While I was writing my novel, my long suffering agent Harriet was subject to many anguished emails and phone calls about how long I was taking to finish. I would have a particular chunk of time set aside in my mind for completing a draft to submit to her- between September and December, perhaps- and when that self imposed deadline passed I would panic and bemoan my inefficiency and laziness and stupidity. She had never demanded I finish by a certain date and kindly talked me down each time, establishing enough calm reassurance for me to get back to it.
My guilty secret was that I knew when I tried really truly hard I was able to produce at least a thousand usable words a day. For a novel whose first draft was only about 55k, this meant I ought to have finished a long time before. I am not a writer who tends to produce all that much extraneous material. I think, prevaricate, postpone, suffer in between and then what I do produce is usually more or less usable. Of course when it comes to real edits there are plenty of dross paragraphs and lines and anecdotes which came out easily. But, substantially, I didn’t write anything much of my novel which didn’t end up in the final draft. Being aware of this, I was filled with shame about how long it was taking me, all the days I spent not working at all, or those spent stalking around my laptop “working” but really looking at my shelves or my phone.
It was almost three years all in between the first sentence and the final draft which Harriet went on to send out to publishers. In my addled shame-ridden brain, it seemed to me that if I had been trying really hard I could have written, oh, about a million words in those three years. With the gift of distance, editors, and time to reflect, I can see now in my novel the value of all the time I spent with it. Even when that value was not represented by actual output, it emerged through greater insight and separation from over-identification with a narrator who I have much in common with. I am grateful for those three years now, eternally relieved I did not manage to shoot out a draft in six months as first planned.
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Megan Nolan lives in London and was born in 1990 in Waterford, Ireland. Her essays, fiction and reviews have been published in The New York Times, The White Review, The Sunday Times, The Village Voice, The Guardian and in the literary anthology, Winter Papers. She writes a fortnightly column for the New Statesman. This is her first novel.