Writing a novel is infinitely complicated. But, if there is one blooming in your soul you should go ahead and write it. You will not regret it.
Here are some insights into what needs to be done.
Use the five senses and more. You might remember to include sight and smell but what about taste, feel, and sound? These latter three tend to get neglected. Be sure to get them in your story. For example, if your character is walking in the woods in the fall, you can include the taste of earthen leaves settling on their tongue. Be sure to include other sensory delights like body language and character reactions to events around them.
Plan your work. I can’t stress this enough. I often hear writers lamenting their affliction of writer’s block. The surest way to have focus and keep moving is to have a detailed plan of your story. Know the ending and every key plot event. It will give your writing clarity and purpose. Also, if life interrupts your writing, you will be able to pick up where you left off.
Your writing is your writing. You have a style. The way you put words and sentences together has a flavor unique to you. Don’t squash it. Certainly, there are rules to follow. But I am giving you permission to write your way. Give the world your novel, not one that adheres to the rules and just plain sucks as a result.
Use your life as inspiration. Your life is full of crap. It is full of beauty. It is full of everything in between. Give some of that to your characters. It will make them complete and deep.
Know the finish line awaits. If you keep writing and revising and editing you will have your book in your hands one day. It is a certainty. Internalize this: “If I keep going I am guaranteed to finish”.
You can do it. You are meant to do it. And the world wants to read your masterpiece.
Life is full of moments, most of them quite small. I have often written about the importance of finding significance in the seemingly insignificant. And it is a foundational belief that directs my approach to living life.
However, we are gifted a handful of monumental moments. Those events so large that they make it impossible to miss their impact. The birth of a child. A wedding day. Graduations. These happen and they demand we recognize their ferocious presence, that we stop and look and listen and let it saturate us.
These are the times we look down at our feet and understand we now stand at the conclusion of a long and treacherous path. In a place, we thought we would never arrive. We stand in awe and we stand surprised. We stand battered and exhausted. But we also stand renewed and energized with reflective tears stinging our eyes.
This is how I stand before you now.
My moment is the release of my novel, Emerge Beyond Circles.
It is a day in which I rejoice. It’s a big one. And I am eternally grateful to share it with you.
May you find joy in the small things and rejoice in the big things.
Now, I am going to grab some coffee and put my feet up for a bit.
Day and night. Weekdays and weekends. Seasons. Life and death.
Year is the cycle most deeply anchored in our soul. It is scratched on ancient cave walls. Revered by faiths and traditions around the globe. Obeyed by creatures big and small. We feel it and we heed it.
January 1st is when we release a sigh of relief, followed by a deep draw of anticipation. The past has gone and the future looms, as promising and daunting as ever. Just as it has for millennia, as it did for our ancestors.
Now, it is your turn, our turn to fulfill the hope and promise of all who have come before. To be intentional and energized, purposeful. So when we pass the baton to those waiting at the end of our cycle, the start of theirs, it is done with force enough to reveal our love for them and ourselves and those who came before.
It is my hope that this year when your resolutions are made, your scope extends beyond yourself. Include all humanity in your vision.
Is 2017 the year you mend a relationship? Finish your masterpiece? Love your neighbor? Reach down to pull up the fallen? Go to battle for those who need a hero? Finally put yourself first? Accept help? Let yourself be loved? Do what needs doing?
I had read many testimonies about the tortures of writing a novel. When I began my book, 8 years ago, I was certain the stories were exaggerated. I thought that there was no way it could be that hard.
I was wrong. It was every bit as difficult as I had read and heard.
In fact, if I had known how difficult it would be and how long it would take, I am not sure I would have completed the damn thing.
Here at the highlights.
In December 2008, I began planning Emerge Beyond Circles. After four solid months of planning, I was ready to write the first word.
I conservatively estimate that I have spent 3,000 hours planning, researching, writing, revising, and editing my book. That is a year and half of 40 hour work weeks.
When I finished a relatively polished draft of the entire book, it was 95,000 words. After several months of ruthless revision, it was 77,000 words. Then I rewrote to get it back to 80,000 words.
A mentor read my book and suggested I delete the first four pages. She suggested it would instantly improve the book. In one fell stroke, four brilliant pages were gone forever.
I thought I was 100% done with my book in August 2015. The book is being released on January 7th, 2017. Needless to say, there was an unseen gulf of daily work I still had to traverse.
I printed a complete version at least thirty different times. I read it each time with a red pen in my hand and went back into the electronic version to make the revisions.
I poured over the entire document time and time again using Grammarly and Autocrit, both are online editing tools.
It was an exhausting effort but filled with moments of intense beauty.
Why do it? I write, we write because we are writers. It is as simple as that. The story in Emerge Beyond Circles insisted on being born. It made a painfully slow entrance into this world, an eight-year labor.
And now the novel I envisioned will meet the world on January 7th.
Thou Shalt Know Thyself. What is your style? How do you phrase things? How do you build tension? What kind of characters do you love/hate to write? Which words do you overuse? Where are your strengths and weaknesses? You need to come to a reckoning with these answers.
