A student on one of our online novel-writing courses in 2015, Lauren Hogan (above) has just achieved what so many writers – even those who sign up for creative writing courses – never do. She’s finished a first draft of her novel. Here, she tells us about the journey from beginning to ‘the end’.
How I finally wrote the first draft of my novel at 40
I was seven years old when a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied with absolute certainty, ‘an author’. Why then, was it not until a month before my 40th birthday that I finally got to finally type THE END on the first draft of my novel?
I have spent lots of time sat staring out to sea with a notepad on my knee; glaring panicked at PC screens; hunched over laptops in despair; waiting for the perfect first sentence and perfect novel idea to arrive into my head and flow effortlessly onto the page. I thought writing was a natural talent, not something that can be learned. Either you have it, or you don’t. And you’ll know if you have it, because perfect ideas and sentences will appear effortlessly onto the page when the time is right.
I hadn’t realised that writing is a craft you have to hone. That you have to work on your writing in the same way you would practice the piano or ice-skating. That writing is like a muscle that requires toning and building up, regularly. I didn’t understand that creativity is something you have to nurture, to develop, to create space for. I thought ideas just jumped into your head. I thought people were either born creative or they weren’t.
I feel a bit stupid that it took me so long to realise this is not the case.
At the age of 38, I became tired of staring at a blank laptop screen and enrolled on an Online Novel-Writing Course at Curtis Brown Creative. For me, this was the best thing I ever did for my novel-writing.
It broke me out of a rut. It snapped me out of expecting the perfect sentence to appear on the page. It forced me to write chapters to hand in for a group of 15 peers to read, no matter how rubbish I felt they were. It gave me a deadline and I had no choice but to get the words down on the page. And then, once the chapters had been written and critiqued, the course showed us where to find the tools to begin making improvements. Lots of lightbulbs switched on in my head, and 11 months later I typed THE END on 80,000 words of the first draft of a novel.
Some of this first draft is rubbish. Some of it barely makes sense. Not one single, tiny piece of it is the perfect sentence. It’s certainly a million miles off the perfect idea.
Holding my nerve
To get to the end of this first draft I had to hold my nerve over this voice and ignore it. Keep typing. Even though I thought what I was typing was sometimes rubbish. That voice wasn’t going to stop me. Some days that was easier than others.
Keep turning up to the page
Julia Cameron calls it ‘turning up to the page’, and so I kept turning up to the page. For a whole year. I didn’t manage every day. I found it hard to write on the days I was working on my day job. So I went part-time and wrote on my days off and on my weekends. And after chipping away at it, it finally happened. I got to write THE END.
And now what?
Once I had typed THE END, I put my first draft away in a drawer. Closed the laptop. Enjoyed Christmas. Turned 40. Saw in 2016. Had a lot of fun.
Typing THE END on that first draft is only the beginning. Now it’s time for the next step, also known as Rewrite Number One. Probably the first of many, but now I know I can show up to the page, I’m confident I’ll get there.
A version of this piece first appeared on Lauren Hogan’s own blog. To read it in full, please click here.
For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:
Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Wed 17 January).
Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Wed 24 January).
For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for:
Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 28 Jan).
We are offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:
Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).
Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).
Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).