CP: How to Write a Novel

This post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

I apologize sincerely for the lack of posts lately, but these past few weeks have been hellish for me. NaNoWriMo, the University of Michigan, Thanksgiving, and stomach flu have all conspired to decrease my blogging. Fortunately, though, I did finish the first draft of my novel! At 68,258 words and 242 pages, it’s still rough around the edges and needs a lot of filling out, but it’s a complete manuscript. That means that the tough part begins now — editing.

While I’ve tweaked a few things here and there, I’m leaving the heavy duty lifting until after my beta readers have had their fun. Do any of you use beta readers? Essentially, they provide the first feedback on your writing so that you can improve. I’m really scared, though, because this is my first novel and I’m terrified that people won’t like it. But I’m rounding up a great group of readers whose advice I trust. First, there’s Phineas, who has a very low tolerance for my bullshit. Then, there’s Fabrice, my wonderful Parisian friend who will edit the portions of dialogue in French. Thirdly, my fellow WordPress blogger, Dennis McHale, has kindly offered to read for me. That means I’m still looking for two more readers…if you’re interested, please comment below!

Now that I have successfully finished my manuscript, I feel slightly more qualified to offer novel-writing advice. I’m sorry if I wasn’t able to help much with your NaNoWriMo attempts (as there are three days left of November), but I’m sure many of you will continue working on either the same or a new novel. So here goes wisdom learned the hard way:

How to Write a Novel

  1. Start with an idea. While this may seem intuitive, it is really important that before you begin writing, you have an idea that you are passionate about. You don’t have to know all your characters or all your plot twists. You can start with a setting or with a feeling. For my novel, I was inspired by several works of art — the documentary  La domination masculine, the film Parlez-moi de la pluie, and the picaresque novel Don QuixoteIf you’re not able to think of anything, then expose yourself to as much creativity as possible. Don’t limit yourself to literature; try TV shows, musicals, etc. Above all, write a novel that you would want to read.
  2. Make a schedule. If you only write when you feel like it, your novel will never get written. For me, I had to carve time from being a full-time student and part-time tutor in order to write. In order to make this happen, I set my alarm for 7 am Monday through Friday and put in a solid 2 hours of writing before class. To keep my sanity and creative juices flowing, I took weekends off. Figure out whether you write better in the morning or in the evening, and stick to your schedule no matter what.
  3. Practice. As if anything, practice doesn’t make perfect, but it certainly makes better. At first, start with a number. I recommend something between 500 and 1000 words a day. I chose 900 somewhat arbitrarily, but I found it worked for me. Then, proceed to manipulate, blackmail, and bribe yourself in order to achieve that goal every day. Trust me, you’re going to fail a lot. Most days, reaching your target number will feel like death. If you fall short, though, don’t worry. It gets easier. Towards the end of my novel, I was reaching 2000 words a day regularly.
  4. Don’t edit. In fact, try not to think about your novel at all when you’re not writing. This is much harder said than done and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be constantly critiquing yourself and berating yourself for being the worst writer on the planet. Try your best to quiet the cynical judge within you. It also helps to keep your lips sealed about your novel. Even if you’re excited about your characters and your plot, don’t talk about it to anyone. You might think that it’ll encourage you, but in the end it will only slow you down.
  5. Finish. No matter how badly you’ve failed at following the first four rules, none of it matters as long as you finish. Even if you end the novel well short of your target word count, do whatever you must to finish. I wasn’t sure how long my novel would be, but I wanted it around 90,000 words. I’m about 20,000 words short of that, but I’m planning to flesh out my first draft significantly in the next few edits.

And voilà you have your first draft. When I survive the editing process, I’ll be sure to post a guide on that too. Are any of you finishing up your NaNoWriMo novels as we speak? Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Bonne chance,

R

P.S. For those of you waiting for part three of Greatest Man, don’t worry! It’s coming soon.

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