It's a new year, and we all know what that means, don't we? Resolutions! If you're reading my blog, there's a good chance you are a reader, and if you are a reader, then perhaps you are also a writer. I've met a lot of people over the years with aspirations to write a novel. Some have started, many have stalled, most have not finished. One of my goals in 2017 is to help more fledgling writers start and finish novels--and not just put words on the page, but put good words on the page. This blog post is my first step in that direction, and I'd like to lay out a few basics of the process for you.
1) You must have a story to tell
Okay, so this seems like a monumental "Duh," right? But you'd be surprised how many people are infatuated with the idea of writing a novel without actually having a story burning within them. I use the word "infatuated" purposely here, because infatuation burns out, and it carries with it unrealistic ideas and expectations. If you think you are going to slap something brilliant on the page, shoot it off to a publisher, and make a million dollars overnight, then being a novelist is not for you. Likewise, if you want to be known, or respected for having a Very Brilliant Mind (really, if you want to be a household name of any sort at all), walk away now. Being a storyteller--being a novelist--is hard work, and it's not for the faint of heart. Chances are very few people will ever know your name or appreciate what you do, so that can't be your motivation. And you probably won't make a lot of money (sorry, it's true). No, if you're meant to be a novelist, you will have a story burning within you--one that haunts you and won't let go--and that's why you must write. I've had people tell me, "I want to write a novel, but I don't know what it should be about. I just know I want to write one." Full stop. They're not ready. Maybe someday they will be, but until you have your story, you can't move forward.
2) Develop your story
So you have your story? The one that won't let you sleep at night? The one you daydream about in the shower and scribble about in church and doodle pictures of in class? Fantastic! Now what?
A lot of people stall out here because they are either too afraid or too eager. The too eager writers jump right in to the actual writing without any story development at all. Outlining? Plot development? World building? Characterization exercises? Who needs it! I think these people (and I was like this at one time) tend to be afraid that if they don't start right away, their brilliant story idea will slip away into the ether and be lost forever. The main problem with starting to write without any plot or character or world development, is that the opposite usually happens: good ideas are spoiled by sloppy storytelling. Take time to develop your ideas--to outline them into a cohesive plot. Take time to build the parameters of your world. Take time to get to know your characters. Don't allow yourself to start writing until you know the beginning, middle, and end of your story, until you know the internal logic of your world, and until you know your main characters like close friends. If you can discipline yourself to do these things, then the writing will be easy when you sit down to do it. Now, the flip side of this is don't be too afraid to start. Don't plot out every single detail of your story. Allow room for organic growth. Work with both the right and left sides of your brain (I highly recommend Writing on Both Sides of the Brain as a resource if you struggle with this). Remember: You have to actually begin writing your novel, too, not just endlessly plot! That leads me to my third point...
3) Make a realistic plan
Lots of wannabe novelists get caught in an infinite loop of starting and stopping and starting and stopping and starting and stopping and starting and stop--HEY! (You get the idea) Being caught in the infinite loop is not a fun place to be. But if you've done adequate story development, you shouldn't get caught, and the next step in the process is to give yourself a kick in the pants and make a realistic plan with attainable writing goals. This, by the way, can--and sometimes should--overlap the story development stage. At what point the overlap should begin will probably have to be determined by you (or maybe better said, I could help you figure that out, but it's kind of more detailed than I want to get into in this blog post). You're going to have to determine when you will start writing, how much you want to achieve each day (yes, each DAY), how long you want your novel to be (don't just write into the void--have a goal in mind and write to it), and thus when you want to be finished. I know it's cliched, but writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Imagine how desperate runners would feel if they were told to start running and were never given an end in sight. "Oh, it's somewhere out there. You'll just know when you get there." Ummm... NO. Distance runners would despair and eventually give up if made to run a race like that, and chances are you will despair and give up if you try to write a novel like that. Don't do it. Also like distance runners, novelists need to know their personal limitations. If you need people cheering you on, arrange to have a writing group to act as accountability partners. If you need to take the weekends off as rest days, take the weekends off as rest days. Do what you need to do, but make sure whatever it is, it is working you toward accomplishing your goal.
It is possible to write a novel this year, and to do it well. Take your time, be deliberate, and don't waste your great idea. If you've always had a story haunting you, don't let 2017 pass without letting that story out.
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