First-time novelist here. Finally, after decades of talking about it, dreaming about it and assuming it was impossible, I have my head buried in my first novel manuscript.
Most creative people I know, in fact most people I know, have a story inside of them that never gets shared. Maybe it’s down to fear of failure, or fear of not being good enough, or never finding the time or momentum, but so many people tragically neglect the thrumming potential inside of them, letting it go unseen forever and telling everyone that they plan to write a book “one day”.
So how do you overcome “one day” syndrome and write your first novel NOW? For me, there are a few key obstacles to your success as a writer that you need to overcome.
That little voice in your head that tells you every word that flies from your fingers is utter dog shite? Or that you have more serious, pressing responsibilities? That writing a novel is a fanciful luxury? A frivolous waste of your time? That’s resistance.
Before I started writing my novel, I read a fantastic book called The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. It was the literary kick up the bum I needed to shed all of my fears, stop being so afraid of what my own imagination might produce and just to sit down and write. Because that’s the hardest part of all.
Let me guess – you’re scared that if you actually write your story and it isn’t successful that you’ve tried your best and failed – you’ve proved yourself right. But if you don’t try, you’ve failed by default.
Write the story you want to read
Where I failed at writing novels before, with so many stuttering false starts, is that I was writing a story I thought would be popular, instead of the story I wanted to tell – and read.
If you don’t enjoy reading your own story, who else is going to? Write for your own pleasure first, write something that excites and captivates you – write characters you care about, write places you love. If you enjoy the process of writing, your readers will love it too.
Don’t even think about the dreaded ‘P’ word
Want to get published? Write a novel first. Don’t put pressure on yourself by thinking about literary agents and publishers before you’ve even finished your first draft, just get the damn thing written.
There’s no correct way to write
I’ve been on countless creative writing courses, read so many books on the process of writing. You know what I’ve learned from them? There’s no correct way to write.
Some people diligently write 1000 words a day, some people write 500. Personally, I sit at my keyboard and write until I’m hungry, then I write some more, paying little attention to the word count. I stop when I start to lose enthusiasm. My one rule? I write every single day.
While writing this novel, I discovered another thing – I’m a total panster. I shamelessly write by the seat of my pants, with nothing but a vague idea of where I’m going. No plot, no spider diagrams, no character profiles, no structure, nothing but the hazy knowledge of where I want to end up.
I know some writers who would gasp in horror if they saw my careless attitude, but I can’t help it. I’ve never been a planner. I need complete freedom to follow my characters wherever they want to go that day. I need the unbridled excitement of not knowing what’s going to happen next, of sitting down at my keyboard every day to find out.
I can’t plan, because it just kills the story for me. But I know so many writers who are the exact opposite of me, who cannot write a word until they have a coherent strategy. There’s no right or wrong about it.
And this is the big one, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SUCK
Your first draft sucks. It’s bloody terrible. That’s OK – it’s meant to be. When you’re making a choice between momentum and perfection, always go for momentum. If you try to make every sentence perfect before moving on to the next, you’ll never finish.
The best course of action is to get the idea out there, to set out the scene, word vomit the story and if it’s crap, to come back to it later in the editing process. Just let the story flow. Editing bad copy is easier than making it perfect the first time around.
You’ll probably find that your book will be unrecognisable after editing, and once you have your story down there’s no time limit or amount of times you can rewrite before you need to stop.
Print and read
When it comes to your final edit, I’m a firm believer in printing out your work. Yes, it’s terrible for the environment, and I’ll have to walk everywhere for the next month to offset it, but it’s the only way to really assess how it’s going and spot any errors or clumsy phrasing.
Once you’ve written your novel and you’re happy with it, then you can think about things like literary agents, editors and publishers. The first step is writing. Good luck, I’m sure I’m going to need it too!