2024 Stella Prize Longlist: Reflections
Emily O'Grady 2024 Stella Prize

What this book showed me about my writing practice

The first draft of Emily O’Grady’s novel Feast, longlisted for the 2024 Stella Prize, took over two years to write. In this piece, O’Grady delves into the creative process of Feast and why there is no ‘right or wrong way’ to write a novel.

Recently, I returned home from a dreary winter spent in rural France. For three months I was alone, living in a 200-year-old farm house with a creepy cellar and an even creepier well in the back garden, the nearest shop over an hour’s walk away. My plan was to write a draft of my third novel.

This was not an unachievable goal. I was ostensibly trapped and had little else to do. I wrote, yes, but progress was slow, my word count unimpressive. Entire days passed where I didn’t open my laptop, despite waking up with enthusiasm to write. For a while I felt bad about my lack of self-discipline, my inability to commit to a rigorous writing routine. I’d been given the rare gift of space and time and was wasting the opportunity. I had arrived in France with the lofty idea that the way my mind worked would magically transform, but no. If I’d taken the time to revisit how I wrote Feast, perhaps I would have saved myself the guilt and frustration, neither of which are conducive to creativity.

I’ve never felt compelled to seek out the writing routines of novelists. This is because a writer’s craft, rather than their process, is far more interesting to me, but there is also a degree of ego to my apathy. When I hear a novelist say they write consistently every day, committing themselves to a number of hours work or a rigid, daily word count, it makes me feel unserious, uncommitted, lazy.

There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel. The process of writing Feast showed me that an unruly, undisciplined approach is as good as any other.

Feast by Emily O'Grady

The first draft of Feast took two years to write. Very rarely did the words pour out of me. Often, a day’s work was perfecting a single sentence; a chunk of the weekend spent rereading the draft from page one, tinkering with a word or phrase here and there, nothing more. There were periods when I didn’t look at the manuscript for weeks, months even. It was an unruly, inconsistent approach, but after years of slowly chipping away, letting my subconscious churn, the book began to take its shape. If I’d rushed myself and forced a first draft, I’ve no doubt Feast would be a wrinkled husk of the book it is now. There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel. The process of writing Feast showed me that an unruly, undisciplined approach is as good as any other. My process is chaotic, but process is irrelevant so long as you write the book you want to write.

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