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Thursday, 23 April 2015

A whisper from the enemy - by Helen Murray

I am working on my first novel.

Well, it would be more accurate to say that actually, I am not working on my first novel. My first novel, or what there is of it, is saved in a less than organised fashion as an assortment of documents on my hard drive (and several other places as well - best to be on the safe side) and also on my desk in a stack of notebooks and document wallets and on scraps of paper and post-it notes. 

I was going great guns until a few weeks ago, when an old enemy came to his senses and decided to get up, dust himself off and throw a few punches. I had knocked him over late last year and he's been a bit woozy lately, but I knew he'd be back at some point, and I was right. 

He only had to whisper a few words, but they were well-chosen ones, because he knows me. 

This is what he said:
'You really think you can write a novel?' 
It wasn't just the words, it was the tone of his voice - sneering, amused, disbelieving, patronising. I crumbled. 

I have always wanted to write a novel. Novels, I should say. Plural. I have this idea for a story, and also two others, and more, I think, if I really concentrated and got hold of some of the things that play at the corners of my imagination. Ever since I was a child I have known this is what I wanted to do and it has taken me until middle age actually to do it. Or to get this far, anyway. 

Suddenly my confidence has gone. I find myself regretting that I ever mentioned to a single soul that I intended to write a book. Why did I think it a good idea to share this ridiculous flight of fancy with anyone? Now they'll ask me how it's going and I'll say... what will I say? 

I think my characters are not three-dimensional enough, my story isn't interesting enough, I don't have the skill to make a reader care about what happens. Indeed, if I am making excuses not to write the thing, then why on earth do I imagine that it might be compelling enough for someone to read?

Am I just afraid of hard work?

All that stuff. 

Now, I've read widely about writing (because reading about it is one hundred per cent easier than doing it) and so I know that this kind of thing happens to many writers. 

What's needed is determination and perseverance and a good right-hook when the enemy opens his mouth with those insidious whispers. That's all there is to it, and I should just push on and keep laying down the words. That's the thing. Novels are written a sentence at a time, after all. It's hard, this writing-a-book thing. This is why not just anybody writes novels, isn't it? If if was easy, everyone would do it. 

The reason that this isn't comforting is I don't yet know if I'm one of those people who can do it - does do it - or one of the also rans, who decided it was too hard and gave up and suddenly got their life back. 

I imagine it's easier if you have written a book already. There! You know you can do it! When book number two, or three, or nineteen stalls a little in the making, you can tell the enemy with great authority, 'Go away. I am a novelist. I know I can do this.' 

Easy. 

Or is it? Perhaps with success comes a new pressure: the pressure to be as good as you were last time. The pressure to produce another book with a tight deadline, to get good reviews... no, perhaps it doesn't get easier. I suspect I'll always find a way to make something hard even harder. 

I'd like to find out what the whole book-writing thing looks like from that angle, though. Get this under my belt. Have publishing companies fighting with each other for the opportunity to publish my novel.... but there lies another of the enemy's hand grenades: 
'You're going to invest all that time and energy into writing that book - what makes you think anyone will want to publish it?' 
Stop saying that! The odds are against it, I know. I am an unknown writer with no platform and only half a novel. And yet... sometimes, occasionally, once in a blue moon, an unknown author gets a break. Someone sees something special in their story and whoosh! a career takes off.  Maybe?  Is it possible? 

(That sound - that's the enemy. He's laughing.) 

Why does anyone do this?  I do wonder, sometimes. The angst and the anguish and the over-consumption of coffee and custard creams and the backache because my chair isn't quite right for the desk and the long hours slogging away at something I believe in without knowing if anyone else ever will. 

And yet... he hasn't put my light out yet. Not quite. 

I've only found one way to shut up the enemy, so far. To buy me a bit of time. 
'You really think you can write a novel?' 
'I don't know, but there's only one way to find out.'



Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a Researcher, Pastoral Worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and collects ceramic penguins.

She has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack of. 

You can also find her on:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01







26 comments:

  1. I know exactly how you feel. I am sure most writers could identify with this and have known it at some point in their writing journey

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. I suspected as much but it's great to know it's not just me.

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  2. I love your honesty here! This is basically my train of thought but for the memoir. I think there's something in trusting the prpcess of writing. The fact you have ideas is a huge head start. Just write the thing, worry about the world's reception to it at a later date. That's what I come back to (on a disturbingly regular basis) - just write the ***** thing. :-)

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    1. Yes, you're quite right, Tanya. Nothing for it but to write the ***** thing... I feel like the little engine that could - 'I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.' Can I do it?!

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  3. Very well said Helen. Can totally relate to this - you know how long I've agonised over and mucked about writing my book! And thanks for the reminder that books get written one sentence at a time.

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    1. Mandy, you have not 'mucked about' with your book! You are crafting it in a loving manner; honing it...' I am looking forward to reading it.
      Thank you.

