About one month ago I finished writing the rough draft of my first novel. It’s a period piece about World War 2 inspired by my grandfather who flew in a bomber squad with the RAF. He was the bomb aimer, and so the protagonist of my story is the bomb aimer of his crew. I started the story in June 2012, not entirely sure what I was getting into or where the story was going but I stuck with it through everything, even the times when I was absolutely sick of it, and finished 11 months later. Now I have it here, printed and cerloxed, 77,000 words of pure dreck. My novel.
I call it pure dreck because that’s what rough drafts are: utter crap. Of course, because this is a period piece all the historical and technical details have to be 100% spot on or it’s shit. This entails doing massive amounts of research, something that should come easily to me thanks to my journalism background.
I already know a fair bit about World War 2, but I soon found out while writing this book that I still didn’t know enough. How can I ever write a believable story about the war if I wasn’t in it? How can I describe the experience of flying in a Lancaster over Nazi Germany through heavy flak and cannon fire if I’ve never lived though it? How can I describe the townships of England and France if I’ve never been there?
The only way is through extensive research and going to those places to absorb the sights and sounds with my own senses. It means reading as many books, watching as many documentaries, and visiting as many museums as possible. That is the only way I’ll ever be able to write a book like this that anyone will want to read, let alone publish.
I did some research along the way, but I soon gave up with the process and just decided to sit down and write the damn thing. I knew early on that my second draft would be started from scratch, maybe with a completely different structure and style, so I decided it was best to just forge ahead and make it up as I went along.
Now I’m almost afraid to start reading this thing. Will I be appalled? Disgraced? Impressed? Who knows. But it’s been a month now since I finished writing it, so it’s time to read it through.
Since I was teenager, I’ve always wanted to write a book but it always seemed like a monumental task that I could never achieve. I would wonder how many words long a novel had to be, or how many hours at a desk one would have to spend, and how difficult it must be to make everything work out and make sense. Now that I’ve actually done it, I understand the incredible commitment that it takes to write a novel.
I also understand the feeling of reward that comes with reaching the end. When I came to the last line of my story and typed THE END underneath, an enormous feeling of relief and sorrow came over me. I felt lighter and at the same time sad, but in a beautiful way. After all that time, and all that fuss, and all that worry about it, the book was finally done.
Writing a novel is a milestone and a great source of pride. But I know that this particular work has a long way to go before I can even think about publishing it. Years might pass until this story sees the desk of an editor or the hands of an agent, but I’ll continue trying to create the great novel I want to make. I do it to honor my grandfather’s memory, drawing inspiration from my favorite novelists to make my own unique and powerful war story.
For me, that is what it means to write this novel.