Writing a novel is hard.
If you’ve ever attempted to write one, you know what I mean.
I’m almost done writing my first novel. I’m at that point where I’m checking for continuity, making sure everything makes sense, and generally prettying up the words. Soon I’ll be looking at querying agents! I’m so excited because this is the furthest I have ever come to completing a work this large. I’m proud of myself for doing it, but it’s been a long, weird, treacherous road getting to this point.
I’ve always liked writing. I’ve never taken an official creative writing class, but I’ve been writing creatively since… the beginning of time? And I’m a ridiculous reader. I get more pleasure from reading than most other things in life, and reading as much as I do has made me a better writer.
Years ago, my room was an outrageous storage space for diaries, writing notebooks, and scraps of paper with scribbled bits of unfinished short stories. I wrote every day, pages and pages and pages of words, thoughts, ideas, poems, ranging from topics of love and horror and science fiction to life observations. But the number of things—stories—I had completed was small. I mean, really, really, embarrassingly small. I had this habit of getting started, and holy shit was I on fire! And a few scenes in, I’d lose momentum, and the writing would dwindle down into nothing. A wisp of a tale left untold.
I did this for years. Until one day, I didn’t.
I had just gone through a rough time in my life, and I was at a standstill in everything. My future. My relationships. My living situation. The daily poo-pooing on myself for my mistakes. I was stuck. I hadn’t been writing much. But I had still been thinking about writing.
Then one day, after an especially pathetic period of slogging around the house feeling sorry for myself, I asked myself what the fuck I was doing. I literally said, What the fuck are you doing? Why the fuck aren’t you writing? You say you want to be a writer, so WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
And would you believe it, I had answers for myself. Excuses, really.
I need a better computer to type on.
I need nicer pens.
I need to be happier.
I need inspiration.
Waaaahhh waaaaaahhhh waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh.
And then I told myself to go fuck myself.
I didn’t need a new computer, or fancy pens, and I certainly couldn’t wait around for a burst of random happiness or for the elusive muse to trickle deliciously creative fairy dust on my head. Those are all things that you make happen, not stuff you wait to be given. I had never felt like such a poser in my life until I really started listening to my own half-assed excuses for not writing. I mean, if you truly want to do something, you do it, right? And if you sit around all day dreaming about writing, then really, isn’t dreaming about writing what you truly want to do?
I fired up the old desktop dinosaur and started writing like my life and livelihood depended on it. I mean, had I been waiting around all this time for someone to come along and write for me? For some mysterious entity to barge in and physically lift my fingers up and down on the keyboard? I recognized that things were the way they were in my life because I had made them that way, and that if I wanted things to change, I had to change. If I wanted my life to be different, I had to be different. I saw that if what you’re doing isn’t working, you have to do something else.
This became my mantra. I said it to myself constantly. I said it to other people who complained of being stuck in a rut. I wrote it down in my journal. I used it in the first story I completed at the desktop dinosaur. I made those words a part of my essential self. Basically, I either psyched myself out or hypnotized myself or both. And it’s been working for me ever since.
Now, that’s not to say it’s been smooth sailing. It has not. The novel I’ve almost completed has gone through a terrifying number of iterations. First it was Horror, then Sci-fi, then it was sort of Superhero Sci-fi, then it was Horror Thriller, then straight Thriller. My characters have changed. I’ve completely cut some and revamped others. My main characters have gone through so many reinventions I worried about somehow giving myself multiple personality disorder. I wrote an entire novel, over a hundred thousand words, then scrapped all of it. I wrote another ninety thousand, and scrapped that, too. I restarted, rearranged, renewed, then doused those words in gasoline and started yet again. I kept going, kept writing, kept pushing and pushing until things started to make sense, until I wasn’t completely disgusted by my own words. I wrote by the seat of my pants, I outlined and outlined some more, I created some sort of pantsing/outline combo method, I made flow charts and bubble charts and spreadsheets and filled notebook after notebook and document after document with pages of just notes about my story. I organized and reorganized and threw everything into new disarray. I read about writing, read about reading, read about fight scenes and dialog tags and worldbuilding. I studied the three-act structure, the hero’s journey, the romance plot, the crime plot. I learned about tropes and genres and genre-bending. I delved into grammar and style, sentence and paragraph structure. I researched and absorbed things and rejected things and I read and read and expanded my reading, and all the while, I kept writing. Until eventually, I saw something beautiful emerging from this thing I had created, this dark pit of story-creatures who’d never seen the sun. After absorbing and discarding so much information, after writing longhand and pounding at the keys until I developed what I think was carpal tunnel, after worriedly popping ibuprofen and fearing my fingertips might bleed, I suddenly had a better feel for Story than I ever had before. I understood Characters and Character Building better than before. I saw moments of Foreshadowing in my story I hadn’t realized I’d written in. I saw my story as it was always meant to be, the one I had been meaning to tell from the very beginning. I started seeing my writing not as a disgusting bucket of murky trash water but as a thing that maybe deserved to see the light.
And I built upon it. I took what I had written and analyzed it. I broke it apart and reassembled it, less like an angry toddler digging around in the bottom of the toy bin for the perfect Lego block to complete the Lego castle and more like a calm, concise adult putting together the pieces of a very ornate and very expensive puzzle. I stopped cursing myself and my work and I started handling everything with care. I began to love my work; I allowed myself to impress myself without having to tell anyone else the specifics. I crafted a baby, and I had finally begun to nurture it.
And that’s where I am now. And it’s why I started this blog. I want to help people who want to do this thing we love but don’t know how or where or when to start. I want to share the tools and mindset I used to get to this point, and maybe help you get there, too. If you’re thinking about starting a novel, start right now. No excuses. Tell yourself to go fuck yourself. We writers love writing, we need writing, and we are in this together. Let’s share our methods and ideas and anecdotes. I’ve shown you mine. Now maybe you’ll be so kind to show me yours.