Writing a Novel
My Experience Writing a Novel
I’m typical among writers who have always wanted to write a novel—since they were nine years old—that kind of typical person. Not the Great American Novel, but a novel in its own right. I’ve been writing for that long. I even wrote a small book when I was a child on a small white notebook. I illustrated it. I even recall the name “The Tombstone”. It was about a young girl who lived out in the middle of the desert (I grew up in Arizona) and lived in a cave. Her mother gets sick and dies, thus she seals her mother up in the cave and calls it her tombstone! Brilliant, right? You should see the illustrations—even better.The point is, I’ve been writing for a long time. Quietly. Concerned. Melancholic. I started a novel when I was 24 or 25. Someday I’ll finish that one. I did so much research for it that I just couldn’t get past page 40. Or maybe I just lost momentum, which is quite common for first time novelists. So why am I writing this? Because I’ve finally finished a novel, not the Great American Novel, but the one I wanted to write— since I was nine, but I’m 30. First, I want to say that I have taken writing classes. I started out thinking I was going to be a brilliant poet, but upon re-evaluation of my poetry skills, I found that I was overly abstract and flowery. I liked reading poetry more than writing it anyway. Then I took a fiction workshop and loved it. I found what I wanted to write. Fiction. The thing that teachers in those classes most consistently said was: keep writing. That’s what I’ve done.
How did you finish it?
I had written about 25,000 words of my novel in about two years. It takes a while when you have a 40 hour a week job, have a social life, and have hobbies too! I was on a two-month writing hiatus when I was let go from a job, unexpectedly at the end of November. The night that I found out I was out of work, I picked up my 25,000 word beginning and went to a bar. I started revising the thing as I had my first vodka tonic and about half-way through it a friend of mine sat next to me at the bar. I got drunk and talked about losing my job the rest of the night. The point is, after that night, I was determined to finish the thing. I had no excuse. I started revising what I already had down the very next day (no I didn’t have a hang over).
The next significant thing that happened was my holiday trip to Arizona. I had been writing a lot, but my novel was still only slowly moving forward. I had written short non-fiction pieces and was adding to a short piece that I soon decided to turn into a novella. So the writing was there, just not on my novel. Anyway, my sister knew about my situation and she went out and bought me two books as a Christmas present.
1. Writer’s Market
2. No plot? No Problem? by Chris Baty
A friend of hers had recommended the second book to her. I was a little skeptical about the second book, but I was willing to read it, why not? I read half of it on my two hour plane trip back home.
Anyway, the book outlines how to write a novel in one month. For those of you familiar with National Novel Writing Month, the guy who wrote the book is the founder of this event. Some of his advice is pretty simple and obvious, if not cheesy at times, but it motivated me to finish the rest of my novel in 30 days. The book addresses the fact that most people still have a 40 hour-a-week job and it gives out ideas on how to work with that schedule. I added over 40,000 words to my 25,000 words in 30 days.
The key to writing a novel in thirty days is to write, not to write amazing prose, but to simply get it all out there. The revision process is where you will flesh out your novel. Writing a novel in such a short amount of time keeps you on task. If you commit to finishing your novel and you tell all your friends and family about it, you have to finish it! Otherwise you’ll look like a jerk! I told as many people as I could, but was still humble about it. Some people may think you’re bragging, others think you’ll never finish it, and still others just don’t get it.
What happens after the first draft?
After I finished my first draft of my novel, I’ll admit I felt a little let down. You go through many different emotions while writing. The contentment of having a block of time to do something that you love doing, the euphoria when your imagination takes off, and the inevitable fear that your novel is going to suck. Once you get over all of that you’ve finished a 50,000 words or more novel! Whoa, and now what? You’ve gotta start revising the thing. I did some research on revising a novel and I found some great advice.
First, make sure you know how and where you work best. If you like going to a coffee shop or would rather stay at home and sit at your desk, do that. Next, just read through the novel and correct grammar and the little things you can mark up on the page. Second delve in deeper and have a notebook where you keep notes on plot points that get lost, characters who’ s name changes, or situations/ideas that need more explanation. Those are things that you may need to add a new scene in for.
After I went through my first draft I decided to employ the help of some super intelligent friends! I sent out an email asking for editing help (anything helps). I decided on three rounds of editing with a group of up to three editors and drew up a schedule. Each editor gets three weeks to edit the thing and then I get two weeks to revise it after they have commented etc. At this point I am in editing round one. I will get three marked up manuscripts in two weeks and then I will start my revisions. My next article will be based on this process. As an author you must weed out what you think is best for your novel based on comments (aside from grammar errors) your editors have made. I anticipate that my biggest changes will occur with content and plot points that are unclear or underdeveloped.
At this point I'm just happy to have finished something that I have always wanted to do. Hopefully it will be something that I can get published, but if not, I'll be OK with it. In any case, I'll never stop writing.