The Spot Writers – “The Novel,” by Tom Robson

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This weeks fiction comes to you from Tom Robson, author of Written While I Still Remember, a Patchwork Memoir, and contributor to the Evergreen Writers collection of ghost stories, Out of the Mist.

The prompt for this month is: Opening sentence – “It’s still not clear what started it all.” Closing – “What can be done to change that?


The Novel.

It’s still not clear what started it all. It depends how far back you want to go. He always liked writing stories until teacher-critics condemned them, less for the content than for his eccentric spelling, convoluted sentences and abominable penmanship. Therefore, in the rest of his school and college days, written assignments were a striving for accuracy. Creativity was insignificant.

In the navy he became creative in his letters from abroad. The lies about his exploits ashore re-cultivated a dormant love of story telling. Back at college it was more lies in criticism, acceptable interpretation or regurgitation of the writings or spoken words of others.The goal was to mould him into the type of teacher who had bored him senseless during his school years. John conformed.

In a ten year absence from teaching John practiced writing good English in reports assessing the treatment needs of disturbed teens or for the courts who had put them away. The improvement in his writing happened because what was drafted, plus the work of others he had edited, went to the elderly British ladies typing pool. Typewriters have no delete button, so penned drafts were re-edited by these demanding ladies before the foolscap sheets, interspersed with carbon paper, were loaded and typed upon. His submissions, were often returned as “imperfect’. He learned to keep these ladies happy by striving for correctness. Then he learned how to dictate.

Perhaps it really started when he went back into teaching when “learning by doing”, “whole language teaching’ and “teaching through themes” were in vogue. He could encourage children to write creatively, to get their stories “down and dirty” and learn how to revise, amend, correct, self edit and to trust others to also edit their creations. It was also suggested that the teacher write with them. When he prompted writing, John also wrote on that prompt.

When this was happening he was in his forties. He was also introduced to an early computer that was donated to his school. The one computer in that school.

He wrote a ‘First Time’ story on it, revised it quickly. printed it off, corrected the many errors, reprinted it and showed his first publication to his colleagues. Perhaps this was the real beginning.

In an attempt to liven up the boring spelling program that tested the twenty words given out on a Monday to be mastered by Friday, he started writing a short story with twenty blank spaces where the week’s words had to fit. The Monday story would be read, the blanks filled in, and Fridays test would require correct “fill in the blanks”. One story became a serial and one page every Monday became a chapter for a demanding audience.The book was submitted in competition and won.

If this happens to you as a writer then you are for ever hooked on feeding an audience. Even if the audience is minuscule, if you publish it will grow. He was plagued by the perks of publication, the principal one being ‘rejection’. John knew it well, as do many writers.
He persisted in writing for his captive, student audience, winning yet another award for that first ever, ‘First Time’ story, years after it was created. After John retired he continued to write, sporadically, for his own satisfaction. Any committed writer knows why that happens.

In retirement he and his wife travelled and he kept a journal, wrote anecdotes, stories and occasional poems inspired by foreign locales. Transcribed and printed after the event, they gather dust which he removes when he takes them out to relive memories of past expeditions.

Perhaps it really began when, at the age of 75, he joined a writing group. He realized that he was not alone. There were others who believed they could write, who enjoyed writing, wanted to share and longed to be published. They wrote on various topics, some according to their interests and experiences, others prompted by suggestions for stories.Eventually the group wrote, had edited and published a collection of ghost stories. Eleven of them enjoyed the satisfaction of holding, smelling, rifling through and finding their contributions in this masterpiece. They then had the problem of marketing and selling it. John was no salesman!

The next event was an awareness that, safe in his computer were sufficient stories to comprise a collection that could become a patchwork memoir. Retrieving, revising, editing and formatting led to a book. A gentle editor helped. She also published it. The rest was all John’s. But the left-over copies still take up space in his closet. Nevertheless, his wife was almost as proud of his publication as he was.

Now this is really when it began. Yes! Writing the novel started it.

Every writer has one inside them, somewhere. He was no exception Unlike many, he found a subject, right there, in a short story he had written. Unlike many still telling themselves to write that novel, he started his in December of his eightieth year.

At his age, there was the prospect of senility or death colliding with his lifelong habit of procrastination. Obsessively, given father time’s constraints, he outlined each chapter, every character and planned a sequence of events. In that same month he began to write the first draft. Six weeks later and 45 000 words in, his previously supportive wife chastises him as “ obsessed”.

He countered with the argument that 5 or 6 hours a day at the computer, creating, is the same as the time her artist father spent with his palette, his sketchbook or his camera. Her criticism of his efforts began with the retort, “but he never neglected me like you are.”

It got worse, much worse. Every time he settled to add to his creation there was acrimony. He could not concentrate. The novel did not progress. His novel, unread by her, was condemned, as was its creator who had come too far to leave the concluding pieces inside his aging mind.

It had to be finished. All his previous, written efforts had led him to this. It could not be denied by the rambling ridicule of a woman who should represent the target audience for his romance for the ages. The novel took precedence over everything, but she would not give him the peace and quiet he needed to finish it.

This set the frustrated John to wondering, now, what can be done to change that?


The Spot Writers – our members:

RC Bonitz:

Val Muller:

Catherine A MacKenzie:  https://writing

Tom Robson: Who is still not blogging because procrastination is afflicting him again.


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