Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Accidental Novel

I wrote a book this year. I just finished the first draft.

I have spent all year saying that this is the first year in ages that I won't have actually been working on a book and yet somehow I managed to accidentally write one when I wasn't even trying. How can this happen?

Now I know that there will be people who are furious with me. How can I accidentally write a book when so many people are struggling to write a book and creeping forward with it. I know that I will not be universally loved for falling into this book so easily. The truth is I was avoiding the book I knew I had to finish whilst promoting the books that I had finished. I have been extremely busy all year, running from event to event and bemoaning the fact that I have not had the clear time and headspace to go back to that hard book I was writing and give myself time to think about it, restructure it and finish it.

Not thinking about the hard book I wanted to be rewriting actually gave me something important. It gave me time to think.

Usually on plane trips I spend the time reading books I need to read for work or trying to write the novel I am in the middle of. In 2015 I have had a lot of plane trips. I have been flying back and forth doing launches and attending festivals and because I have had no headspace for writing that other hard book, I gave myself a treat. I bought lots of science magazines, because I love science and I read them cover to cover. Basically what I was doing was giving myself the space to think about ideas that interested me.

Because I was inspired by these new and exciting ideas I found myself reaching for my notebook and writing things. Wasted writing time is how I thought of it, because instead of working on that hard novel I was working on what looked like a series of incomplete short stories about sciencey stuff. I berated myself for not even finishing the stories but because I had no deadline, I let them sit like that, a bunch of ideas started but going nowhere.

Then the book tour was over and I got terribly depressed, not just down, really depressed. I kept thinking that life might not be as important as I had thought. I had no long term plan, no book I was in the middle of except that hard book that I wanted to continue to avoid. I had all these ideas for projects but no energy to finish or even start them. I wrote down a list of all the projects I wasn't writing and I included everything, even the unfinished sciencey stories I had been writing all year. A collection of stories about the future. Well these were the only things that seemed to have traction, so to avoid my ever-increasing depression and thoughts about jumping off bridges, I just dusted those half stories off and put them together and then patterns started to form. These weren't unrelated. These seemed to be chapters in something that was a lot more whole than I had imagined.

Now, a month and a half later, I have put time into connecting the dots. I have taken a week off work to focus on this and have been getting up early to work. Yes. This is a book. Not a traditionally structured novel, but a series of long stories that are about the future and a woman who works in narrative and sexuality in a world where we can build cyborgs and inhabit other people's memories. She is a little bit like me, only in a future time.

In what seems to be record time I have finished a draft of this book, but it is because I have been working on the idea all year when I didn't know it. This is the surprise child of research that my head was doing, whilst fooling me into thinking I wasn't doing any creative work at all.

I suppose if I had to take anything from this process the message would be for me to just relax and to trust. My subconscious will just keep working for me even if most of my brain feels tired and uninspired.

I still have to go back and redraft that hard book, but maybe  I just needed this project to clear my head, something fun, about stuff that I read for pleasure. Something that excites me. I am excited about redrafting this. I have momentum. This surprise child is off and she is running.