What are you trying to achieve with your novel?

Since my announcement last week, I’ve been going through old drafts of A is for Angelica and making final edits on the novel before publication. It’s made for fascinating reading.
For example, I wrote the following commentary as part of my final submission for my MA Writing. My novel would have been complete, but only in its very first draft.

Take a look:

I received a good mark at Diploma level. I was pleased with it, but one comment stood out in my feedback: ‘As seems often the case, the writer’s commentary says it all: he doesn’t know yet what it is he’s writing.’

Of course, being a writer, I sulked a little at first. But deep down, I knew that it was true. I had an idea of where my novel was going, but nothing more. I had notes that looked at what might happen, but not many, and few that were useful.

That feedback forced me to look at what I’d written and take stock. It changed my whole approach to writing this novel. Until then, I felt I’d been writing fluently, and this seemed to be reflected in my markers’ comments. But I knew that good writing alone would never be enough. I realised I had to write with a sense of direction. I had to look at my work as a whole and take control of it.

It seems such a simple thing to ask yourself, but when you’re caught up in your writing, it’s easy to forget: What am I trying to achieve?

This is what I’ve worked on between submissions. I’ve tried to maintain the quality of the writing, which I felt was good, but combine it with real purpose. I’ve been more focused and single-minded about what I’ve wanted to achieve – and what I wanted my novel to be.

I thought I’d share this with you here because a) I think my rational and pragmatic approach helped me go on to make the novel better, and b) you might be in the thick of it with your own novel and struggling to make your next move.

Many years later, here and now, I think my question still applies: what are you trying to achieve with your novel? Once you work that out, the rest of the process will be an absolute breeze.

  1. I’m really just trying to finish it. At the moment I’m jumping from one bit to another it doesn’t yet feel like a novel more a collection of scenes roughly shaped together.
    I’m currently writing two novels and have been finding myself stealing ideas from one to use in the other (plagiarising myself?), basically I’m a jumbled mess with no direction, no concrete endings planned. With this being the first draft, I also have that nauseating feeling of the editing process looming over me and perhaps I’m subconsciously dittering about – postponing the inevitable.

    That is on days when I even work up the motivation to do some writing.

  2. Good advice! I don’t really plan my novels in detail, but I do think it’s important to make notes on the theme and what I’m trying to convey. It’s not, after all, about just telling a random story, but about saying something important, expressing my view of the world in some way. The characters can evolve and start to take the plot in unexpected and interesting directions (which is why I like not to plan too much), but I need to be clear on the theme, so that no matter how much the novel changes in the writing, it stays consistent with the main things I want to communicate. What I want to achieve with the one I’m working on at the moment is to explore the theme of living for yourself vs for the world’s expectations of you, and to get a bit more personal than in my previous novels by integrating some family history into the plot.

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