If you’re tackling a novel for the first time, I’d be willing to bet you’ve been inundated with advice:
Take this class
Join this workshop
Read this how-to book
Follow this blog
This list goes on and on.
Have you ever found yourself spinning in circles as to where to start?
I mean, there has to be a tried-and-true method for penning that next great book, for getting on the bestseller’s list (although now there’s so many of those, that moniker hardly means anything), for winning a major literary award.
All the experts say theirs is the foolproof method for how to write a novel that sells.
Wouldn’t it be great if even one of those held the key?
But do you want to know the real secret? The one “they” won’t tell you?
All of the methods above can be helpful—down the road. But not the first rattle out of the box.
Okay, here it is, that key to the writing universe:
I know—a real secret, isn’t it. But the whole point is, you have to use the creative side of your brain first. The story that’s in your head, the people running around in there driving you half nuts, well, all of that needs to get down on paper before any of the learning devices work.
“They” don’t tell you that, do they. Because the vast majority of “experts” out there want you to utilize their method of writing.
And the stark truth is: There is no one way as per how to write a novel. There is only your way.
The editing, the revising? Now, that’s a different beast. But you can’t mold clay into a beautiful sculpture until you get the clay out of the box and upright on the table, at least hazily resembling the picture in your mind. Then you can learn the skills to stroke its real essence into being.
I talked recently about the benefits for writers of NaNoWriMo. Because this is exactly it—that intensive month of writing gets you committed to the part of this craft that matters most: writing.
So very often new writers come to me, and they’ve taken classes and workshops and read all the books on prose and characterization and plotting. They quote them to me.
And the real conundrum about that? The more studying they’ve done, the less they’ve written.
Because the muse is a funny entity. She objects to being constrained. She thrives while running freely through the fertile fields of the psyche, spreading magic dust through the corners of the mind, blowing inspiration onto the page.
When you tell her how to do that before letting her fly, she is not amused. Almost always (although I’ve yet to meet the exception), she flies off in the opposite direction, and you then spend a ton of time and energy trying to woo her back.
Will what you write during this time survive the light of day? Probably not. Hopefully not. Because yep, it’s gonna be a lot of crap. Whether in penning your first novel or participating in NaNoWriMo, much of what you write will be so bad, you’ll be oh-so-glad no one else saw it!
But you’ll also be in great company.
Remember: Hemingway lost his first 3 manuscripts on the train. He was devastated. Later on, he said it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He learned to write with those first 3. And what he wrote later was so much better.
So, I’m going to tell you the opposite of what the other experts advise:
Don’t take the class
Don’t join the workshop
Don’t read the how-to books
Don’t follow the blogs
Okay, on the last one, except mine J But even then, not until you have the story down and the folks at least somewhat apparent on the page.
Once you’ve completed your first experiment (which is what any novel is in the beginning. That first effort—even for seasoned authors—isn’t so much a first draft as it is an investigation into what’s to come), then all the real work begins.
Only then is it time to learn the craft. To take that class. To join that workshop. To read those how-to books (although I’m not a big proponent of most of those either). To follow those blogs. To work with that editor.
Then, and only then.
In essence, walk away from all of that until you’ve let your creativity soar, and your “experiment” is down on paper.
Trust me—you’ll be glad you did!