image of a Christmas card


It is almost year's end and I am busy housekeeping. On the domestic front, it is all about shopping lists, menus, preparations for the festive season; on the writing side, it's about making time every day, come what may, to push on towards a full first draft of my new novel.

It is not always easy to write steadily at this time of year. December seems to be a wedge-shaped month, in which we move under an ever-increasing pressure of expectation until, like a shaken magnum of Champagne, we explode in a froth of brightly coloured tissue, stars and baubles, scents of brandy-flavoured custard and slices of plum pudding, on the 25th of December. The Christmas season is lovely, but it is a relief when it is over and January, with its atmosphere of austerity and resolve, looms on the horizon.

January is also wedge-shaped, but it begins at the pointy end and expands to infinity. It is easier to write well in January, and I look forward to the novel having a growth spurt then, although that doesn't mean I can afford to fritter any part of December. Novels grow on the 'little and often' principle, and that means adding to the word count every single day if I am to meet my self-imposed deadlines. To choose when and how you will work is one of the advantages of being a writer, but freedom has its drawbacks. With nobody to supervise your hours, or your daily output, setting goals and deadlines is an important discipline.

The truth is that not all parts of the novel-writing process are equally enjoyable. There is the honeymoon period at the beginning when you are in love with your idea, your story, your characters, and you gather material in a mood of optimism and anticipation. But writing the first draft is a slog, until somewhere past the halfway point. After that, what you have seems substantial enough to survive - for by then you have created the world of the novel and are bringing everything together towards the end. With a full draft, the real work of re-writing can begin, and from talking to other writers I know that I am not alone in finding this the most exciting part of the creative process. So I am pushing on through December and aiming for a full draft in early January. In the meantime, I wish writers everywhere the very best of luck for the New Year, and I will leave you with a quote from a recent speech by Irish writer, Colm Toibin, on the role of writers and writing.

"Our duty is to make good sentences, and that is our responsibility too. Beyond that, nothing much. But maybe good sentences stand for other things that are good, or might be improved; maybe the rhythms of words used well might matter in ways which are unexpected in a dark time."