Friday, May 15, 2009

Rewriting Three Novels in Four Months!

Sometimes, it’s important to put your blog aside and everything else, including email, and make some serious time for your novel. That’s exactly what I did, and in less than four months, from mid-January to end of April, I edited, revised and rewrote 1,140 pages of three novels, while teaching full time and marking papers for 155 students. Okay, it was a bit insane, but I did prove to myself that it can be done, and it doesn’t require abandoning my family or going without food or sleep. Even if I only got through one of those novels, I would have felt great, a step closer to my goal!

It all begins with desire. I was tired of making excuses for not writing my novel. I started to sound too much like every other writer I’ve ever met who has a novel somewhere in progress or on the backburner or plan to write when they have more time. So instead of waiting for some black hole of time to magically appear, I decided to carve out a little time, at least one hour a day during the week on nothing but the novel, which I quickly upped to two hours.

An hour a day can go a long way, but if you think you can make up for a lost hour by writing two hours the next day, what happens instead, those missed hours start to snowball and before you know it, you’re so far behind in hours that first week you give up!

To be honest, I didn’t know if I could rewrite all three novels or not, since two of those novels I hadn’t really touched in five or six years and had tried to do so on several occasions. One of those novels, set in Penang, also would require a major rewriting since I was contemplating changing it from third person past to first person present.

But it’s that everyday consistency, the momentum of working your way through a book that gets the book written. Yeah, it can be slow going at first, but soon you get caught up in the story, and you start squeezing in extra minutes here and there, an occasionally staying up (or getting up early) to add an extra hour. Once that momentum kicks in, you become unstoppable. And then when you close to a deadline, I was amazed by how disciplined I could become! I would wake up in the middle of the night to squeeze in a couple more hours, and then get up at five in the morning.

Again it’s hard to call yourself a novelist without a published novel, and that won’t happen unless you’re willing to work on it, day in and day out. I know this. It was a matter of doing! Tired of making excuses, I decided in January to made 2009 my year of the novel. For an extra incentive, I added a contest dead­line, April 30th to ensure that it does happen. I was determined to enter all three novels into Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Competition. Last year one of them, The Lonely Affair of Jonathan Brady, was in the “almost finalist” category.

To get the momentum going, I once again set my sights on the James Jones First Novel Fellow­ship on March 1st since it only required the first 50 pages (plus the next 50 if you make it to the finals). And I knew I could manage that. So I entered all three, plus a fourth that’s I’ve been working, also set in Penang, which I also entered in the Faulkner novel-in-progress category last year and again this year, after another thorough edit.

Those small incre­ments of time during the week, an extra half hour here and there added up. More importantly it gave me momentum heading into the weekends, when I really poured in the hours!

I was truly amazed with the results. It can be done! The key is to get started! Then don’t focus your attention on the whole book (or on all three books in my case), just on the beginning and take it a paragraph, a page, a chapter at a time, and slowly though surely, you’ll have it completed. It’s like trying to lose weight. If you focus on the 50 kilos you want to lose, it’s seems overwhelming, but if you focus on losing two kilos, now that seems manageable. Then once you lose two kilos, you focus on losing another two kilos. Keep that up and those fifty kilos will be gone. This also applies to big projects, whereby you break it down to manageable parts.

Before you do anything though, make a commitment to yourself that you will in fact do this. I did! No com­mit­ment, you’ll back off at the first sign of trouble. (I had plenty of unplanned interruptions, including two hijacked weekends that I couldn’t get out of and a conference in Penang, but still managed to work in plenty of editing.) Then once you make that com­mit­ment, you must follow through with action every day. Soon, writing or rewriting the novel becomes a habit and that’s exactly where you want to be.

I wrote in the morning and in the evening before I checked email, and even those emails I wanted to reply, I had to remind myself, where are my priorities? If I can keep it short and get back to the novel, do so, but if time didn’t permit both, I wrote.

