Once upon a time a friend made a New Year resolution. He had done them before, this time it was serious, like those epiphanies we have when we awake before dawn and see that our life must change; we must lose weight or change jobs or leave a miserable relationship or resign our grindingly awful job: in short, that our current existence cannot go on. And then we forget or lose courage and indeed life does go on.
This time would be different. How difficult could it be to write a novel in a year? Let’s see, 80,000 words seemed the norm, so 200 words per day would do it. I mean, seriously, 10 sentences per day? Okay, he thought [we’ll call him Tom since that was his name], let’s be strategic and allow a few days word free, still leaves only 300 words per day. Tom could do this standing on his head.
Now Tom wasn’t a stupid man. He had been to university and all so he spent the first few weeks sticking index cards of plot and characters on a pin board like the writing guides told him and then spent another two weeks sketching his great work along the classic three act drama structure. This took longer than expected, but there were months left and his target was still only 350 words per day. The argument with Harry at work was unforeseen, as was the ensuing lengthy mediation process and now it was the end of March and Tom had written nothing and had nine months to write his masterpiece; he saw no problem as he had a brilliant plot and characters with whom readers would fall in love [and he knew not to end sentences with prepositions].
Come April, the cruellest month once more, and he sat to write every night when the family had gone to bed. Something was wrong. Ideas and words brilliant on the pin board fell lifeless on the page. The plot felt contrived and the hero kept going off in different directions. His beautiful, fiery and enigmatic heroine came across as a total bitch. Tom read another writing guide and agreed that there was no point flogging a dead horse [ he remained prone to clichés] and began again. He accepted the dictum that if it bored and frustrated him, it would do the same to a reader. This is an eternal verity
So be it. Fortunately salvation was at hand [clichés were still a problem]. He had four weeks summer vacation and dispatched his family to the seaside where he would ‘join them later’ once he had knocked out his first draft: he was a little taken aback with how readily his wife agreed to this.
For a month he stayed at home sweating and grumbling, drinking beer, flirting with the divorcee next door and rattling on his computer in highs of ecstasy and lows of self-flagellating gloom. Tom discovered Scrivener and wasted a week learning how to use it, consoling himself that time wasted now would be a productivity dividend down the track [Tom worked in the civil service and knew the jargon].
When his wife rang, he had been drinking on the porch in the evening sun and reacted badly when she said she was considering ‘staying over at Mum’s for a bit longer’ and one thing led to another as it does and words long stored unspoken were spoken and recriminations old and new were marshalled and sent to the battlefield and by the time the call had ended, so had his marriage.
Tom had an inspiration. He abandoned his still born draft and in a frenzy wrote 90000 words in the next two months, neglecting work, ignoring his wife’s messages and his kids’ pleas and letting his email pile up. He wrote a searing critique of marriage and modern society in a barely fictionalised version of his own life and swept it off for feedback to a freelance editor he found on the web and then sat and beamed. He had done it and by heaven he knew it was good, written from the heart with real characters and a story which would resonate with readers everywhere. His voice was authentic exactly like the guides demanded. Yes, and he had done it with four months to spare!
Such was his exultation that he took his compulsory redundancy from work in good cheer. Soon he would be a famous writer and nothing else mattered. Mid-October he received the feedback on his manuscript. Professionally brutal it was, enumerating every mistake made and warned against in every Writing for Dummies guide for aspiring writers, starting with adjectival and adverbial excess and ending with tautology via confusing POV and purple prose.
The last I heard, Tom was in rehab piecing his life back together.
And this is why I stopped making grandiose New Year resolutions to write and publish a novel in a year, contenting myself with a major redraft of my work-in-progress. Plus the usual bits and pieces.