The Long Road to a Novel – Part 2 – The Slow Start

A snail creeps slowly across a wall

I’m continuing my series of posts on the journey to writing my first novel The Art Trip, and this time I’m looking back at how the idea of writing first came to me at all.

It’s interesting for me to look back several years and try to understand those mysterious forces, inspiration and motivation. Maybe it’ll help me find them again in the future if a lean time comes along, as I expect it easily could. Maybe it’ll shed some light for you on your own creative process, or at least share some reassurance that someone else finds it all as wonderfully strange as you!

For me, the idea for a novel came long before the idea of actually writing or publishing it myself. I thought it’d be a good thing for someone to write about. Not me, but someone. If they wrote it, I’d read it. I had no notion of being a writer. I hadn’t written anything fictional or creative since school and although I’d always loved reading and the arts, I was sure I wasn’t a creative person myself. I knew people who were and I felt different.

So where did that idea come from? Well, for me, it sprang from being a bit lost in real life. My late twenties were a puzzling time. I was independent, I’d begun my career, I’d travelled a little but I wasn’t yet quite comfortable with myself. I met some situations I didn’t know how to handle and some people I couldn’t understand. There were things about myself I felt I wanted to change. I felt quite low.

To try to make sense of some of this, I began to write little scrappy bits and pieces, without any thought of what they were or what they were for. They weren’t a diary, or about myself, but they were things I wanted to say in some way. Gradually they became sections of a story, and from there, it grew. Writing helped to give me perspective, and by then, I’d written enough that I wanted to see my story through. Over one winter I wrote a full novel.

When I thought I’d finished, I took a little break and re-read it. I realized at once that I could do better, much better. Strangely, the realization wasn’t disappointing but the opposite. The fact I could tell it wasn’t good made me feel at least I might have some judgement, some kind of ear for what might be good.

I toyed with editing and improving that novel for a little while, but pretty soon I realized it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell any more. That novel had served its purpose and it was laid to rest in a drawer. I’d got some things out of my system and I’d learned some lessons about writing. I was going to do better.

My readiness to let my first work go might have been influenced by the fact that my next idea had already come knocking. I don’t seem to be a writer who looks for ideas, it’s more the ideas that make me want to write them.

That second idea was born from one scene in that first novice novel, but it came from a much more positive place. It tapped into those themes I mentioned, the things I read about, things which energize me, and it explored a place I love.

I took more time writing the second novel, and even more time editing and improving it. Probably a couple of years in all, fitting it in around the business of working and living. It was going to be the one. It was completely different and I think it was better. At the end of all that, though, I still wasn’t sure it was good enough. There were some challenges in it that I wasn’t happy I’d properly solved. Maybe one day I’ll revisit it and I will solve them. For now it sleeps in the drawer with novel number one.

So by now you’ll have worked out that whilst I might call The Art Trip my first novel, because it’s the first I’ve published, it’s really my third. I did say it had been a long road!

As before, the idea for The Art Trip came to me when I wasn’t looking for it, when I was right in the middle of writing the novel before. This time it sprang from experimentation. I’d been seeking to stretch myself and break up the marathon of novel-writing by trying different things like flash fiction and poetry, and by learning some creative writing skills. By then I suppose I’d decided I was a writer and ought to train up a bit, if I was going to be taking on marathons.

In a five minute exercise on characterization, when I was just having fun, I sketched out a character I loved. I knew at once that I wanted to write about him, and I was very fortunate that he came to me fully formed and bearing fabulous gifts, a story, and best of all, my writer’s voice, but more on that in a future post!

So, the start of my writing journey was slow indeed, but I wouldn’t change that even if I could. I grew immeasurably as a writer through those first unpublished novels. I learned through doing and then trying to do better. Of course I’ve learned a lot from other writers, I love to read and hear about their process, but I take a great sense of satisfaction from the lessons I’ve learned for myself.

In those years I grew into my own skin too, and beyond the passage of time and life experience, I put a lot of that down to writing. Finding something I love to do, having a creative outlet, has been truly transformative. So in my book, when it comes to creativity, it doesn’t matter when or why you start or how fast you travel. It doesn’t matter if you share what you create or if you don’t. Once you find your thing you’re on your way, and as long as you’re doing it, you’re growing.

The Art Trip

If you’d like to check out The Art Trip, I’d be thrilled! You can read a free sample on Amazon, where it’s available in paperback, ebook and in Kindle Unlimited. I hope you enjoy it, and of course I’d love to hear what you think!

Lisa Graham The Art Trip St Peter's Cupola

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