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Writing (watercolour on board).

August 22, 2012

There’s a great quote in the Mslexia 2012 diary from writer Joan Didion:

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolours. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing. 

My novel, right now, feels like a muddy page of overlapping layers of watercolour. It began as a short story I wrote in the summer of 2008, before my final year of university. I spent the following two years developing plot and characters, eventually writing 50,000 words before starting an MA in prose fiction. After maybe two workshops, I realised my plot was far-fetched and ridiculous, and the whole thing hinged on a massive and unlikely coincidence – a cardinal sin. So I scrapped it and started again, keeping most of the characters, the premise and the setting intact, but overhauling the plot and changing trajectory entirely.

I have since enjoyed a cancan of false starts, when what I’m really aiming for is a conga line straight to a finished first draft. For some reason, it’s difficult to get one foot in front of the other and move forward. Instead I’m flailing about, kicking up the dust but failing to leave it behind. 

Part of it is, I think, due to those residual brush strokes. It’s like, all of this layering has gone on too long, and there are still areas of blank canvas I need to fill in, but there’s no point in filling in the gaps freestyle: I may as well wait until I know what I want the bigger picture to be. 

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