You haven’t heard from me for a long time. It can be good to take a break from reviewing productivity apps and to focus solely on Getting Things Done®. For me, that has meant a new landmark project: I am currently working on my debut novel, and I am well into my first draft. Let me tell you what that means to me.
I started writing when I was nine years old (poetry, short stories) and I have written—mainly in a professional capacity—ever since. Reports, manuals, school books, briefings, speeches, websites, literary criticism, e–learning modules—you name it.
But never a novel.
Writing a novel is something I have always wanted to do. At school I secretly imagined myself as a gaunt bohemian writer in a garret. But life got in the way, of course, and for that I am grateful too. I experienced the garret for a while but did not get much writing in.
In July 2011 I revisited my dream and decided to work towards making my novel a reality. I started thinking about some of the unsettling issues that I had encountered in the course of my career, working in education, child protection and mental health over three decades. I started developing fictitious characters who were based in each of those areas.
A basic plot started to take shape, but every step I completed morphed into at least three new tasks. Among my other roles, I had been a project manager, but could I manage a writing job of this scope and magnitude? When writing a manual or a report, the path ahead was usually well–defined. Here I was on my own, with just 26 letters, some blank pixels, a crate of second–hand punctuation marks, my memory and my imagination.
By the middle of 2014 I had worked on my novel only sporadically. I had been busy completing a number of writing and research projects instead. They were only short–term commitments, I kept telling myself. But they filled my days and kept my writing within its comfort zone—the clear boundaries of academic and technical writing.
I had developed a fairly detailed outline of my novel (yes, I am that kind of writer), backstories for the main characters and written about 15 per cent of the text. Then I stalled. There was a scene that I just could not nail. Bypassing it did not work either. I felt paralysed—by fear of failure. What if I could not complete the novel? What if it was beyond me? Then it dawned on me: sure, like with everything in life, there was the risk of failure. But inaction meant giving up on a dream and brought the certainty of failure.
So, in January of this year I dusted off the right hemisphere of my brain, put new batteries in my mouse and wrote some awful paragraphs that no one other will ever see. I persisted with that beachhead and after a couple of days on the foreign shores of creativity, my writing became more fluent again. My tally is now up to 48,000 words and by my own estimate this means I am 45 per cent into my first draft. And yes, maybe I will not finish this novel or maybe it won’t be any good, but at least I’m still in there with a chance, and I am improving the odds by writing every day. The working title for the novel? Resilience…
This is my invitation to you to follow me on this journey.
I intend to tell you more, over the coming months, about my Great Writing Adventure. About some of the challenges I have encountered, my learning from style gurus maybe. The tools that I use to collect ideas (Evernote), to write them up (Scrivener) and to keep track of the whole project (Omnifocus).
You see, I ended up talking about productivity apps after all.