'The ‘secret’ to finishing a novel can be found in two words - patience and consistency'

LOUISE O'NEILL: 'The ‘secret’ to finishing a novel can be found in two words - patience and consistency'

I was having lunch with two friends of mine, both women, both authors.

After discussing the important issues, like ‘what job would you love to have if you weren’t an author?’ (mine - an art curator for luxury hotels), we exchanged notes on the strangest questions we’d been asked at events.

These vary; younger children will invariably ask if you know any famous people, how much money you earn, and if you’re married - who knew kids were such traditionalists? - and their other questions are delightfully eccentric, but in almost every Q&A with adults, the moment will arise when someone will ask for a ‘how-to’ guide to write a novel.

Having been that very person, once upon a time, I try to give the best advice I can. What I find interesting is how often a look of disappointment falls across their faces, as if frustrated by how prosaic my suggestions are. I can empathise.

I felt like that too, when my favourite author told me to ‘try and write a thousand words a week’, and ‘read as much as possible’ if I wanted to write a novel. “No,” I wanted to shout at them. “Not that boring old crap! I want The Secret and I can’t believe you’re withholding it from me!”

Sadly, I now know there is no secret. God, how I wish there were. I fantasise about waving my finger like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and creating a perfectly written novel within a blink of an eye. “Why, thank you,” I imagine myself telling my stunned editor, when he phoned to tell me it was perhaps the best piece of writing he had ever read in his entire career. (Note: this has never happened.) Writing is my favourite thing to do and it is incredibly fulfilling and creatively satisfying but it’s also hard work.

I have to sit down every day at my desk and put the hours in, whether I feel like it or not, the same as any other job. I have to make sacrifices and prioritise my work when I would rather lie in bed all day, reading. The ‘secret’ to finishing a novel can be found in two words - patience and consistency.

Perhaps I’ve been better prepared for this sort of life than others because of my father.

He played football for years, then trained local GAA teams. Watching him, it became clear to me that in order to get to the County Final, in order to hold up the cup in victory, it wasn’t necessarily about what happened on the day of the match itself. It was about the endless drills, practiced over and over again.

It was about early nights when your friends were out drinking. It was about heading out to training on dark, dreary evenings, your wet socks squelching in your boots as you ran down a field in the rain. It was two words - consistency and patience.

Nine months ago, I joined a gym called Absolute Health & Fitness. I was nervous the first day I went there, afraid I wouldn’t be fit enough to keep up with the others, that I’d make a fool of myself, that it would be too intimidating.

It wasn’t like that - it was friendly, welcoming - and although I could barely walk the day after that first class, I kept going back.

I started reaching for heavier weights, I could feel my strength building week by week. It’s still not easy, but I keep going.

Consistency. Patience.

In my therapy sessions recently, the same issues keep arising.

My therapist said - now is when the real work begins. Radical acceptance of myself, no matter what size I am.

A complete rejection of a diet mentality. Embracing self-compassion as a way of life. Staying with my feelings, no matter how painful they are. “This is the work,” she said, and I felt so tired that I wanted to crawl into my bed and sleep for a hundred years.

“I don’t want to have to do this anymore,” I complained.

I’ve worked so hard on my recovery. I just want this stuff to be innate, I don’t want to have to even think about it.” And I caught myself. I wanted to have perfect mental health without putting the work in

I was like the person who wanted to be a published author without having to write the words. I was like the person who wanted to win the County Final without going to training on a miserable Monday in

January. I was like the person who wanted to be able to run 5k without having to pull on their runners and get off the couch.

I had to remind myself that yes there are people who are naturally more athletic, people who are more gifted at writing, and people who have an inclination towards a more cheerful disposition than others.

But they still need to put the work in to maintain their fitness, whether emotional, physical, or creative.

In the end, success comes down to two things. Patience. Consistency.

I have to make sacrifices and prioritise my work when I would rather lie in bed all day reading

LOUISE SAYS

LISTEN: 1619 Podcast. The New York Times has started an ambitious project called ‘1619’.

They say that it “aims to reframe the country’s founding,understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very centre of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

The podcast is storytelling at its finest.

READ: Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

She’s written some of the best celebrity profiles in the last decade.

This is her first novel, about a man named Toby Fleishman who is in the middle of an acrimonious divorce from his much more successful wife, Rachel.

It’s a nuanced, well-observed, and witty tale.

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