finished my manuscript on Thursday, May 17th at 1:20 p.m. To a
writer, the event of completing your first novel is akin to when JFK was shot or
when Armstrong took his first steps you remember where you were. I was at
work on my lunch hour when I finally wrote END a couple of spaces below
the last line. Not the most exciting place to be, I know. But that didnt
matter to me one bit. What mattered was that I was finally finished!
I know it doesnt look like it so far, but the purpose of this article is not
to gloat or shout out to the heavens that Ive finally finished. Nay, the
point of all of this is to try and pass on a few of the things I stumbled upon
during the whole experience, in the hope that those of you still working on your
first novel can avoid them (or run smack dab into them as the case may be).
off the top, let me just say that there is no secret to writing. There is no
magic pill that will give you the stamina (yes, I said stamina), creativity or
the balls (all writers need them, man or woman) that are required to finish a
novel. From what Ive heard, Im one of the lucky ones. I set out to write a
book about three months ago and finished it in roughly the timeframe I had
envisioned, with no false starts to speak of.
doesnt mean that I didnt run into difficulties. Far from it. There were a
few times that I got stuck (one of those times I thought Id never get
unstuck). But I persevered. On those few occasions when I did stumble, what
helped me find my way again was talking about it with my wife. Thats not to
say that she gave me ideas for the story (although she did). Mostly, it was just
enough to talk it over with someone, get the problems out in the open and look
at them from all possible angles. Pick someone who you can trust and who
supports what youre trying to do (that in itself is sometimes hard enough to
do) and just babble away about whatevers got you stumped. Youll be amazed
at how well this works.
could be argued that had I used an outline for my plot, I wouldnt have run
into these roadblocks. That may be true, but for me, not using an outline ended
up being of far greater benefit than harm. I think its safe to say (even
after only one book) that I am one of those writers that starts out with an idea
for a story and just has to run with it, letting the plot fill itself in as I
go. This method may not be as common as planning the whole thing out, but it
does allow for a certain degree of creative freedom that outlining does not.
What I mean by this is that with outlining, I believe your creative paths
(for lack of a better term) are already mapped out. You know where you want the
story to go, so you automatically think down that path in order to follow
your outline. Although Im not knocking this method (it certainly would have
saved me some headaches), I think you unconsciously stifle your creativity when
trying to mold the story to fit a predetermined structure.
I experienced was that, although I met with some resistance at times, the story
seemed to take on a life of its own. Many times I would be writing away,
thinking it was going in one direction, when all of a sudden it would take an
unexpected twist. Before I knew it, protagonist became antagonist, or a
character I had thought would live until the end died instead. This was a
delightful way to experience the story.
of the reasons many people never finish their novel (again, just an opinion) is
because they get bored with the plot or the characters and start thinking of it
as work, as a chore. This is the death knell for any manuscript. Even if you do
finish it, it will feel cold and empty. The ending may seem rushed, as if the
author was in a hurry to get it done and move on to something else, which is
what most likely happened. One of the best ways to avoid this is to have the
story remain fresh and exciting throughout the writing process. Discovering the
story as you write it can certainly accomplish this.
above method actually helps to avoid another big pitfall that many of us find
ourselves in. Most writers (especially beginners like myself) agree that the
most difficult task to accomplish is not coming up with the ideas, or silencing
the inner critic, or even finding the time to write, but rather finding the
stamina it takes to write consistently.
Do I see a few nodding heads out there? I must agree that this was tough for me
also. It was hard enough to find the energy and the will to write almost daily
when I was working on a story that I enjoyed. I cant imagine trying to write
one I had become disenchanted with. More often than not I found myself looking
forward to my writing sessions simply because I was excited to see what would
happen to my main character that day. I simply became the tool by which the
novel found its way onto the paper. The story itself told the tale. And I was
thrilled at being swept along for the ride.
was something else that helped motivate me during times of crisis. This may very
well be a controversial subject (actually, I know it is), so I wont beat
around the bush. Ill just spit it out. One of the main reasons I write is to
get published and one day make a living from my writing. Still there? Let me be
absolutely clear on this so that there are no misunderstandings. I love to
write. I really, really do. But I do not write solely
for my own enjoyment. If I did, I probably wouldnt be so dedicated to
treating my writing seriously. If it were just a hobby, I would only do it when
I felt like it. I certainly wouldnt sit down and force myself to pump out a
few pages at 11:30 p.m. after a hard day.
I said, this is a controversial topic. Many people Ive spoken with say that
you have to treat writing and publishing as separate entities. Ive never been
one to subscribe to the majoritys way of thinking, however. I believe that if
you want to have your writing published, you have to recognize this as one of
your goals and use it every day as a motivational tool. There has been many a
time when the thought of sleeping in, working on my own schedule, not punching a
clock (or setting one) and writing whenever I felt like it instead of when I
could squeeze an hour in, has helped me shake off procrastination long enough to
get the fingers moving again.
I promised to share a few things with you that have helped me become a better writer. Whether they work for you is for you to
find out. But the important thing is to find
out. And you can only accomplish this one way, and that is to write! It
sounds simple, but Im constantly amazed when I talk to people (a few on the
boards here, as a matter of fact) that tell me that they want to be a writer,
and that they are reading all kinds of books on how to be one, and that they
admire so-and-so and theyve read everything he has ever written. Then I ask
them what they are currently working on, and they respond, Oh, I havent
started writing yet, Im still learning. People, I know youve heard this
before, from far better writers than I (published writers even), but it bears
repeating. YOU HAVE TO WRITE TO BE A WRITER!
tell me that its hard to find the time, or that you have two kids that
require constant attention, or that you work two jobs and have just enough time
to sleep and eat. All of these are valid excuses, but they are just that
excuses. If you really want to write, youll find a way. Youll treat your
desire like more than just a hobby. Youll get serious about your craft.
more thing I want to share with you. This may be the best motivation of all to
finish that novel youve been struggling with. Its that feeling you get
when youre done. I imagine that flying feels something like this. Its the
weightlessness, the freedom, the accomplishment, the pure joy of the moment. The
second you type END, you join a club that is a lot smaller than you might
think. You join that group of people who have written a novel. A whole novel!
And it is an incredible feeling.
dont know if finishing your second novel, or your third, or your fifteenth,
has the same feeling as when you complete your first, but I definitely intend to
find out. Ive discovered a hunger that has me wanting to experience not only
this feeling again, but also all of the varied emotions that come along with the
journey. I sincerely hope I get to welcome more of you into the club very soon.
I am 33 years old and live in
Toronto, Canada. I have dabbled since high school, but only recently decided
that writing was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Im married and
have two kids, so I know what its like to have to squeeze the time in to
write. I am currently at work on my second novel, and editing the first.