Originally publilshed in Edition One (2023) as part of The Unauthorised, Unorthodox, Unofficial Guide to Writing a Novel Under the Age of Twenty column.
The first step to writing a novel?
Put the pen down. Throw your notebook across the room. Preferably in the direction of a sibling (if you have one). Log out of your computer, be it laptop or desktop, whether it be Apple or otherwise. Shut your phone off. Go outside. Touch some grass. It won’t bite. Most likely. Go to a beach, preferably one that isn’t Bondi. Boil some instant ramen. Learn a new language. Tell your family you love them. If you don’t, lie. Lie well. Lie without overexaggerated glee or trivialised carelessness. Lie with your voice, whether it be harsh as the skid of rubber shoes against gravel or sickly saccharine like canned pineapples, and not with your body, your untamed body, the sculpted blades that harden from your shoulders and the curl on your fingers against your palm. Lie with honesty. Tell your family you love them and let the lie sink in the air like the weight of a quill on unblemished paper…
I’m doing it again aren’t I?
Unfortunately, if you’ve come this far, you’re probably planning the same. Most likely already doing the same.
It’s a treacherous journey, let me tell you. If you seek a guide or at least a helping hand, then I would recommend looking elsewhere. A library, filled to the brim with the coloured stories that are willing to hold your hand as you walk down a path littered with tarnished ideas and half-decayed creations. A spot in the outback, at least several daydreams away from these blinding cities where you can still see the stars that we feeble humans have been spilling stories from a seemingly limitless basin, a cascade of inspiration dripping down the ink-black sky in white gold revelations. A back alley, the type the trams can’t touch, where walking shoes are necessary to brave the cobblestoned, vomit-stained terrain. If you’re like me and wear glasses – that are never clean no matter how many times you spray them – perhaps look closer. Refrain from squinting, offer a careful glance. Take a step. Take it back. Take two more forward and keep going.
Full disclaimer: you won’t find a novel here. You won’t find it there either.
That story won’t be with you just yet, lovingly prepared and bundled in brown paper at the end of an overturned alleyway accompanied with a slightly out of tune overture. If it was that easy, I’d be out of a job.
Contrary or even opposite to what is usual or accepted, you’ll find nothing but the urge to break from tradition. To confirm the idea, to bring life into the dead words left on unapproved pages from childhood. To take the notebook you threw across the room, transplant the words inside into an avaricious word document, and create the novel you sought to find.
Maybe you’ll find that story. Maybe the story will find you. It’s nearly always mutual, from the beginning to the end and occasionally in the middle. For that story will never be done with you either.
Stories don’t have graves nor funerals. Memorials to words long written decay at the speed of plastic, minute pieces floating around brain matter. Daydreams are infected by the story, lingering like memories, haunting remnants of long forgotten Pinterest boards and missing persons posters for characters who still found a way to exist in you outside of the pages you raised them on. Stories. Don’t. Leave.
I should know. For those of you doubting my authority on the issue of novel-writing, your suspicions are correct. I am not to be trusted. The person I used to be, worked on a project that amounted to approximately 210,000 words over the span of five-ish years. That project was completed alongside full-time study, regular volunteer work, and swim training five times a week as an attempt to keep myself “sane” when in reality, the effect was likely the opposite (it’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me). That project remains unpublished to this day.
And the story that grew from that project is stuck with me to this day.
Stories don’t leave. Sometimes, I wish they would. Only sometimes, though.
Frankly, the real trick to writing is notoriously simple yet impossible, while also being cliché to the level that you will throw this edition of Farrago across the room when you read it. It should be noted that I consciously and subconsciously refused to subscribe to this trick while writing the drafts for this column, let alone my own larger works.
The first step to writing a novel: Don’t give up.