I wrote my first novel at 17. It wasn’t even a little bit hard. The story, the emotions, the characters and their struggles? Those were all ready to spill onto the page. But was it a killer New York Times’ Bestseller?
Oh, no no no my friend. It was not.
Six years, and several short stories and WIPs later, I’m no closer to shaking hands over a freshly-printed contract. But I’ve opened my mind, and those of my comrades, to the reality of fleshing out the novel inside our heads.
What’s holding you back?
Make a list of everything — mental, emotional and physical — standing between you and your story.
For me, it’s making an unfair comparison.
As I’ve grown older and read increasingly sophisticated novels and short stories, I’ve guffawed over the awful and mundane and swooned over the captivating, smooth writing of my all-time favorite writers. My bar is high; my self-consideration is low.
Don’t measure your first drafts to a bestseller’s finished piece and wonder why you can’t focus on getting there. That’s like standing at the bottom of Mount Everest, sure you’ll never make it to the peak alive.
With that attitude? You won’t.
Be honest with yourself and carve out time for this exercise. After the list is complete (or as complete as you’ll allow it to be), run down the reasons and cross out anything that cannot be overcome or tossed aside.
Who holds you responsible?
The best creative decision I made in 2013 was to start a writers critique group. Once a week, one of us has to send out a short (less than 1k words) piece for critique. The rest of us supply feedback by the end of the week.
By developing manageable rules and requirements, we’re able to abide by that schedule and work on being tough but compassionate with each other.
It’s not easy to find an ideal group of writers — sharing your half-baked ideas and scribblings can cause a panic attack. But it also forces you to write regularly, stick to a schedule, read others’ work and learn from their mistakes.
And the responses, when positive, can fuel your creative fire.
Where are you starting?
The story’s beginning does not have to be your beginning. Content Marketing Institute proposes writing easier content first, then returning to what you’re struggling with. It gives your mind time to sort out, and possibly ditch, any concerns or inconsistencies with the trickier section.
If you have a solid structure for your novel, and are eager to pin down the opening, climax and resolution scenes or sequences, jump in. It might actually help you fill in the smaller details later on because you’ll better understand your character arc and how to feasibly get from Point A to Point B.
Are you being unreasonable with yourself?
When I talk to my writer friends, one question that consistently surfaces is “What if I can only write ‘x’ words per day?”
Um, hi. Progress is progress.
Hold yourself accountable by setting a specific time frame or word count per day or week.
Do yourself a favor, though. Don’t aim for an hour if you only have 20 minutes. Not only will you fail to meet that goal, but you’ll feel much worse than if you had made a more reasonable plan in the first place.
Do you know your characters?
I’m a character sketch/questionnaire/bio junkie. I love nothing more than to sit down with a pencil and loose leaf and chip away at a series of questions about the main character.
In doing so, the questions force me to learn the character’s backstory and reasoning for moving forward and growing. The answers spark potential scene ideas and color the way the characters engage with each other in those scenes.
Now tell me: what’s holding you back from writing the novel inside your head?
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