Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
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.