lovers of books. They are always happy to have a bookey chat, or help you find what you are looking for. It’s like going to a library where you pay the late fees up front and never have to worry about returning the books.

Which now lands me in a wonderful dilemma; how on earth am I going to read all of these books? I might just have to give up television, housework and maybe eating so I can get all my reading in. What a wonderful problem to have.

My name is Natalie, and I’m a bookaholic, but this is one addiction that I have no desire to kick.

Looking back

The other day I needed to find a map I had drawn up for my fantasy novel. I drew it about five years ago, so I knew it would be stored somewhere in ‘the box’. This is where I have heaped all my miscellaneous writing and allied writing stuff going right back to when I was at high-school.

I have been lugging this stuff around from house to house knowing that I didn’t want to throw it away, but not ever bothering to open it up and go through it. So my ‘quick look’ to find the map turned into a two hour review session. I found stuff I couldn’t even remember writing!

In there I found the beginning of, and detailed plan for a vampire romance, written when I was just 16 years old, about 16 years before Ms Meyer took the world by storm! Now I’m not delusional, my 16 year-old writing is full of flaws (or should I say more flaws) and it is by no means best seller material. Also the market probably wasn’t there or waiting be tapped back then. The point is that I have dragged this story with me everywhere and hadn’t run an eyeball over it for more than 20 years.

I found stories I want to finish in this box. I found stories that should have been written as ‘flash fiction’ – a form that didn’t even formally exist when I penned these (yes, penned, not typed). And so far I’m only half way through the box!

How many other little gems have I forgotten? All this time I have been carrying around this work thinking it was just a personal history to see how my writing had progressed over the years, when in fact it is like a little veggie patch of ideas. Some can be left to the snails and earwigs while others just need a little light and fertile imagination and they could grow into something I would be proud to harvest!


I know no less than 5 Scotts. Not people of Scottish descent, men called Scott. I have two good friends called Kirsty, 3 Georgies and an Ela and an Ella. I could probably go on, but hopefully by now you are collecting your own groups of names of friends. You see my point.

Yet that never works in a novel. The cold, hard reality that we don’t actually see the characters with our eyes, and we don’t want to be reading “raven-haired Bruce” did this, “Bruce with the black hair” did that, and “Bruce, with his dark looks…” every time we need to read about the Bruce with the dark hair as compared to Bruce with the blond hair.

I can definitely see the practicalities of that, and I can see why authors avoid it, but now I feel like the gauntlet is thrown down. I’m going to put two people with the same first name into my next story, just to see if I can get away with it.

Which brings me to another name thing I’ve noticed, with the exception of Paul Haines (who used this to great effect), you never see characters with the same first name as the author. I don’t think I could ever put a Natalie into my books, even if I was writing under a pseudonym, it would just be too weird. As a reader, you can’t help but wonder if the writer has the same traits as their name-sake (which Paul Haines loved to play with, creeping out the more delicate of us in the crit group).

Thinking about it now, it would feel like I was doing a little cameo in the book, like Clive Cussler likes to do. But to have a completely unrelated-to-me character called Natalie, I don’t know if I could do it. I guess the gauntlet is down on that one too. Now I have a pair. I’ll try to inject a Natalie into my next story without making her a) me, b) fantasy me, or c) the exact opposite of me. In fact, I’ll try to make her no relation to me at all.

I’ll let you know how I get on. In the meantime these gauntlets might come in handy for some gardening…

Banishing guilt

Two weeks ago, in an effort to get myself writing, I did something that at first seemed completely counter-intuitive; I gave myself permission not to write. Yes, after so many months of setting weekly writing goals and sometimes meeting them amazingly well, and other times crashing and burning, I finally realised what was really annoying me about the whole process. It wasn’t the meeting or not meeting my targets, it was the constant guilt.

I would be doing something social and feeling bad about not writing, I would drag myself to the computer and feel bad about not having gone there sooner. It all seemed like a sea of guilt that ebbed and flowed but never really disappeared. For a very long time I’ve actually believed that not-writing-guilt is part of being a writer, but a fortnight ago I had had enough. I gave myself ‘the night off’.

It was wonderfully relaxing, I had a good time with friends then came home and went to bed early. There was no hint of guilt, in fact there was even a little spark of excitement knowing that I didn’t have to do anything. The next night I was refreshed and eager to head to the computer to put in a couple of hours of solid work. Why had I not thought of doing this before?

The fact is I’m not a full time writer, but I do have a full time job, and I have friendships to foster and family to support, so I shouldn’t feel like I need to give every spare moment to the keyboard, some of that time needs to be spent on other stuff in my life.

The guilt I felt about not writing was actually building up the pressure for the times when I did write, so much so that I had trouble writing. I’m sure a bit of a fear of failure was starting to creep in because I worried that when I did sit down to write that I wouldn’t be able to do so. There is nothing like a relaxed, refreshed mind to get the writing juices flowing, and mine was not relaxed.

So I now have three nights a week off. If I feel like I want to write, that’s fine, I can, but no more of this silly ‘I should be filling this empty hour with writing’ guilt (well not on those three days at least). So far it is working well, I’m sitting down more regularly for longer periods than I have in a long time. Let’s see if it sticks.