I overuse certain words. The list goes like this; that, really, and next. My ongoing revision is to search my document for these words, go through one by one and eliminate or replace each occurrence. It is not uncommon for me to have 70 “that” in a longer piece, and revise it down to 5 or 6. I know this about myself, but I don’t tend to it much during the writing of the first draft. That would just slow me down. Instead, I seek and destroy overused words during revision.
Thou Shalt Do Research. We can all put together a story. Where we begin to see authors rise above is in the area of research. They add interesting facts and tidbits. Things that make us, the reader, smarter or inspired enough to do a Google search to see if it is true.
A story without tantalizing research-based facts is like chicken noodle soup with only water, noodles, and chicken. Yes, it is chicken noodle soup but it is bland. It is the seasoning and vegetables that make it yummy. I mean, no one’s secret soup ingredient has ever been water or chicken. Flavor your writing with facts.
Thou Shalt Demand Progress. There is nothing more debilitating to your progress than being focused on sales. Write for yourself first and others second. Put all thoughts of making it big fall away. Chasing money only serves to kill your muse.
Instead, demand progress from yourself. The art of writing is infinitely complicated and can only be learned while you write. Study style and structure and technique. Listen to those who know. Apply what you can as you go. But understand it is impossible to master this art. However, it is possible to become proficient enough to produce quality writing.
Thou Shalt Wait. Our brain requires time to process what we have written. It is a curious process. For some reason, once we have an idea or draft, our brain spends a lot of time with it. While we sleep it analyzes our work. While we shower it offers insights. While we exercise it constructs the perfect revision ideas. And then it presents all of this to us…if we are patient and willing to listen.
But, it means we need to slow down. The process takes time. It means we need to take days off. It means we need to listen to the little voice when it speaks.
I refer to my little voice as my little man. He is short, bald, unshaven, cranky, and smokes a fat cigar. He wears overalls and has a messy desk. He is my ally. I speak directly to him. I say things like, “Little man, I need you to find a clever ending for this chapter” or “Little man, can you find that name I thought of a while ago?” or “Little man, would you be so kind to find a cool way to remove these characters from the dungeon?”
Then, I go off into my day while he works these things out for me. He hasn’t failed me yet. But, I do need to be patient and ready and silent enough to listen. It always works.
Thou Shalt Revise. What is revising? It is you constantly asking yourself, “How can this be better?” It is the part of the writing process where you create beauty. If you think you are done revising, you aren’t. It is a brutal and long event. You, the creator, assume the role of violent disrupter. It is often painful. You slash at your creation with ruthless red eyes. In fact, I only feel like a writer when I become willing to delete entire pages in order to transform my writing from good to beautiful.
Thou Shalt Know Your Purpose. Why do you write? It should be stated succinctly. I write because my soul requires me to. Because I want to leave a portion of my spirit for those who love me. My novel, Emerge Beyond Circles is my love letter to the world. It is my offering to humanity, my chance to bring beauty to my species. I write because I am a writer.
When the pressure of this world pushes and pummels me, and my energy for writing dies, I come back to these commandments. They focus me. Energize me. I hope they are of benefit to you as well.
But we, as writers, observe and engage and apply. It is a three dimensional way to spend our lives.
For example, a video of a man stacking rocks comes through on my Facebook newsfeed. Everyone watches it, if only for a moment. A fraction of those will attempt what they see by stacking rocks on their next visit to the sea shore. But writers watch it, try it, and take mental notes through the stacking of those rocks.
We carefully note the sound the rocks make when they bump each other and when they tumble. How our fingertips feel when they graze the rough surface. The smell of the muck we disturb dredging rocks for our monument. How our frustration mounts as they fall and our joy when it stands independently.
We do this because we intuitively know that rock stacking is a wonderful thing for one of our characters to do.
Writing is a constant activity. It has legs that never cease and a heart that always pumps.
Writers know that writers are always writing.
When we say “we are writing”, it is the penning of words we refer to. But the penning of words is only the visible act, the players on the field.
Thinking about our writing is the behind scenes action we must nurture. Long before the first or final words are written, our minds have spent countless hours steeped in the story or article or poem or song we are constructing.
Thinking about and pondering our writing is essential to and, I believe, the most undervalued element of the writing process.
The writing process begins and is sustained by our thinking about what we are writing. Our brain must play with ideas. It must cradle some and murder others. When we sleep it whips things together and presents its constructs when we wake. Writing is not given to a stop and start existence.
As a writer, I must actively think about my writing. I do this during my commute, on hikes, bike rides, in the shower, and on and on.
This is how I visualize my process.
There is a little man in my head. He is overweight, bald, wears tattered overalls, and new shoes. He smokes a fat cigar on most occasions. He is not embarrassed by his underarm sweat rings or heavy body odor. His disposition teeters on angry, but I would say he is closer to cranky. Despite this, he works hard and is dependable.
It is he who runs to and fro around my mind, looking under and behind things, turning up memories and moments that make their way into my writing.
My best ideas have come from him.
He is so dependable that I can give him a task, go off on a long hike, and upon my return, he presents me with ideas a plenty.
It may sound silly, but all of us have a little man and he is waiting to help.
Our brain is an amazing machine. It works for us.
Next time you need ideas or perhaps solutions, task your brain (little man) with it and watch the magic.