Thoughts One Has While Writing a Novel

writing-with-pen

This is going to be great, like Joyce, except better than Joyce – more readable. Clever but enjoyable. Touching. Compelling. I can’t wait for my first interview on Oprah’s Book of the Month Club. My characters taught me so much, you know. They really had a life of their own. Some lines just came from God, you know. I wrote that line and thought: “That was a good line”.

Actually, this writing thing’s harder than it looks. Maybe this won’t be Joyce. I’ll settle for, like, Nicholas Sparks. He made lots of money at least. I’ll be rich and famous from these words. I can’t wait for my book to be made into a film. I can’t wait to win my first Oscar.

How many words have I written today? Phew that’s loads. Time for some coffee.

I think I’ll give myself a week off. Just ‘cos.

Oh Jesus, what did I write last week? That makes no sense at all. What are my characters doing? Just walking around talking to each other? Are my characters even characters? They’re just words on a page. Is that sentence even a sentence? What tense am I in? What tense am I supposed to be in?

I think I’ll remove that comma. There. Much better.

I think I’ll put that comma back in. There. Much better.

Actually, this is kind of Joycean.

Actually, this is nowhere near Joyce, or even Nicholas Sparks. It’s probably more along the lines of the Teletubbies. If I could write something half as coherent as the Teletubbies I’d be doing well.

Somebody publish me!

~ Niamh Donnelly

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Truth, Fiction and my Grandmother’s Diary

4892370217_0ee2dee629_zThe truth is a strange thing in fiction. We students of the MA in Creative Writing are becoming familiar with the idea that fiction needs to be more believable than reality – that grey, unfathomable world.

I imagine most writers see the fictional world as superior to the real one. We are closer to our characters than to the people we touch and see. Fiction’s truth comes from empathy; whereas reality’s truth comes from fact and we would much rather empathise than be knowledgeable.

And, of course, every act of writing is an act of fictionalizing – that passing through language into the world of subjectivity. And this is the main reason truth eludes not only fiction writers but everyone who speaks or even sees; all of us subjecting the world to interpretation: passing it through the medium of language and the soul.

But that does not mean we don’t owe a duty to the truth, or at least to the capital ‘t’ ‘Truth’ when we are writing fiction.

It is (actually) easy to dismiss reality when you hear about the man who woke up at his own funeral or when the woman next door has a baby without ever knowing she was pregnant or when you run into your first cousin walking down the street in Kolkatta. The joke: “you couldn’t write this stuff!” becomes mantra, because the reality is simply not that believable.

But the best writers haven’t lost sight of truth and are not afraid of it, no matter how ridiculous it is. They know how to tell all of it and tell it slant.

My grandmother always kept a Diary. Sometimes an entry would just be a word or two: “Mary’s debs” and other times there would be a full entry recounting a day trip to Dun Laoghaire, the first day of a new job, thoughts, feelings, hopes for the future and so on. It’s not always proper to read someone’s (secret! shh!) diary but I do remember sitting in my Grandmother’s living room once and she had her hands folded on her lap as my aunt read out an entry where her daughter moves to France. We were wide-eyed with intrigue; pleased to be included in this secret world. And my grandmother didn’t mind much, all those years later.

And the intrigue that most people have for these (secret! shh!) documents made me think about the truth and the ways in which we release our private little truths. Because I think diaries are important. I think they can help us unravel our confusion about the world. And I think people don’t keep diaries enough these days. We are consuming media at an extreme rate: we blog, we create profiles and persona and characters for ourselves. We instagram our photos and filter them and fictionalize our lives. But we are losing touch with the things that bring us close to who we are.

Writers who keep diaries know themselves. They write the truth about themselves in ugly ways. Anyone who’s ever written a diary entry will know how it feels to read back years later and cringe. But the cringe factor is invaluable when it comes to fiction. Writers who keep diaries write fiction which expresses an intangible truth; a cringey truth; a truth which makes readers say things like: “is this about you?” which, no matter how frustrating, is a huge compliment.

~Niamh Donnelly