Friday, May 24, 2013

Lessons I've Learned From Writing a Novel

  1. Writing can be a lonely experience. It's hard to say "no" when friends invite you out for coffee or a movie. Locking yourself in a room and pounding at the keys is isolating in a way that's difficult to describe.
  2. When the world is going on outside your closed door and you're feeling sorry for yourself, keep your fingers moving. Soon enough, the characters in your book will gain substance and you'll be carried to their world. As long as you have characters, you're never alone.
  3. Once you're in the world you've created, prepare to lose yourself. You'll find that this fictional world is rich and full and absolutely endless. The characters who live here are just as real in their world as you are in yours. 
  4. When you visit your fictional world, remember that you are a guest. Sure, you conceived  it, but you're not God here. At best, you're maybe an advisor. You can suggest to your characters that they behave in a certain way, but you can't force them. You can outline what a town looks like, but you can't paint the details. Trust that this world will develop itself in the way it needs to be developed.
  5. Don't expect anyone to understand why the actions of your characters make you angry, sad, or excited. Nobody will ever get that, to you, these people are real. Sure, your spouse might nod sympathetically, but he or she just can't understand. As far as anyone can tell, they're just characters in a book you're writing, not actual people with annoying and endearing personality traits.
  6. Just write. Even when you don't know what to say. Even when you don't think anything will come out. Even when you think you'll be staring at a blank page forever, make your fingers move. I've been known to write the word "something" over and over again until my fingers start to form words of their own. Sometimes I reread the last few sentences I wrote the day before and then tweak them a bit. That small act is often enough to get the juices flowing. The important thing here is that you sit down and make your fingers move. The words can't come if you don't let them know you're ready for them. 
  7. Internet radio, such as Pandora, is your friend. Create a brand new account for use when writing, and then learn what your characters like to listen to. Add stations that reflect the vibe and emotions of their world and lives. Every time you write, put on your headphones. You'll find that the music not only drowns out the barking dogs, but it makes transitioning to your characters' world a whole lot easier.
  8. Stay off of social media when you're writing. Nothing will suck hours out of your day like scouring facebook for writing groups. Along this same vein, stay away from YouTube. Cute puppy and kitten videos are deadly to the craft. They suck you in and before you know it, you've spent an hour watching "just one more." 
  9. Speaking of time, there is no such thing as the perfect time to write. We all have busy lives. We're all balancing a hundred things at once, and we all wish we were able to write full-time. For most of us, that's a pipe dream that does more harm than good. Time isn't going to present itself to you wrapped in a bow, you have to make it. Choose a block of time, whether it's half an hour, or three hours, and write at that time. Every day. 
  10. When the time for rewriting and editing comes, be kind to yourself. Don't let the roughness of your first draft convince you that you're a bad writer. Rewriting and polishing is part of the process. Nobody gets it right the first time. Not even you.
What lessons has writing a novel taught you?