Congratulations! So am I. And so are about a billion other people. Well, maybe not a billion. I’m not great with numbers. Anyway, my point is there are a lot of us out here throwing noodles at the ceiling hoping one will stick. The good news is lot of us are going to fail, but I’m going to circle back to that later.
So how do you do it? What’s important? If you’re like me, you googled it. And pretty much every article, tip, trick, and how-to will tell you things like plot, characters, scene and setting, blah, blah, blah. They are also super duper wrong. Those are the core ingredients of turning your novel into a good novel. But you don’t have a novel yet. Hate to rain on your brigade.
The most important thing about writing a novel is finishing the stupid goddamn novel. You’re the lunatic who set out on this masochistic endeavor of a lifetime, so you’re the masochistic lunatic who’s going to finish it, because, let’s face it, anyone who wakes up one morning and thinks, hey, I going to write 80,000 words just for fun, is certifiable. You signed up for this.
I’ll tell you a secret, just between friends. It’s one word so pay attention. Momentum. I’ll say it one more time just in case. Mo-men-tum. Do not lose it. I’m serious. The best way to get out of a rut is not to get stuck in the rut in the first place. That is the singular greatest piece of advice anyone has ever given me. Don’t be like me; don’t figure it the hard way.
Now let’s say things take a turn toward the unfortunate. You were going full speed and you lost a wheel and now you absolutely need to stop. And I mean absolutely. Like if you don’t take a breather you’re going to steal a hot pink Ford Focus, kidnap Weary Willy, and drive across the country, through the desert, just to bowl yourself over the Golden Gate Bridge (or the Brooklyn Bridge if you’re on West Coast). I get it. I really, really do. So here’s what’s going to happen next:
You’re not going to stop writing. You are going to switch gears. Temporarily. Write something else. Write something small. A poem, a flash fiction, a blog post, maybe a short story. Have an idea for a new novel? Stop! Abort mission! Your hard drive is not an idea dumping ground. It’s not where novels go to die. Open a word doc, scribble a plot bunny, save it, close it down. You can come back to that sucker when you finish what you started. That’s what we call incentive.
Now let’s say the worst has happened. You gave it a go, you gave in, and you gave up. The fact that you’re even here right now tells me that you failed at some point along the way. You know what? So did I. I bit it so hard, in fact, that I wrote an entire blog on it. Shit happens. You tried and you failed and now you’re going to chop that sucker up full-Frankenstein and build yourself a whole new breed of monster. What I’m saying is: recycle. Recycle anything you can. Somewhere in that shit heap there are some true gems. So put your big girl panties on, wade through all that nonsense, and take the best parts with you. Stitch them together. Shock the hell of it. Raise that shit from the dead.
The first draft is not supposed to be good. It’s supposed to be a gooey pile of word vomit covered in the blood and sweat from all the hours you spent bleeding on that keyboard. Right now you’re playing mad scientist and your word processor is your laboratory. You are the God of your universe. You play by no man’s rules. Stuck? Send your characters to the circus. Maybe a riot breaks out. Monsters, robots, and aliens, oh my! You can cut all that out later.
The “good” part of a good novel comes later in what we call a “rewrite.” That’s when you trim the fat, tie up all the ends into pretty bows, slap some lipstick on that sucker and take it out to play. We’re not going to worry about things like flat characters, plot holes, and bad dialogue now because you are not a gladiator facing death in single combat. You, my wordy friend, are a literary sniper, and much like a regular sniper, you didn’t come to this party with just one bullet. If you miss your mark, you can try again. And again. As many times as you need to. What you can’t do, however, is stop a bullet halfway through because you think you might maybe miss the shot. Sorry, too late, you already pulled the trigger. Finish the damn thing and then see if you missed.
Now every good sniper knows there comes a point when it’s time to stop shooting. Maybe your cover’s been blown and it’s time to move on. Maybe you hit everything worth shooting and there’s nothing left. Could your shots have been better? Obviously. There’s no way every single one was an insta-kill. That would be crazy. Some bled out from a flesh wound; others probably got away. It’s fine. If you’re looking for perfection, pick a different nuthouse.
Eventually, you’re going to hate spiral. That’s an inevitably. You’ll sink into a cesspool of doubt and self-loathing and contemplate throwing your entire life’s work into a dumpster. Don’t do that. I once knew a woman who did that; they would not let her into the dump to look for it. By the nine, don’t go there. When you get to that point, and trust me you will, remember: we are in this together. I am here for you. I’ll even figure out how to set up an inbox just for you.
Here is something else no one is going to tell you: you can do this. I know it’s scary. You are climbing the Mt. Everest of the written world, and just like those who climb the Everest of the normal world, people are going to tell you you’re crazy. It doesn’t help that they’re right. You are crazy. Thank the universe for that, because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to pull all this off in first place.
So you’re writing a novel? Great. You see that little ‘x’ at the top corner of this web page? Click it and finish the damn thing. I’ll meet you back here when you’re done.