144 – Drilling for Water and the Art of Novel Writing

Writing a novel is like drilling for water: at first there’s so much material, you think you’re going to drown in it. You’re overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of it swilling around you. Memories you thought you’d buried are floating past like corpses. ‘Where did these come from!’ you scream. You feel helpless and terrified. ‘What do I do with all of them? There’s so many, they just keep on coming.’

This is where the novel starts.

Weeks. Months later. The sluice gates of your mind start to regulate themselves and you start to feel more in control. You’re getting down on paper what’s important and cutting out what’s not. You settle into a rhythm. You feel OK. ‘It’s fine to write a novel,’ you tell yourself. ‘Really.’

And so you keep on drilling. Plumbing the depths. Going further and further down until you start to feel the heat of the core and everything begins to dry up. You’re hot, tired, and most of all, desperately thirsty. You want to give up, crawl into the nearest pit and die.

But the thirst is like one you’ve never experienced before. A thirst that leads people to kill. So you keep on drilling down and down, until you break on through into the deep underground reservoir where you can drink to your heart’s content. This is where you finish the novel as you have gone as far as you can go.

A bit epic perhaps, I admit. But it all came to mind last week as I was preparing my submission for the novel writing competition I mentioned in the previous post.

It was a great exercise. It got me asking, what is this novel about exactly? So much so that by the time I’d finished it, I felt that I should rewrite the whole book from scratch. Not because it was bad, but because I hadn’t gone deep enough. And I was still incredibly thirsty.

I realised that my own self-imposed deadline of my fortieth birthday (3 May) a month ago, was merely a convenient date on which to change the drill bit I’d been using, for a sharper one. One that could go deeper. A bit that could penetrate the hardest part of my head to see what’s really inside. To seek out what every novelist strives for: The Truth.


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