Okay, so you want to write a novel. You’re excited, filled with energy, hope, and something to say. You can’t wait to start the process, do the research, meet the characters, and create a spiffy plot, all that good stuff. If you’re a mystery writer like me, you pretty much know what the ending is going to be, but the ‘how’ of getting there! It’s elixir for the soul. In the beginning, you’re open to all the possibilities that will spur you on during the forthcoming, never-ending months. Writing a novel – at least at the start of it – is a wonderful adventure. Just you, your ideas, a computer, and buckets of strong coffee.
But at some point in the process, trying to reach eighty-five thousand words with what you often suspect is pure, unadulterated drivel is another matter. You become bogged down, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. You discover you need more than just a fire in the belly (which could also be labeled as heartburn).
For me, that’s the place where ‘talent’ and ‘craft’ need to cohabitate. The craft of writing is a practiced art, much like learning to play tennis. The more you practice, the better you get. You also need the tools that make the process more doable. Where would tennis be without a racket? So I’ve learned – and continue to learn – certain tricks to help me get through the arduous parts of completing a novel. I’m in the throes of writing my 14th novel, Casting Call for a Corpse, Book Seven of The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, so I’d better have learned a thing or two. Some things could be called obvious, but often the obvious gets overlooked along the way. Better to repeat them endlessly than lose sight of them. Here’s a few of the important ones:
1 – Have a place to call your own when you write. No matter how large or small, make it comfortable and keep it neat. Share it with no one. It’s your sanctuary. Okay, share it with a cat. The purring of a cat is very soothing. It’s been medically proven.
2 – Make writing a habit. Write every day, and shoot for the same time. Yes, every day, even if it’s only fifteen minutes and on a Sunday. Habits become hard to break, so develop this one. Your mantra should be “A Day Without Writing is Like a Day Without Sunshine.” The reward is the surprise of what fifteen to thirty minutes a day can produce at the end of only one month. Imagine an hour, two hours, or four!
3 – Writing needs to move forward like a shark. Don’t beat a paragraph, page, or chapter to death, letting it lead to a form of literary impotence. Of course, the first time out it’s not going to be what you ultimately want. No one knows that better than you. None of this will get lost in the shuffle. Promise. It adheres itself to your soul. So you need to keep going. You’ll get everything right on the third rewrite or the fiftieth. Trust yourself. But move forward.
4 – The first shi–y draft is called that for a reason. Don’t be discouraged with the first draft. It’s your outline. In some ways, it’s a rite of passage. You’ll improve it on the next round. It’s just part of the process.
5 – Give yourself the luxury of time. A manuscript is often like a bowl of rising dough (when it’s not like tennis or a shark). It needs to have the life punched out of it then put in a corner to rest until it rises again. Only to be punched down once more. What I really mean is WRITING IS REWRITING. There, I’ve said it and without any metaphors. In order to get the novel just right, you’ll have to leave it for a while so you can come back with a fresh eye. And you may have to do this several times. Any baker will tell you rising dough cannot be rushed. Same for a novel. No rushing.
6 – Don’t let anyone read your work until you’re ready. If you read a passage or two to someone you TRUST for feedback that’s one thing. But showing your novel to ANYONE before it’s completed is like wrapping a bolt of fabric around a model and telling an audience what the dress will look like when you’ve finished sewing it together. OMG! Did I just use my fourth metaphor? The reality is, though, the more you have to explain or justify yourself, the more you diffuse the project.
7 – Above all, respect yourself, your novel, and your craft. Always remember, you are shining a light on truth. That’s what novels are all about. There is a nobility in that. And, yes, that was my fifth metaphor. Just seemed right.