Having just published my first novel, The Art Trip, I’m itching to get started on writing my next. The idea came to me a while ago, I have a rough plot outline and a few scribbled notes, so the most exciting and creative times are all ahead. Other than the perpetual challenge of finding enough time, it’s so tempting to dive right in and get going.
Before I do though, I’m making myself pause and reflect on my experience. Looking back might not be as inviting as looking forwards, but it ought to be valuable. I don’t expect writing a novel ever to be easy, but perhaps in capturing and understanding my road so far, I can find my way along it more smoothly in future. I have a sense, too, that recognizing the journey I’ve been on is another part of growing into my skin as a writer. Publishing a first book is still, I hope, a relatively early chapter in my writing life, and in the future it’ll be good to remember where I was at this point.
Whilst I’m taking stock, I thought I’d share my experience to date, such as it is, for any fellow writers or aspiring writers out there. I won’t presume to share advice, I’m only just starting out myself, and any writer’s experience will be unique to them. I’m always interested in hearing other writers’ journeys, though, their challenges and approaches. I’ve always found it a comfort to know the path is a little bumpy for almost everyone, so maybe I can offer a sense of solidarity, and a nugget or two of encouragement as well!
I’ll be posting about each step of my journey to writing my novel over the coming posts. What can I say? I do like to write, and I did say it was a long road!
Reading for pleasure
Before anyone becomes a writer, of course, they’re a reader. I hardly need to say more about that. Long before I thought of writing, I loved to read. I didn’t read the greatest number of books or with any kind of plan in mind. I took on everything from classic fiction, to biography, to crime thrillers. I didn’t read in the hope of being influenced, but simply for pleasure, out of curiosity and to challenge myself.
Reflecting on reading
What I did do, though, and still do, is reflect on what I read. I suppose being a reader often goes hand in hand with being a looker-out-of-windows, and books are one thing I mull over. Reflecting on what I read has helped me to understand the themes I feel strongly about and messages which, deep down, might go on underpin my stories.
Patterns in my reading
My reading is a little like my music collection. It’s eclectic but there are patterns. Some are obvious, the choices very conscious, like music to exercise to. Other patterns, more interesting, are unconscious. Why am I drawn to minor keys and certain beats? Why have I only just realized how much of my music is by Scottish artists? Once I took a step back, reflected on my most treasured reading memories, the books I re-read, which have a permanent place on my shelves, I began to understand my themes.
Love, place and culture
So, long before I ever knew I wanted to write, I did at least know what drew me into a book. I’ve always loved to read about love, although not always about happy endings. I suppose I’m as fascinated by the mystery of love as everyone else, and the intensity of it. A sense of place in a book is very important to me too. There are places I want to escape to, whether it’s an Italian city or the English countryside, and I love to discover a place through a book. I’m passionate about the arts and visual culture, and their power to inspire, and I’ll read fiction or non-fiction to connect with this passion. The way people and places have inspired me is something I treasure, and want to share with others.
My themes endure
One way or another, consciously or not, these themes all found their way into The Art Trip, and I expect they’ll find their way into my future work too. Beyond genre, I suppose I can say that these are the things I write about. So the first decade or two of my long road to a novel, all the time I wasn’t writing but was reading, was time well spent. Without knowing it, I was discovering my themes and understanding them. Now that I’ve found them, I carry them with me, into my next novel and beyond. Characters and plots I hope will spring forth, each an original creation, but they’ll be grounded more or less, in what matters to me.
The Art Trip
If you’d like to check out The Art Trip, it’s available on Amazon in paperback, ebook, and in Kindle Unlimited. I hope you enjoy reading, and I’d love to hear what you think!