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Writing a Novel

Updated on April 1, 2008

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.

My messy desk
My messy desk

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.

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    • Scott Wilkins profile image

      Scott Wilkins 9 years ago from Denver

      To go from writing an article to writing a novel is the equivalant of jogging around the block to running a marathon. I applaud your efforts. I've been considering taking the plunge into a full length novel and draw inspiration from your example.

    • ajbarnett profile image

      ajbarnett 9 years ago from Costa Blanca, Spain

      Congratulations. What you've achieved so far can never be taken away from you. If you land a contract, drop me a line and we can perhaps do an interview on my blog (http://ajbarnett-story.com ). We all need publicity, and even my spot can help out.

      Anthony

    • crashcromwell profile image

      crashcromwell 10 years ago from Florida

      We have a similar background, insofar as I have been writing fiction since I was a child. Unlike you, I completed many that would be considered novels. The problem is that none of them were publishable. Now I've written the first installment in a fantasy/scifi series featuring the hero Antiquity Calais. If you would like to read about Antiquity and his friends (not to mention the villian Leviathan Avalon) check out my hub.

      Good luck!

      Jim Henry

    • TravelMonkey profile image

      TravelMonkey 10 years ago from United Kingdom

      in my personal life i'm in a simialr position. i write for a living but have always hoped to complete a serious project. i think your idea of just letting it spill out and filling the pages is good - thats the approach i take in work afterall -

    • Lightstruck profile image

      Lightstruck 10 years ago from Denver

      Congratulations on finishing your novel! Regardless of what happens with it, the fact that you actually finished it, is more than most can say. I truly enjoyed reading your page, as I could totally relate to many of the things you brought up, as any aspiring writer could.

    • profile image

      MOM 10 years ago

      I am so proud of you, Christi. You are not only a talented writer but a wonderful daughter. You should be very proud of yourself as well. I too am looking forward to reading your novel.

    • profile image

      luvnlyf 10 years ago

      http://donpaulpublishing.com/

      You can get a little of Jen's history by checking out her website but she also has an email address on the site if you wanted more info or just had questions for her. I'm pretty sure she monitors the email that comes through since mom said she just started doing this again. Anyway, hope it helps and good luck...BTW, don't know if it matters but if you think it'll help you, say Em from Tacoma referred you. You are talented and it'd be great to see you succeed!

    • zannr profile image
      Author

      zannr 10 years ago from Portland

      Thanks!

    • zannr profile image
      Author

      zannr 10 years ago from Portland

      I'm always looking to connect with people in the publishing world.

    • profile image

      luvnlyf 10 years ago

      Sorry, meant to add, notice how many "mays" I put in that side note. I can't guarantee anything but I love connecting people! You never know what great thing might come out of it.

    • profile image

      luvnlyf 10 years ago

      I love the observation of "abstract and flowery" in reference to your poetry skills! I can relate; I've been writing stories since I was about nine also and was told I had a gift.  Yah, imagine my surprise when my college prof told me my paper basically sucked...whatever, I always preferred stories anyway.  It's funny how you can be a talented writer and yet better at some forms than others! Anyways good luck on your book! (As a side note, if you're in Portland, Or and looking for a publisher, I may know of someone who may be of some help:)

    • profile image

      Reagan Marten-Guzman 10 years ago

      Christi,

      I hope you or someone close to you is pat, pat, patting your back! Not only did you finish something you've always dreamed of, but you also wrote an article about the process! I always thought your junior high notes were too eloquent to deny yourself from writing a novel. I'm very excited for you. Congratulations!

      Reagan

    • profile image

      Jodi 10 years ago

      Wow! What a great sister you have to give you such a wonderful gift ;o)

      Can't wait to purchase the finished product on Amazon!

      J

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