Last night, I attended an ‘In Process’ Masterclass –“The art and craft of writing full-length fiction” delivered by James Robertson. The event was organised by the Scottish Writers’ Centre in collaboration with Stirling’s Makar, Anita Govan.
I’d heard James speak before at the Linlithgow Book Festival but that event was aimed at readers rather than writers. Ever since, I’ve had ‘And the Land Lay Still’ on my TBR pile but I’ve yet to get round to reading it or any of the other three novels James has written. This was a pity as I’m sure I’d have gotten even more from the event if I had more background knowledge. However, it was still an excellent session with James being open and honest about his writing career. He shared with us the fact that he writes between 5 and 7 drafts before he is happy to send a novel out into the world. But he said that he is never satisfied that a novel is perfect, it’s just the best job he can make of telling that story.
‘And the Land lay Still’ has been widely praised for its breadth of exploration of Scottish society in the latter half of the 20th century and in 2010, won the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year. And yet James was very humble about his writing talent and reassured the audience that his success hasn’t come easily.
For me, the most heartening snippet from James was that he wrote 3 or 4 novels and had many false starts before he was published. His key message was that writing is a combination between craft and graft. He reassured us that none of the writing we had ever abandoned is wasted as it all goes towards improving our writing ability. His analogy was simple and so true; a musician can’t play complicated pieces unless he has practised his art over and over again.
The talk from James was very encouraging for me as I’ve recently got back in the saddle with my writing and I’m attempting to start a brand new WIP. I’d finally accepted that the 20k words of a WIP that I’d produced for my MLitt dissertation was going nowhere. I wanted to start something fresh that came from the heart rather than the head. I’d spent a year over-thinking what I was writing for an audience of my uni tutor, mentor, class-mates, and to satisfy grades for my degree. By the end of the course, the WIP had lost its heartbeat after having the guts ripped out of it during endless revisions. There was barely a pulse left and I struggled to decide whether it was worth giving it the kiss of life to revive it or to put it out its misery and pull the plug on it.
Now, after taking a step back, I’ve slapped a DNR on the old WIP and I’m fired up again to write something new very loosely based on my own teenage years. This WIP feels right, my ‘voice’ is authentic and I’m writing it just for ME. I believe that if my motivation is right, then it will show in the writing. This time I’m not writing for my ego and looking for praise from others so success or failure is irrelevant. I’m writing again JUST because I love it and I’m doing it for the journey and not the outcome.
I can’t run 13k but I can write 13k words and that alone makes me feel good. It’s very early days and this latest WIP might not have the legs to go the distance but I’m enjoying writing it and that’s really what it’s all about, everything else is a bonus.
Have you given ever up on a WIP? Or do you stick with it until the bitter end?