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No More Excuses—Write That Novel

October 14, 2012 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified May 16, 2013

This feels like the time to get on some people’s cases. On some writers’ cases.

Have you done it yet? Have you finished your first novel? Have you even started it?

You said you were going to do it. Remember? You even set up the day to begin: When the last child started school. Or finished school. Or went off to college.

When you saved at least $10,000. When you got your degree. When you got married. When you got divorced. When you finished that project at work, the one at the house, or the one involving poisonous plants and yard gnomes for your mother’s best friend.

If you’re sitting on your hands, sitting on the fence, or sitting on a goldmine, but you’re not writing, then get to it.

Maybe your friends and family aren’t encouraging you anymore. Maybe they’ve got their own issues and need encouragement from you. That’s fine; everyone’s got a life with tons of issues to deal with. But if you’re not being prodded to write, to jump into your dream of completing a novel, then let me be that prod.

Do it. Start your novel. Finish your novel. Submit your novel.

Wherever you are on the journey, take that next step. No excuses. No hesitation. No backing down.

Write the novel. You’re the only one who can. If you don’t write it—if you don’t give life to those characters in your mind, to that dilemma that you’ve forever dreamed of exploring, to that fictional world filled with adventure or monsters or fantasy—readers will never discover those people and places and adventures. There’ll be civilizations—entire worlds—lost forever, events shrouded in black mists that never lift for the intrepid explorer. Your insights, the exquisite revelations you intended to put in your protagonist’s mouth, will never be uttered. Never examined. Never held up as guideposts for the next generation.

If you don’t write your story, it will never be written.

__________________

No one can tell the story you can tell. No one knows it. No other human can feel the emotions swirling around your characters or feel emotion on behalf of those characters unless you put those characters on the page.

Do you really intend to deprive the rest of us of the stories you have to tell? Are you intentionally keeping us from the tears we should be crying or the laughs we could be enjoying or the outrages we need to denounce?

Am I nagging you enough yet? Have I convinced you that if you’re a storyteller who’s not telling stories, then the rest of us are deprived?

I know you don’t need me to force you to write; I can’t do it and wouldn’t want to. But I do want to tell you that you can start that novel you’ve been promising to start. Maybe it’s been a year since you said you’d do it. Maybe it’s been nearly ten. Maybe you made a promise to yourself thirty years ago. If so, what are you waiting for? A promise to yourself is a valid promise. Why not fulfill this one? Why not start, and finish, your novel?

There’s lots of help and encouragement available for the first-time novel writer. Novelists might write alone, but we like others to share the struggle; you’ll have plenty of support from other writers at every stage of the process. If you need gentle encouragement or a true butt-kicking, join a writing group and make yourself accountable to them. But don’t only join a group—that doesn’t raise the word count. You actually have to start writing.

If you’re looking for other goads, try NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, which comes every November. Challenge yourself to write 50,000 words of your novel. No, you won’t be writing perfection, but you will be writing. And you can finally start. Or finally finish. Or finally get off the danged fence and into the fray.

I challenge you—get writing.

I encourage you—you can do it.

I dare you—what have you got to lose?

If you can’t NaNo, which requires you to write 1,600-some words per day for 30 days, set your own goals. Can you write 300 words a day? How about 1,000 words per week? A thousand a week is doable. If you have any facility for stringing words together, you can easily write 1,000 words per week. Even if you write a few of them while you’re at lunch or waiting in the carpool line or in the bathtub, you can do this.

Or instead of a word count, give yourself a time goal. Commit to half an hour a day, five days a week. That’s achievable for most of us. Cut out some TV or Internet time.

Or commit to writing a scene. Pick an exciting scene you’ve dreamed of writing and then have at it. Write the sucker. No editing. No changing words or tone or characters. Just get it down. And then write another scene. And then write one more.

See how it feels. See what you can do with your words. Writing just a few scenes may give you a taste for writing that you’ll never be able to give up.

Try an accountability partner, one you promise to keep apprised of your progress. Sometimes just telling another person that we have a goal is enough to keep us on track.

Have I encouraged you, convinced you, nagged you enough yet? I hope so. After all, if you’re reading this and you haven’t yet begun your novel, something’s holding you back. But if you intend to write one, now may be the perfect time to start.

If you’re waiting for your kids to get through school or for you and your spouse to be wealthy before you start, if you’re waiting for that new computer or the new job or the new spouse, you might have reasons to not begin. Or you may be looking for reasons not to start. After all, if you don’t write a novel, that novel can’t be judged.

