Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Women Writing

23 Comments

I finished the second draft of my novel on Monday night. This was a complete rewrite of the first draft, and took six months to complete. (The first draft took 15 months.) When I finished, I felt scattered, unsure, anxious. I was prepared to dive in and start a third draft in the voice of yet another character – the feeling of being scattered also pertains to the novel, where I can’t seem to commit to a protagonist. It’s the same story, over and over again, with different narrators.

I went to my new writers’ hangout, Litopia, where I received some sage advice: put the manuscript in a drawer and take a rest from it. Look at it again in six or eight weeks’ time. In the meanwhile, carry around a notebook and note down any novel-related epiphanies. Write other things. Just don’t look at the manuscript.

After a day’s grief (this is my baby; we’ve been together for 21 months), I decided to follow the advice. My emotional reaction to the words of wisdom was indication enough that I absolutely needed to pause, reflect and gain some distance from the words in which I’ve been entangled for nearly two years. I am in no place right now to edit; I’m too tied up to be objective, and I strongly feel it is too early to bring in my readers.

One of the books I read this year was A Room of One’s Own, which made me think about my own writing process, about interruption and about having to live life as well as write about it. Then I read Rachel Cusk’s superb article on women writers in today’s Guardian. Here she talks about the woman writer:

What compromises women – babies, domesticity, mediocrity – compromises writing even more. She is on the right side of that compromise – just. Her own life is one of freedom and entitlement, though her mother’s was probably not. Yet she herself is not a man. She is a woman: it is history that has brought about this difference between herself and her mother. She can look around her and see that while women’s lives have altered in some respects, in others they have remained much the same. She can look at her own body: if a woman’s body signifies anything, it is that repetition is more powerful than change. But change is more wondrous, more enjoyable. It is pleasanter to write the book of change than the book of repetition. In the book of change one is free to consider absolutely anything, except that which is eternal and unvarying. “Women’s writing” might be another name for the book of repetition.

Cusk talks about how both Woolf’s book and de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex shaped the discourse of 20th century women’s writing, a discourse that is about property. She says, “A woman needs a room of her own to be able to write; thus her silence has been the silence of dispossession.”

How funny then, that as I put down the manuscript, I immediately began writing a story about a group of women who get themselves a room. Some like the version of themselves they find there, some learn something and take it back to their real lives, others are inspired to recreate themselves and still others run in terror back to their own lives, hating their new reflection. What happens to us when we are graced with space and time? Why is it so scary? Why is it so much easier to be in the flow of everyday life and not think too hard? Not challenge ourselves?

My family have made sacrifices over the last 21 months for me to get my novel written – my children have had a mother constantly at the laptop, they’ve probably watched too much TV (though they have done some stunning independent crafting too – my son turns out to be a dab hand at basteln), I’ve earned less in the last two years than I have previously, and I’ve been grumpy and distracted. On the other hand, they have a mother who has a passionate interest, and all three of them have written their own books this year, not necessarily completed, but the thought counts.

My writing life will continue to be a juggle, probably forever. But what I love is that as I’ve gained confidence, I’ve taken more time for myself, moved from writing sneakily or when people are sleeping, to openly spending large chunks of time writing. I’ve made the space in my life for my writing. I have given myself that gift, terrifying though it seemed at first to even suggest I deserved it.

Since I stopped writing my manuscript, I’ve written one short story, revived two old ones and started a fourth. Twenty-one months of writing means I have momentum, ideas and energy. I’m getting the novel-related epiphanies, as well as amazing support from online and real life friends. And my family are there, being sweet to me and greeting me with smiles when I deign to arise from the cellar.

I have given myself a room, I have allowed myself the time. All I have to do is keep writing.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

23 thoughts on “Women Writing

  1. Charlotte, you are an inspiration. I don’t know how you have managed it with such a demanding family life AND a job already. You’ll get there, you know – I don’t doubt it for a second. But I do think that writing is just a process that never ends. Someone else may well have to tell you, at some point in the future, that your novel is ready! It’s hard to be the judge of that oneself, and not to pick at things that ought to be left alone. So it’s really good to take a break and bring a fresh perspective to it. I’m glad that Litopia is working out – I must have another look at the site myself.

  2. Damn!
    I’m not kidding, what litlove said is what I wanted to: Charlotte, you are an inspiration.

  3. It’s a great plan. And also, when you pick up the novel again, you will be amazed at the quality of your own writing (as well as annoyed by your mistakes). And you will feel immediately which bits work and which bits don’t.

