And other good, hopefully inspiring stuff.
Have you ever felt completely hopeless about writing an entire novel?
Does completing a novel seem so daunting a task that you simply cannot see yourself ever getting one written?
That feeling, coupled with having to support a family, made me swear off writing a novel for almost a decade. I just could not imagine finishing a project that seemed so big, while also having a job, or any kind of life. Short stories were one thing, but:
How could I write an entire novel?
“How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.” ~ Anonymous
The way to write a novel is simply to sit down every day, and write some of it. It’s so simple. It seems like it should be obvious this is how they get done, and yet, for years I struggled with the overwhelming bigness of getting a novel written.
In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron recommends writing what she dubbed Morning Pages. This, by any other name, is simply writing every day. Whatever you want to call it, writing every day is key to getting the flow of ideas and words going.
“If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.” ~ Louis L’Amour
Here’s another issue that haunted me during those unproductive, frozen years: Didn’t I have to have an outline? A brilliant concept with the plot twists and subplots, all thought out in advance and laid down like a road map? Surely writing a novel required some higher form of genius that I wasn’t capable of manifesting. I had to have the whole thing thought out before I started, right?
I’d never previously had a plot thought out for any of the novellas or short stories I’d written. They’d always occurred to me as I wrote the first draft—which, by the way, was part of my excitement and delight in writing them.
But a novel was a much bigger, more complicated thing, and all The Experts were shouting that I had to have an outline. (Well…not all of them. Just the really loud ones.)
It wasn’t enough that I had some characters that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
It wasn’t enough that I wanted to see what they would do, what choices they would make, in the world I imagined them in.
I had to have a high premise and plot points. Simply wanting to discover the repercussions of my characters choices, for good or evil, wouldn’t cut it.
Completely erroneous thinking, as it turns out.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” ~ E.L. Doctorow
Here’s what I discovered: Plot is what happens when you sit down and write. The plot to your novel will show up if you do. It has to be excavated in pretty much the same way an archeologist digs up long buried bones. And once found, in the act of writing the first draft, the writer’s next job is to simply scrape and brush away everything that is NOT THAT.
It would have saved me so many wasted years if someone had just told me this. Okay, someone was saying it. Julia Cameron certainly was. And Diana Gabaldon’s always been open and honest about her process. But I didn’t hear them over those other people shouting and waving their arms.
So, now I’m telling you: If you aren’t a genius—and most of us aren’t—just bring your excitement to your special writing place and sit down and write about those characters you love so much, and that fascinating world that they live in. Every day. It’ll be okay.
Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. ~ Anne Lamott (AKA, Blessed Patron Saint of the Shitty First Draft)
If those two obstacles weren’t enough, there was this other damn thing. (Isn’t there always?) Every time I sat down to write I could only squeeze out 2000 or so words, and as often as not they were just so so; not polished and filled with awe inspiring metaphor like the novels I loved. I mistook this as proof that I wasn’t a writer. I mean, I didn’t have what it takes, obviously. Otherwise what I wrote would be brilliant, light-filled, like all those published novels, wouldn’t it?
“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” ~ James Michener
“The first draft of anything is shit.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
I believe I will end my post here, rather than attempt to add anything to Hemingway’s wisdom.
I hope this helps. XO
Now, what are you doing sitting here reading my blog? Haven’t you got something better to do?