Then Get Out of Your Own Way
A lot of people, maybe even most, believe they have at least one novel in them—one story they’d like to tell. In truth, many of them actually do, if you believe the stats which indicate over a half million novels are published each year (in the United States alone).
Okay, so what’s standing in your way? You are, or at least there’s a very good chance you are the one blocking the way…
How many reasons (excuses) have you made as to why you haven’t written that novel? Let me list and then address some of the common reasons:
I Don’t Have the Time.
First off, you’re right. It takes a long time to write a novel. It takes time to plan, research, write, and revise…and edit and revise…and edit and revise…and so on… And all of that doesn’t happen over night.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have the time. It means you must have a true desire to make the time.
Okay, the obligatory “I had to walk to school through twenty feet of snow, uphill—both ways” personal tale of woe.
I wrote my first novel while teaching English and Science at the high school level, teaching after school classes two days a week, tutoring at Sylvan Learning Center two nights a week (after the after school classes), all while attending graduate school to earn my Master’s degree. Plus, I had a wife and young daughter…and a desire to have a life.
What about time constraints while writing my most recent novel? Things haven’t changed much, but maybe a little lighter. Still teaching high school English, teaching online English for students earning make up credit, serving as a village councilman, and still have my wife, now with two daughters.
Yes, I am sure some of you out there reading this have more obligations and work far more hours than I do. But if that’s true, and you’re still finding time to read this, you have some skill with respect to time management.
Managing time is important, if you want to write. You have to be able to prioritize and eliminate. While writing that novel doesn’t have to be the top priority, it has to be a priority. If you don’t put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard, it isn’t going to happen.
I don’t watch very much TV, and I don’t follow sports like I used to. Often I am up until midnight on weekdays, adding new words to my work in progress, or editing, or researching, or working to promote my already published novels (yes, my publisher helps—but I have to do my part). Instead of reading (something important to being an author) I listen to audiobooks while driving or doing mundane tasks round the house. When on vacation, I spend a few hours each day, writing or editing or researching or revising.
That’s my story, what I’ve faced and how I’ve adjusted. You’ll have to determine your priorities, and what you’re willing to give up to make or, should I say, make the time.
My Writing Skills Suck.
That could mean your SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) skills are subpar. It could also mean that you don’t know how to tell a story using the written word. Maybe both.
Okay, you didn’t pay attention in school. That’s not good for a few reasons. (Yes, what do you expect me to say? I am an English teacher, remember?)
Maybe you don’t know a prepositional phrase from a comma splice. Punctuation, capitalization…regurgitation…
What do you do? You could go back to school, but that’s probably not a viable option. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn as you go. How do you do that? First, there books and online resources that you can use to fill gaps (if you want to know some of these, email me, and I’ll share them with you, because it’s really a topic for a whole different article).
What else? Well, read, and pay attention as you read. Not only to the story (which is vital for storytelling—will discuss this later), but to the words, writing and punctuation. Learn how dialogue works, and how dialogue tags are used, and notice punctuation and sentence structure. Yes, it’ll take time and effort, but you’ll find as you write…from the moment you start that first draft, until you reach the end of the first draft, you’ll be a much better writer, not only grammar-wise, but storytelling wise as well.
Even if you’re not close to perfect, that’s okay. You’ll have an editor. If you choose to go the ‘traditional route’ with a publisher, you’ll have an editor assigned to your novel. They’ll help you fix those grammar gaffs and minor plot holes. Even if you decide to self-publish, you’ll have an editor, or you should—if you want to be successful.
I’m an English teacher. I have a publisher who assigns an editor to my novel, who finds typos, occasional grammar gaffs and comma splices, and more. If I were to self-publish, I’d hire an editor—because if you self-publish, you are the publisher (again, another article).
Okay, that ‘not paying attention in school’ thing again. Didn’t actually read those novels assigned in class, did you? See, reading is a primer for learning how to write. By doing so, you learn how a story is told…the many ways to do it (from varying points of view, to structuring a novel—a frame story for example).
Oh, and not paying attention in history or science or psychology…all of those would’ve provided solid background knowledge for storytelling. That means more research now…but, again, you’ll learn and be better for it (not only writing, but just being more knowledgeable about, well maybe some important stuff but also a good heap of pointless crap).
