Obedience to the Muse 2

The first thing I noticed was the sheer joy of sitting in an armchair to write rather than at a desk. Yes, you could do that with a laptop, but somehow it doesn’t work, at least not for me. The beauty of the Neo is that you don’t have any games to lure you away, no emails, no internet. It’s just you and the words and, since editing comes later, you might as well do it with your eyes shut.

I sit with my feet up by the french doors watching the darkness lighten into dawn. By the time the sun’s up, I’m finished. It was on day 2 that I checked my word length, just to make sure that my instinct was right and that I’d done around 1700 words in about an hour and a half. The first session was 1869, the second 2016. I’m ahead!

Tempting though it is, I don’t allow myself to consult my notes. I’ve rather sprung this all on myself so there isn’t even a crib sheet. It’s just me, the Neo and the Muse. And, as always, the wonderful delight of what bubbles to the surface.

Because my characters are making this journey across southern Britain with only my memory to go on, it has become part of the story that they get lost. I did cheat yesterday and went to a map later in the day to see exactly where they are, and they are right on course, having taken in a landmark that wasn’t in my original scheme.

This is the magic of the Muse.

When the author is lost, so are the characters.

My ‘register’, the tone of the narration, is strange – simplified and formal. It seems I may be writing for the young. I don’t mind, if that’s what it’s to be.

And the real beauty of all this is not only that, at last, at last my novel is hatching, but that I have most of the day off! Time to make the piccalilli and quince jelly, time to prepare a talk for the Oxford Italian Association on Thursday, time to do a mailing for Godstow Press, time to hoover, time to write this blog. This is the life!

Will it last? I’m already getting up a bit later, going to the Neo a bit slower, convinced I have no idea what happens next, but then it all picks up again as soon as I press the ‘on’  button.

The count today, the fifth day, is 8657, 157 words ahead of target, and the name of the scheme is The National Novel Writing Month, known affectionaly as NaNoWriMo. Having looked at the site now, I’ve not signed up. I’m too busy to read pep-talk emails! And I still think there is far more to writing than word counts, but I notice that a) they talk about doing ‘the rough draft’ of a novel in a month, which is a relief and b) there are no prizes, which is also a relief. So it’s a good thing and it’s not too late to join in.

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Obedience to the Muse 1

‘You’re a writer?’ they ask. ‘So how many words do you write a day?’ Well, I have no idea, because most days, nine out of ten days, I am re-writing, and it could be years since that first draft. I’ve been in a bit of a fix recently, researching, at first legitimately, and then as a displacement activity, Iron Age Britain. With the equinox I should have started writing but didn’t. I’ve been footling with my notes for a month.

Part of the cause was a fear that I’m past it. Writing historical fiction is so very, very hard. I can’t think of a harder form of writing: getting a good story and getting the facts right and not making mistakes. I made a few in A Gift for the Magus which, as ever, only become apparent after publication (I had three readers and two editors). So despair had set in, and I’d begun to think of alternative genres. Nature writing, memoir, biography, that kind of thing.  But two friends gave the same advice: ‘Stay true to the Muse, and don’t worry about your mental powers. The less you have of those, the better.’ Because, you see, the Muse does the work, and I’d forgotten that.

The Muse, when reading the words of her servant writers, does not notice mistakes or, if she does, doesn’t mention them.

In something of a revelation, I realised that none of these alternative genres required the presence of the Muse at all. Non-fiction is just a name for the writer being fully in control of the material. Fiction… Well, that’s the name for the deep well of imagination in which a writer may sink or swim.

So these were my thoughts at Halloween, and then came an email from Alphasmart, the people who make the Neo ‘writing machine’. I love my Neo but have only been using it recently to take and process notes, clicking away in the Sackler Classics Library on what looks for all the world like a typewriter. Here is a clip from youtube:


The email from Alphasmart said something about a BLOMOJODOBO or some such thing (I don’t understand these acronyms flying about that seem to be about and by writers), some kind of competition to write a novel in a month. I was just about to press the delete button when my eye happened to catch the text of the mail. Using the Neo, it said, it was perfectly possible to write 1700 words a day, which would add up to 50,000 and a novel by the end of the month. The month which was to begin on the next day. Well, why not, I thought. It’s better to do that than to keep footling with notes, rearranging them and indexing them.

So the next day I began.

To be continued tomorrow!