The Growing Pains of Chris Stanley, Aged 35 (and a bit).

You can call off the search party, folks. I'd heard that people were so distraught that my blog was on hiatus that calls to the Samaritans trebled. I'm not one to blow my own trumpet, but I've had emails from both the Leave and Remain campaigns, bricking it in case we go into the EU Referendum without a word from me regarding overuse of adjectives or whatever.

Well, I'm sorry, but it was for a good reason. I'm a week late with this news, but close friends and people who like to hack random social media accounts will know that I've now finished the first draft of my novel! I don't think I needed the exclamation, but I've put it there to tell you when to clap. So do it now. I'll wait.

You didn't do it, did you? I'm not surprised. You've always been a disappointment to people.

Now that the dust has begun to settle on a project that has taken me (from first knockings to last orders) about seven years, 215,000 words, two laptops, four writing locations and about a billion cups of tea, I'm able to advise you, the writer who can't finish or the curious hopeful alike, what it takes to write your first novel. Technically it's my third, but I'll sweep the other two under the carpet to make you feel better.

Writing a novel is not at all like making love to a beautiful woman. Writing is like going on an expensive exotic holiday. At first, it's all dips in an azure sea and cocktails underneath a golden dusk. And then, around day seven, you suddenly get bored of heat, the same stretch of beach, the same bloody people with their stupid accents and beach towels. So you go off on a tour round an acropolis for a change of scene. And when you come back you think that acropolis has saved your holiday. So you book more trips, not because you want to see a magnificent unspoilt cave, but because you don't want to admit you're bored of your once-in-a-lifetime break. And then when the trips run out, you just sit on your arse, being hot, kind of liking your brilliant trip but also longing for a bit of rain. And then all of a sudden, you're back home. You tell people about your wonderful holiday, but in two different ways. To those who have never been, you sing its praises, claiming it saved your relationships and cured your bunions. To those who have been, you lie about the time somebody pinched your camera or pretend that your hotel room didn't smell of the drains.

In short, writing a novel can be an amazing time. But most of the time, you're going through the motions. A lot of The Sad Club I don't remember writing. At all. This is because all the time I was writing it, I was thinking about the bits I wanted to change, all of those delicate enticing wisps of plot and character which didn't belong in my ugly, misshapen first draft. But this is what writing a lengthy project is, folks. It's attrition, not glory. You have to stick with your idea, even if for ninety percent of the time, you think it's shit. You owe it to yourself to see it through. Because you're a writer, and this is what you do.

The first cut of The Matrix wasn't much cop until the producers found some more money.

Some people have asked me why it's taken such a long time to get to this point. I can't speak for every writer, but this is a handy guide for each of you which outlines in brief how writing a novel goes:

Day 1: Have brilliant idea for a book. Boy-Man (or Girl-Woman) gets sent on fantastic quest. Idea will redefine nations and stay at top of bestseller lists for 135 years.

Day 2: Have even better idea for scary antagonist. Spend far too much time on toilet at the thought of it.

Day 3: Finally put pen to paper. Have no plan; idea so good, story should write itself.

Days 4-16: First line attempted, scrapped, agonised over, attempted again until finally shrugging shoulders and going back to original effort.

Days 17-60: Nine chapters written. On top of the world. Probably be finished within 48 hours.

Day 60 (night): Wake up in the night in a cold sweat. Should main protagonist have one leg?

Day 61: Read everything you have written. Realise to change one detail will mean rewriting everything. But also realise that one detail the best idea of the whole lot.

Day 61-100: Write one paragraph every four days, in the vain hope some elves will fill in the rest while you try not to think about it.

Day 101: Decide to put novel away. Then decide to contact company dealing with hazardous waste who will dispose of it.

Day 102: Nervously decide to start another book with much better idea. Old novel stays on desktop, the icon like the Madwoman in the Attic, mocking your shame. This time, decide to plan better, instantly more pleasing and simpler book.

Day 103: Main character will be high-flying lawyer who stumbles onto global media conspiracy. Picture Damian Lewis in a really nice wig. Antagonist bastard son of Piers Morgan and Skeletor.

Day 104: Tired from spending all night reading the sublinks from the Wikipedia entry on law, decide Damian Lewis should now be vegan cafe owner who stumbles on global dairy conspiracy. Antagonist bastard child of Paul Hollywood and Saddam Hussein.

Day 105: Decide vegans are a pain in the arse. Decide book will be about four friends from college who haven't seen one another in two years and who live in Brighton, Newcastle, Hoxton and the Amalfi Coast.

Day 106: Rattling along nicely. Spend too long imagining erotic scene between a total Saz and a nervous but headstrong wannabe novelist. Word count 607 words, including title and name.

Day 108-110: Bizarre nightmares. Characters from old novel tapping on windowpane. Decide to bring rolling pin to place on bedside.

Day 111: New novel, provisionally titled Growing Pains, working well. Start to imagine hugging Channing Tatum at world premiere.

Day 112: Can't sleep. Old hero seems to be shouting 'help us' from the bottom of a well.

Day 113: Growing Pains starts to get dark. Throw in an alcoholic grandparent and the wrong choice of starter home. 

Day 114: Miss a day of writing. Strange, in that you don't miss it in an emotional sense.

Day 115: Sit down to write more of Growing Pains. Literally unable to start typing. Hate everything.

Day 116-202: No writing done. When people ask on progress, reply "not bad, thanks". Start to wonder about seeing a psychiatrist when all of your characters start to pop up in adverts, their faces attached to the bodies of people buying paint in B&Q.

Day 202: Bite the bullet and start to read original novel. Decide it's the most amazing thing you've ever read, because you are nothing like the wide-eyed naif who penned it. Confident that that plot twist which killed it in the first place is easy now you've experienced more of life.

Day 203: What the hell was I worried about?

Day 204: What the hell was I thinking?

Day 205: Real life is murdering writing career. Wonder if you finish Growing Pains, you can get it published, sell it for a million pounds and then devote life to real passion: writing a properly serious epic like original book.

Day 206: Let somebody read work-in-progress. 

Day 207: Wonder if garotting somebody because they said WIP was 'good' can be considered a crime of passion in law.

Day 208-300: Tease almost all of novel out from somewhere. Look up 'tease' in the dictionary, decide you mean 'eviscerate'.

Day 301: Bin entire novel. Hate world.

Day 302 - 336: Continue hating humanity. See video of cute pug on Facebook, laugh. Hate self for laughing while you're such an evil person.

Day 337: Someone tells you they have started to write a novel. Encourage them, while secretly plotting their destruction.

Day 338: Get own novel out. Change font, double space. Find random comma, delete comma.

Day 339: Reinstate comma.

Day 340: See that date on Word file reads yesterday. Feel strange sense of satisfaction at effort.

Day 341-359: Friend has finished novel. Looks exactly like they did three weeks ago. You decide their novel must be shit, or written in the style of a slightly literate three-legged dog.

Day 360-363: Finish novel in a series of all-nighters and manic lunchtime sessions. Miss own parents' funeral.

Day 364: Tell people you've finished your novel. Take their praise as it's meant, which is to suggest you're the worst writer in the world. When they ask what you're going to do with it, say 'It's not finished' while being confident that your research alone could win a Pulitzer Prize.

Day 365: Someone asks what book is about. Attempt to tell them. Finish half an hour later. Start to plan elaborate disappearance.

So, that's how it was for me. Times seven. I guess what I'm saying is that I adore being a writer. But I also hate being a writer. That's the deal, I'm afraid. If you can't be both people, you'll never be one. So if you have that brilliant idea, get cracking, and good luck. You'll need it.


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