But, by reading and paying attention as to how successful authors told a story…you can learn.
Plus, remember that editing and revision part? What you’ve written (if you’ve written anything) would be termed a first draft. It’s far FAR from the final product. So yes, that first draft is pretty sorry. Not only will you get better as you write, in technical terms, the story will get better as you write because you’ll get to know the storyline and the characters and where you’re going with the whole thing. So, when you go back to revise, that second and third and fourth draft…? The writing process, you guessed it, a topic for another article).
When you get done, you might have something worth publishing. Maybe not. You may have to step up and try another novel (this happens to many writers…but again, another article to discuss the details.
I Have Too Many Ideas.
I hear it often, when I meet people at fantasy/SF conventions and similar events, or at online forums, or readers who contact me, usually via email.
The most direct answer is: Self-discipline.
Here are some common questions and my suggestions how to overcome the difficulties, because writing isn’t easy. It’s work, and a big time investment, and writers want to get it right.
Go with the one you’ve started, unless you get to the point where you know that it just isn’t going to work. Maybe the plot is too complex or won’t go anywhere, or the characters are all flat with no hope of infusing them with depth and color and interest.
It’s okay to quit on a project and move on. Consider it (or them) a learning experience. Observe where or why things didn’t work, and use that knowledge to avoid the pitfall(s) in the next effort (or just starting the same basic story from scratch).
If you have ideas for other stories, that’s okay. Make a file for each story idea. Jot those ideas down and save them. Add the bits of dialogue or character ideas or description or plot events—whatever, so that you’ll have it all available and it won’t be forgotten, should you desire to turn what you have collected into a story.
This second question is closely related to the first, but it has the tendency to keep an unsure writer in a constant ‘reset mode’.
It’s okay to write several novels at once. It’s not something I can do (again, a topic for another article). But, doing this increases the magnitude of difficulty for a writer just starting out.
Pick one story, be it the most burning one you have to tell, or the one you’ll think will be the shortest or the least complex and easiest to complete, or the one you think the most readers will enjoy (compared to the stories you have in mind). Whatever the criteria, select one and stick with it, work to finish it and all that entails.
Again, this situation can keep a writer in a perpetual ‘reset mode’.
It could be a lack of confidence, because if you never finish the story, there isn’t the pressure or the unknown, of finding out if anyone out there likes it (publishers/readers, heck family and friends).
I suggest working on the story and pressing through until the end of the novel. Take notes, and keep ideas for the other directions, in a file. Once you’re finished. Step away from the first draft you completed for a few weeks or a month. Then revisit it with fresh eyes. What needs to be fixed or improved? Are any of those other directions or ideas ones that will improve the story? If so, implement them in the rewrite/revision process in that second draft.
Remember, nobody publishes their first draft. Nobody. Okay, maybe it has happened, but I am guessing that those weren’t successful novels.
I Don’t Know…
…how to start (get going).
First, there is no single ‘right way’ to write a successful novel (define success however you like). If there was a ‘right way’, it would’ve been shared by now. Bestselling authors attack writing a novel in a multitude of ways, so there isn’t a single ‘right way’.
…if my story will be good enough or something anyone wants to read.
That’s the $40,000.38 question. Maybe lots of people will discover and enjoy the novel. Maybe not, but you’ll never know unless you finish it.
…How to find a publisher (once I finish, what should I do?)
The options are so much wider open for authors than they were even a decade ago. You can seek an agent to represent your completed manuscript (novel) to publishers, especially the major publishers that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (slush). Or you can send your manuscript to publishers yourself: large, medium, small and micro. (again, a topic for another article).
Or, you can self-publish (not subsidy/vanity publish—see another article topic in the paragraph above).
There are benefits and drawbacks to either route, but both are viable ways to get published, and have your novel available for others to read. Remember, it takes a long time to write a novel. You can learn about the publication routes along the way.
To sum up about: Getting out of your own way…
Set hesitation aside, set time aside, and just sit down and do it—write, doing whatever it takes to finish the task.
When Terry isn’t writing or enjoying time with his wife and daughters, he can be found in his basement raising turtles.
To contact Terry, or to learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at www.ervin-author.com and his blog, Up Around the Corner.
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