Fear of failure is real. So is fear of success. But don’t let fear keep you from writing. Maybe you won’t ever be able to submit your manuscripts; you wouldn’t be the first to not submit them. But if stories and characters push and pull at you, demanding to be given a voice, why not give them that voice? Write their stories. Make them real.

Give yourself the satisfaction of writing, of crafting something creative. Put your talents to work, even if you’re the only one to benefit from your writing.

Only you will know if your reasons to delay are legitimate or if they’re excuses. But it’s likely that you’ll always have convincing reasons to not start and only a few nebulous reasons to start. Let me tip the scales in favor of you starting your novel—

You’ll get a great rush of satisfaction for having started. You’ll have taken that huge first step that you’d feared and anticipated and dreaded and hungered for. One of the toughest steps will be behind you. And this will make you feel great.

You might find that writing energizes you. It may bring you joy, joy that bleeds over into other areas of your life.

You’ll get the voices out of your head and into a story, where they belong.

You’ll find personal satisfaction at tackling a tough endeavor.

You’ll be well on your way to achieving your dreams.

__________________

No one wants to be defeated by something he failed to do. You won’t want regrets haunting you when you’re 80 or so, won’t want to face frustration and dismay because you didn’t try the one challenge that always gnawed at you. Instead, go for it.

Yes, it’s hard. And yes, you’re pretty much on your own. But the good news is that you control what goes into your story. When you write, you get to make all the decisions. Big or small, they’re all yours. And while an agent or editor may later suggest changes, while you’re writing, you answer to no one else.

The bad news is that your eyes will be opened to your personal work ethic and you might not like what you see—can you see a job through when there’s no one there to push you? Can you work, day in and day out, year in and year out, supervising yourself when the rewards, at least until you publish, are far from the accepted rewards the rest of the world gets for working?

After all, for months or years your only reward will be an increasing pile of pages and satisfaction at having solved thorny story issues. Will it be enough that your only payment during a tough spell is the discovery of a way to get your antagonist home from a murder at the beach—bearing no evidence of murder or beach—and provide a solid alibi for her, all before the police detective comes calling?

While we’re writing, the satisfaction is in the writing, in the power of words and in their beauty and in the creation of something new. I can guarantee satisfaction will be there; I can’t guarantee it will be enough for you, especially if you have to pass up other activities in order to write.

But if you’re a writer and you know it, know it in the deep places, then you need to write. If you want to be a novelist, you’ve got to write a novel. There’s no shortcut for this one. And there’s no reason to not start.

You don’t need to know all the rules, though you do need to know a lot.

You don’t have to have all your research finished, though you could begin it.

You don’t have to be a grammar expert or know which agent you’ll approach or which publisher would best suit your manuscript. Not before you start. Not before you get those words on paper.

You only need to get to work. If you haven’t begun, start with the opening words or the first dialogue or the climax. If you’ve begun but haven’t finished, finish. Satisfy that creative need in you and put an end to your story.

And if you’re in that odd position of having finished a first novel but don’t know how to begin on the second, remind yourself that you’ve already done it once. Surely it’ll be easier the second time. (While that may be true for some of the tasks involved in writing, it may not be totally true. But I don’t want you worried about that. Let’s assume a second novel will be easier in ways that are important to the writer who’s just finishing the first novel.)

Finish what you’ve started and start what you’ve promised.

Don’t be defeated simply because you don’t cross the start line.

And keep in mind that writing a novel is not a timed race. You do have to finish a manuscript in order to have completed the race, but simply finishing means you’ve won.

The only way to not win is to stop before you’ve reached the end. Or to not begin at all.

I’m here today to encourage you to both begin and finish. To put away your excuses. To write the novel that only you can write.

For specific tips, how about a list of the basics—How to Write a Novel.

***

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Tags: ,     Posted in: A Writer's Life, Beginning Writers

17 Responses to “No More Excuses—Write That Novel”

  1. Heaton Craig says:

    Having written a 450 page novel, which took two years to perfect, I have been unable to source a ‘proper’ publisher or literary agent after sending my synopsis (with S.A.E.) to over 60 of them – all sourced from the ‘Writers & Artists Year Book’. It has been an expensive and time-consuming exercise in utter futility. All I ever got back were standard ‘Sorry, our list is full.’ letters.