    But a whole bloody novel, even if in the drawer, is a thing of wonder!

  4. And one more thing – I think you should bring in a couple of readers, although they shouldn’t give you feedback until a couple of months from now. It’s very easy to miss glaring holes when you are so close to it. And just very general feedback, no specific details. Just my 10 cents…

  5. A gift but more than a gift–permission to take for yourself a necessity. It may be regarded by others as luxury but that is an error. Good going!

  6. Congratulations! I wish I had your courage and energy for all this. Maybe I’m on the wrong side of compromise for the moment being. Keep up with the good work! And may we one day read a paragraph or two you’re proud of?

  7. A mom with a passionate interests beats a bitter, frustrated mom any day.

  8. Dear Charlotte, congratulations on getting this far! I read an interesting comment from a writer, who said that while writing her novel she took to heart the advice of a writer (I think it was Colm Toibin) to ‘let the house go to wrack and ruin’. Sounds good to me!

  9. Well done, Charlotte! That is such an achievement. And hurrah for you on giving yourself room in which to do what you want.

  10. count me among your readers who are in complete awe! I am STILL revising my novel and while I am determined to have the whole process completed (I mean, novel submitted, rejected,etc.) I am envious of what you have accomplished. I am so, so proud of you and impressed and cannot WAIT to read your book!

  11. I’m in the same camp as the other commenters, full of awe. Congrats, Charlotte!

  12. Congratulations! It’s wonderful to have finished your draft, and also wonderful to have energy and ideas and momentum now that you are taking some time away from it. How great that you took time to really foster this gift of yours!

  13. I echo what they said. And I love that you are taking those ideas and writing new stories and still keeping track of the novel-related epiphanies. I get the image of the novel maturing (like wine) while it sits in that drawer. Getting someone you trust to read it and only comment in a month’s time sounds like a good idea too.

  14. Hurray for Charl! Well done. I’m so proud of you. I’m sure when you go back to your manuscript, you’ll think, gosh, now that’s rather good. And now you can also enjoy a break too. It is totally deserved. I don’t know how you did it 🙂

  15. Reading this, Charlotte, I feel so much better about my own disappointment of last week – very much buoyed and hopeful again. This probably goes without saying, but please add my name to the long waiting list of volunteer readers. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished – the truly wonderful thing is that from now on, no matter what, your manuscript exists. It exists. It’s no longer only a secret ambition or restless drive or cherished dream – no, you’ve sat down, you’ve done the work, and then done it again, and you have created life where there was none. Oh, bravo, dear woman writer, bravo.

  16. Amazing! Just truly amazing!

  17. Just the post I needed to read today. Of all days. Thanks. Nice to hear that it IS possible.

    Looking forward to reading your novel.
    cheers Lynda
    PS: Thanks for the invite. Will let you know next time I am heading to your parth of Deutschland.. Haven’t been their for a while and it is so lovely.

  18. Congratulations – I must go off and check Litopia. And it must feel wonderful to feel that impetus keep rolling. Instead of feeling bitter and jealous, I’ve promised myself to do something about my own blockage.

    I will MAKE time for writing somehow. And if I have to learn to write a novel ten minutes at a time, then I will. Didn’t get any further than writing a title in my notebook and mentally listing the locations of all the different bits of current effort but…

    Still torn between re-starting work on novel 2 (which I now know means scrapping 15k words done so far) or going back to novel 1’s scribbled over print-out and digging into that. ..

  19. I have never been able to figure out how someone who spends all her time blogging and writing and updating Facebook pages also manages to be a fabulous hostess and friend who is always witty, warm, and well turned out. And better read than anyone I know. Neither can I figure out who does the laundry and shopping and vacuuming, or who attends school pageants and parent teacher meetings. Congratulations on the book – I look forward to seeing it in print.

  20. Oh Charlotte, what a great, inspiring post! I am so proud of you to have got this far and I can’t wait to hold your published book in my hands one day.

  21. I got over the guilt of working and having young children when I read research that had shown that when it comes to childrens wellbeing, it is irrelevant whether mom works or not. What is relevant, is whether what mom is doing makes her feel happy, content and fulfilled. I have a motto in my family – “if mommas happy, everyones happy”. Which is true but also very scary as I know that my state of mind / mood has a huge influence on my family. Moms have a huge responsibility to care for themselves – if mom falls apart, everything else does too.

  22. Pingback: The Story of My Novel So Far « Charlotte's Web

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