About an hour ago, I finished.
As those of you who follow me on Twitter are probably only-too-aware, I’ve spent the last two years working on a novel.
Given that I’d promised myself that I would never attempt a novel again, this came as a bit of a shock to me. My previous attempts had all ended in a slough of mediocrity. I tried really, really hard to become a good writer, put years into it, studied creative writing at university, wrote every day, and I still wasn’t very good at it. Eventually, I had a breakdown.
Then I wrote a non-fiction book about it called We Can’t All Be Astronauts, and Ebury Press decided to publish it, and it won at the East Anglian Book Awards, and Lauren Laverne put it on the Grazia must-list, and some people liked it and some people thought I was a bit of whinging twat which is fair enough really. We Can’t All Be Astronauts became my first solo show, Death Drive, and I got good at saying funny words to groups of strangers, and I never looked back.
But I promised myself – swore in my heart – I would never go back to writing fiction. It takes so much time and effort and love, and at the end, it might – in fact, it will probably – turn out that what you wrote is bad, or, you know, fine, but not outstanding, and you might as well have spent all that time working on your backhand or learning the names of British wildflowers, because your absolute best is only so-so.
In performance poetry, you write a crappy poem, you lose – what? At worst, a day. Fuck up a novel, and that’s years of creative productivity down the swanny. I know it’s not the same as losing your arm in threshing accident or anything – oh boohoo, the middle-class white male feels creatively unfulfilled – all I’m saying is that, even to someone who makes his living as a poet, attempting a novel appeared a foolish, potentially self-destructive undertaking.
Still, I couldn’t help myself.
I had an idea, and I thought it was a cool idea, and characters started coalescing around the idea, and from the characters, stories, and eventually I decided I’d respect myself more for trying and failing than for remaining too fucking timid to have a crack.
At first, I was terrified. I was afraid of pinning down all these glimmering butterflies and rendering them dead and inert through my cackhanded dearth of craft. And guess what? When I started, I did just that! My prose was horrible. The story didn’t go anywhere. The characters were creaking amalgamations of off-the-peg period clichés. I explained some parts in far too much detail, and left other areas bland and two-dimensional. It sucked so bad. I’m not even kidding. It was fucking rotten.
But I kept going. I don’t quite know why. I suppose because of the love of my wife, and the support of my wonderful, inspiring friends, and – to give myself a little credit – a sort of bloodyminded refusal to believe that I couldn’t solve the damn thing if I just worked at it long enough. My reading habit went stratospheric. I’ve ploughed through so many novels and almanacs and biographies and pocket guides.
Anyway, the point of all this self-aggrandising blather is that today, I finished the submission draft of my novel. That means I’m ready to show it to fingerquotes people endfingerquotes.
And I suppose what I want to say is that it was worth it. Whatever happens from here on in, it was totally worth it. I read so many great books along the way, and I discovered so many new things, and I had such fun crafting scenes. I’m a much better writer than when I’m started, and a much better editor of other people’s writing. I’m sure the sharpening of craft will extend into my stand-up poetry. My respect for people who manage to finish a novel has deepened considerably. My respect for anyone who can write a novel that isn’t shit is off the charts.
And I feel chuffed that I decided to do something and saw it through. It was really hard! But I kept going. That experience will hold me in good stead for doing other frustrating, worthwhile things, like learning how to bake fortune cookies, or playing Dark Souls.
I realise it’s not climbing a mountain* or bringing a life into the world, but it was something that was important to me. And, by working on it nearly every day, I did it. Yay me.
The good news for you is, I might shut up about editing on my twitterfeed for a while. Next on my list of things to do is getting in the booth and recording my first mixtape. Because, frankly, if this avowed fiction-skeptic can rediscover his love of novel-writing, then anything is possible, even… RAP STARDOM?!!!1111
*Actually, finishing a novel takes considerably more time, effort and skill than climbing a mountain, so fuck you, haters