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  4. I LOVE this, Helen. You're right, in that I don't know yet if books 2, 3 and 4 are any easier, but the main thing for me is that I'm still enjoying my stories. And if that's the case, who cares what the enemy says? I'll make you a deal: if you write a novel, then I'll buy it and read it. As you say, who knows how good you'll be until you try? Don't end up with the regret of never even having tried. Go for it! :-)

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    1. Thanks, Philip. It's a deal.
      You are lovely.

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  5. Well said Helen. I'm getting through so many 'how to write' books I am tempted to write a spoof... Actually when I say getting through, I mean going online and renewing them repeatedly from the library. Because every good novelist must make use of their local library, clearly. Today's blitz task is going to be to make several spider diagrams of key elements that come up in all of these books and return them on the school run. Ulp.

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    1. Ooh, that sounds very methodical. I bet one thing that comes up frighteningly often is the need to get the words down on the paper, isn't it? I, too, spend lots of time reading how to do it and, lately, not enough actually doing it. This must change.....
      Thanks for your lovely comment. Hope the way is clearer by school run time! Let me know!

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    2. I did it. Words on paper and everything. You realise that one day, when we are utterly and fabulously published we too will be able to write books on how to write books. By telling, not showing...

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    3. Hooray! Well done you. Looking forward to that day! :-)

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  6. Keep at it, Helen! Give him the old right jab. And hold onto that mantra - you will only know if you try.

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    1. Thanks, Fiona. I am feeling very encouraged. You are all so generous and lovely. Thank you.

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  7. Helen, Yes you can! That's all there is to it - Nothing can snatch away what God has created. I love the way you write, this post is like I was sitting across the kitchen table with you having a coffee. If your novel is even a patch on the way you blog, it will indeed Whoosh! xx

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    1. Tania, what a wonderfully kind and encouraging thing to say. Thank you so much. Really.

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  8. Helen, you have written the story of my life but don't let my life BE yours. Go on with your novel. I once asked God if I was wasting my time writing. The answer disappointed me - it was 'I'm not going to tell you whether you will ever have a novel published. I'm not interested in that. What does interest me is that you should stop calling yourself a would-be writer and get on with writing!' I wanted to be told my novel would win every prize going etc. etc. But I knew He was right and I'm still writing - sometimes. I think I'll call my autobiography 'The Disobedient Christian.'

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    1. Thanks, Shirley. Glad it's not just me. It would be so nice if there was a God-given guarantee of success, wouldn't it? I've asked the same question, and had the distinct sense that God said, 'Well, you're wasting time, but you're not doing much writing...'
      Best get on with it, do you think?!

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  9. Hi Helen, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels like this. Two months ago I felt like the end was in sight (at least of my first draft), but now it feels like one big mess again. I think I might print out your last two sentences and stick them on my laptop. Please keep writing! (And I'll buy it, too.) xx

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    1. Fiona, me too! A couple of months ago I was all fired up, determined, confident, energetic, even. How things change... but people here have been so wonderfully encouraging I have a renewed purpose.
      Keep writing yourself! I want a signed copy. x

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  10. Helen, I too applaud your honesty and courage in laying bare your fears. Believe me, you speak for all who have this urge inside of them to weave words. And maybe the enemy is giving you such a hard time because he knows you're about to write a wonderful book and he'll do anything to try to stop you. Don't listen to him. Keep at it, my friend. I will buy and read it and so will many more.You are a writer.. full stop!! And we love reading your words. :) x

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    1. Thank you, Joy, for your kind words and reassurance. I hope that's it!

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  11. Nothing changes. I am in process of writing the 8th novel in a series. Last week I read an Amazon review on Book 7 - a lone voice among many encouragements, saying it wasn't very good. It almost stopped me writing the one I'm on. I was on the verge of contacting the publisher to say I'd send back the advance. I almost convinced myself I had nothing left to say and had lost the ability to express anything. I know only one way out of that bind - a piece of teamwork, part done by others, part done by me. They undertake to pray for me, and I undertake to write a thousand words a day. And I let the publisher decide if the result at the end is good enough.
    May God bless and prosper your writing. May your stories be told and your work sell. May you write not just this one book but many more. May the enemy be treated to a reading of himself as a fictional character in your novel.
    Proceed, friend. You'll get there. xx

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    1. Thank you, Pen. That helps more than you can imagine. xx

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  12. I do understand what you're saying, Helen, and I'm sure many will identify with the dilemma. The thing is, though, I can't NOT write. Regardless of whether what I write will be published (and I have to confess to having several complete mss which have not yet seen the printing press) writing is not what I DO. It's who I AM. Having said that, I've had a number of knock backs from the enemy, and nearly lost my faith towards the end of last summer. Persevere, dear friend. Write because you can. Who knows, even if it's not published now, it might, one day, be discovered - like a work of art - and be an inspiration to others.

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    1. You're quite right, Mel. There's always something to write, and I'll always be writing something. The difficulty is this particular project and what I'm trying to do - and I don't yet know whether I can do it. I shall take your advice and persevere; I love the idea that one day I'll be discovered! Thanks, Mel.

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