Remember, authors write books all the time, so why can’t you? Why can’t I? It’s a matter of choice, how we choose to spend our time. Emailing or writing? Watch­ing TV or writing? Reading the newspaper or, you guessed it. Writing.

“In the beginning was the Word…” it states in the Bible. So let’s make them your words that you plan to write in your own books. It all begins with you. So what are you waiting for? Got twenty minutes before that start of your favorite TV program or after you put the kids asleep, turn on your computer, bypass Facebook and Email, and start writing! You’ll be glad you did, especially if it’s that much-talked about novel you’ve always wanted to write!

Besides, haven’t you been talking about this for how many years? Well here’s your chance. “Saying is one thing and doing is another,” Montaigne wrote a couple of hundred years ago. Things haven’t changed all that much. People are also talking about writing their novels. Well, stop talking, and start writing. That’s exactly what I did and looks at the results of this year so far. In the first four months, I rewrote not one, but three novels and entered them into at least two novel contests, and my reward? Other than the satisfaction that I pulled off my goal which takes me even closer to my bigger goal of being a novelist, I also managed to sell a short story to Descant (Canada) as a bonus.
                    --Borneo Expat Writer

* Here's an update, showing that all this has begun to pay off, after rewriting those novels again in 2011.

*Update: The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just advanced to the Quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012!  In 2010, an earlier version of The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady made it to Round Two (another novel made it in 2011). 

**Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.


MayaKirana said...

That is amazing. That is why I so admire your gumption and can-do attitude. I am inspired! And yes, inspiration won't do nuts if I don't start something. ;-)

blue_sapphire said...

*shamefaced* I've been putting off writing my novel for years too.

A question though...when you write your books, do you already have the ending or conclusion in mind, or do you just go with the flow and let the story unfold itself?

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Hi MayaKirana! Just hope that gumption and can-do attitude pays off. I know it will; it's just the waiting! Soon I'll be back to my fourth novel that I'm half way through and keep getting sidetracked. Plan to apply what I just did to see it through completion this year (to successfully complete the year of the novel) so I can start sending it out next year.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Hi Blue Sapphire,
We've all been doing that! I just got tired of making excuses for myself. No one is going to write them for me (nor do I want them to!)

It would be nice to have a target to work toward, but that rarely happens for me, even in my short stories. I just need some place to start, to get into the story and then the story unfolds from there and often takes off in surprising ways, driven by the characters and all that's going on.

If you have a pat ending in mind, then all that's leading up to it will probably feel contrived. Part of the writing is the discovery of what lies ahead and when it starts to fall in place, it's a great feeling. Just got to trust your instincts that you know what you're doing and that you can see it through to completion.

It's too easy to stop it, but don't. Have faith that your story is worth telling and this is the legacy you want to leave behind.

christinejalleh said...

I'm in the same boat as blue sapphire :) The novel (actually two) I have in mind are quite personal - I know I HAVE to write them. Then again, I worry about the implications of publishing them...

I've started a few rough chapters but the moment I reach a contentious section, I stop and edit myself. In the end, I'm trimming down so many words, I end up with boring and blah paragraphs!

Nice going, Robert, I know YOU can do it!!!

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Thanks! I know you can too! The personal stuff is usually the best because there's strong emotion, deep feelings behind it. Pretend it's not you. It's your character that you're writing about. Don't worry about repercussions after it's published. It may never get published if it never gets written! Then call it what it is, fiction. If it's memoir, that's fine too. You are sharing so others can learn from your experiences, your mistakes. One of my short stories was about my mother being molested as a child and one of my students read that and opened up to me about her being molested as a child, something she had never told anyone before, not even her parents. She felt relieved, and after talking to me, and after my encouragement, she was able to talk to her parents. Now she's happy married. Just write your story as honestly as you can, even the really personal parts. Try first person, try third person,and see what works. I've rewritten entire novels and it helped to solve the problem. Good luck -- you can do it!