    This is very strange, since 300+ people, from various walks of Life, have read my [home produced paperback – almost a completly accurate facsimile of a professionally printed paperback] and 90% of these people said my novel is ‘Unputdownable!’

    This disappointment and disillusionment has galvanised me into placing my novel with Amazon/Kindle. The book is now split into a 2 part series – Book 1: ‘Foundling! – The Early Life of a Remittance Man’ and Book 2: ‘Foundling! – A Remittance Man’s Racy Road to Reform’.

    I am currently in the process of producing the book [as a whole book] as an audio version. I have nearly finished and am very pleased with the professional sounding result I have been able to obtain by using the [free!] ‘Audacity’ recording programme. My next task will be to try to source a publisher for this version.

    I have had it on good authority, that unless you have a very good contact in the publishing world, it is nigh on impossible to get one’s work published.

    Of course, most budding authors, in their first flush of enthusiasm, do not realise this off-putting fact!

    Never mind – ‘Per ardua ad astra’!

  2. Robert Darke says:

    A great place to start would be to join in with National Novel Writing Month which begins in just a couple of weeks – it started me writing again this time last year after too long a break!

  3. Heaton, getting published going the traditional route is difficult. Not truly impossible, but difficult. The odds are not good for a new writer or, as you said, a writer with few connections. One recommendation I see over and over is for writers to go to conferences to meet agents and editors. You get the opportunity to pitch your story then and there. And if the agent or editor is at a conference, you can bet they’re on the lookout for new authors. All it takes is the contact; if the story sounds promising to them, it’s likely you’ll be asked to submit the first three chapters. For those who want to reach a specific agent or editor, it’s a near perfect way of doing so.

    Of course, sometimes a manuscript isn’t ready or isn’t even good, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes a story simply doesn’t fit a publisher’s needs or interests. Other times the publisher may have recently bought a similar story. There are plenty of great stories that simply don’t meet up with the right person at the right publisher at the right time.

    Self-publishing and e-publishing have become alternatives. Congratulations on getting your novel out where readers can find it. Who knows? You might attract the attention of a traditional publisher or an agent. In the meantime, others can read your work.

    Good luck with the audio version—that’ll be one more way for book lovers to find you. It sounds as if you’ve made the tough publishing situation work for you. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the other writers here.

  4. Robert, NaNo is a great incentive for starting or finishing a novel. I agree—try it, writers. It’s a marvelous way to immerse yourself in your writing. And it’s fun as well.

  5. Frank says:

    I agree too. NaNoWriMo is great fun, this will be my third year participating, and it offers lots of help and encouragement.

    It also has to be said, I enjoy THE EDITOR’S BLOG immensely, and find the articles both educational and enlightening.

  6. Frank, good luck with NaNo this year. I hope you both finish and get some strong scenes and plot ideas and characters out of this year’s experience.

    Thanks for the kudos about the blog. I’m glad you’re finding information you can use.

  7. Kat Sheridan says:

    Dang it, Beth, get out of my head! How on earth did you know I’d stop here today for the first time in ages, and need exactly the article you’ve written (honestly, I was looking for advise on pacing!) You’re a wonderfully inspirational person! And to others, I did (and won) Camp NaNoWriMo in June, and plan on coming back for more in the ‘regular’ NaNo in November!

  8. Go, Kat! I’m glad to have been the right voice at the right time. Here’s to this year’s NaNo.

  9. Jack Kraven says:

    Hello Beth, I must to say you may have given me just enough reasons to restart my story. We’ll see.
    Sincerely,
    Jack Kraven

  10. Jack, here’s hoping you do get back to the writing, especially if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do.

  11. AP says:

    I’m an editorial intern for Hawk & Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability and I love reading this blog as a resource, but I’m also inspired by it. Even as just an editorial intern, it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s work and put off writing my own stuff. I don’t write novels, but I have some nonfiction ideas kicking around in my head, and this inspires me to put them down on paper.
    I have my own blog where I try to answer the question, “So what’s an editor do?” I link to your blog on my sidebar because I think it really helps to answer the question. Thanks!

  12. Beth,
    Thank you for saying exactly what I needed to hear.

  13. AP, thanks for the link in your sidebar. I checked out your blog—it looks great. I’m glad you’ve both found info you can use and been inspired by this blog—those are exactly my intentions. I wish you great success with your internship and I hope you do get opportunity to write more of your own projects. Getting our words out and into the hands of others is satisfying, to say the least.

  14. Penny, I hope you’re still writing away.

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