How the hell am I going to follow up on a title like that?
Bare with me.
The thing is, there is no secret sauce. There is no magic, and there are no cheats. You write a novel by writing one, simple as that.
There is a fantastic book called The War of Art by Steven Pressman. Amongst other amazing nougats of wisdom he sprinkles liberally through this excellent book, the one he keeps returning too is that you sit down, and you do the work. Sit down, and do the work.
The difficulty with writing a novel comes not from any force that resides outside of yourself. It comes from inside. From you, and you alone. It’s your brain, stupid. That’s the only thing that can stop you.
You imagine writing a novel will be too hard. You imagine it will take too long and you’ll never manage it. You imagine it’s too complex. You’ll never be able to put an exciting plot together. You’ll never be able to make it believable. Your writing sucks. Once you improve your grasp of grammar, you’ll start. Once you get a few weeks off work, you’ll start. Once the kids are older, and you have more time, you’ll start. Once I know more words, I’ll start.
And you’re the only person who will say those things to yourself. You can bet your neighbor won’t say them – “Hey, Bob, you need to understand split infinitives more before you start writing that novel.” I’ll bet that never happened.
We are our own worst enemies. We get in the way of the productive things we want to do. And writing a novel is the same as anything else. We sabotage ourselves. We erect barriers. We tell ourselves we can’t do it.
And you know what? We tell ourselves in compelling ways. Aren’t we tricky?
What’s wrong with waiting until you have more time? What’s wrong with waiting until our grasp of dialogue is better? Surely it would be a waste of time to write 100,000 words when our plot has more holes than Spongebob Squarepants.
All sound like good reasons not to start, don’t they? Wrong, my friend. Absolutely wrong.
All just excuses. All just ways to convince yourself not to sit down and do the work.
Ok, I said there was no way to cheat, but if you really want a hack, here’s one. I guarantee if you do this every day for three, four months, you will have a novel.
Sit the hell down for thirty minutes a day, and write. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. It doesn’t matter if you write absolute drivel for thirty minutes. Just think of a story, any story. Then think of the scenes that make that story, and sit down and write one of the scenes.
Spill it out. Don’t go back and check your sentence structure. Don’t fix your spelling. Don’t make sure you have described everything perfectly. Don’t worry about your pacing. Just write.
Thirty minutes a day.
Do it at a set time, every day. You must make it a habit. And before you say it, I don’t believe you don’t have thirty minutes. I have two young kids who don’t sleep, work a demanding full-time job, and I find the time. Thirty minutes is there somewhere. Get up thirty minutes earlier if you have to – it won’t kill you. If you insist you don’t have thirty minutes to spare, email me your exact daytime schedule, and I’ll show you where you can write.
Just do the thirty minutes. Pretty sure it will turn into forty-five or an hour, once you get into the flow.
The mysterious flow. You’ve heard about it, and now you can get it too, with my secret hack. Same time, every day, sit down and do your writing.
The flow will come, and you will find yourself right in your scene. The outside world will melt away, and the sounds and the smells and the sights and the emotions will be those of your characters, and it will spill onto the page.
And before you know it, you’ll have five hundred, a thousand words, two thousand down.
And you know what? The achievement of writing those words every day stays with you for the whole day. Even if you do nothing else until bedtime but sit on the couch and eat pies, it doesn’t matter because you’ve already created something. From within your mind, your soul even, you’ve transported something that previously didn’t exist into the 3-D meat-suit world. That’s right, you are now a producer, a creator, a maker.
The transition from consumer to creator is a magical one. You’ll want to do it again. You’ll find the time. The draw will become stronger. You’ll get to know and love your characters. You’ll live and breathe your world. Your mind will be filled with plots and schemes and dialogue and joy and heartache as you realize who’s going to fall in love and who’s going to die.
All these wonderful things come from one simple thing. Just sitting down and writing your words, every day.
Worry about all the spelling and the grammar and the rest of it later. That’s what editing is for.
For now, just watch that word count grow, and relish the sense of achievement, of worth it gives you.
And you know what? If you find out your novel really sucks, then don’t worry about it. Write another one. Because that’s how you get better.
You think Carrie was the very first thing Stephen King wrote?
Just keep those words coming, one at a time, and don’t worry about the consequences.
That’s your job for the next few months, and that’s how you write a novel.
Oh yeah, and a little disclaimer. Note, I said this post was about how to write a novel, not how to write a good novel… If you crack that one, let me know.