In just over a week’s time, I’ll be driving down to the Devon coast for the Torbay Poetry Festival. I haven’t had much time to think about it, because things have been hectic and I’m still trying to finish the novel I’ve been writing for nearly a year now. But I am looking forward to seeing some old friends at the Festival and also getting a rest from my many children. Not to mention my novel, which feels like a child some days, a monstrous uncontrollable child whom I love but can’t stand at the same time. I’ve been with it too long, I think, and need to let go.
One of the most annoying and also blessed things about writing a novel is how so many amazing ideas for other novels come to you while you’re in the midst of it all, struggling. Ideas which, at the time, appear to you like a flawless shining pearl in the darkness, beckoning you on to the bestseller list or towards the Booker Prize. All rubbish, of course, for once you begin a novel, those ideas which seemed so brilliantly luminous at the planning stages turn to dust in your hand and blow away, leaving you with nothing but the bare bones of a plot and - if you’re lucky - a good working title. Being inspired to write a 'different' novel to the one you're meant to be writing is rather like being Jesus in the wilderness, tempted with all sorts of goodies, if only you will turn away from your true path and follow evil instead. But as Jesus knew, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Of course the ideas that come in the midst of writing are not necessarily useless; rather, they’re like good friends who arrive unannounced while you’re busy with other things and need to be put off until another time, regretfully but firmly. So I scribble them down somewhere or create a document for them on my computer, and turn back to the novel in hand. Slowly, with gritted teeth.
While I'm away at the Festival, I may be tempted to turn a few of those ideas over in my head. But not too seriously; I will be there to hear poetry and drink wine, not to work. And my novel is not yet finished. Which means, as James N. Frey said in his hilarious book How to Write a Damn Good Novel, I need to say 'N'yet' to everything until it is.