No, this isn’t a blog post on the ins and outs of writing a novel and publishing it. This is, however, a post on preparing yourself to attempt writing a novel and setting yourself up with a story you can actually write about until completing. I will post more on the process of writing and publishing as I complete the necessary steps, but those will come in time. Full disclosure- I am not an authority on writing. I do teach Literature to middle school students and I have written both professionally and unprofessionally. I am far from the perfect writer, and the first tip I would give you is to stop trying to be the perfect writer.
More than likely you will reach a point in writing your novel in which you look back at what you have written and see all the bits that are complete and utter crap. Stop worrying about this! As I progress in the editing process, I am amazed to find the ways I can improve things that were once crap into truly beautiful writing. I also have some sections that are just OK. Hopefully I can find a way to make the whole text sing, but I have read numerous books by authors with a million times the skill I possess that have weak sections in their works. If you try to make the whole thing perfect, you will probably drive yourself nuts. Keep going back until you get is as well-written as you can possibly make it. Just don’t expect that perfect prose to spill out the very first time you type a bit of explication into your word processor.
The second tip I can provide is to write as many story treatments as possible. I have a nice collection of over twenty story ideas- many of which will probably never see the light of day. Some are as simple as a title or short description of a concept. One of my notes simply says, “Planet Orphan”. I know what that means and where that story could possibly go, but things change as you work on them. Let me show you an example of one of my awful story ideas that I won’t delete, but is way far back in my list of potential follow-up works.
Struggling journalist stops to help handicapped homeless vet while pursuing a bs story he hates. Begins talking to him, asking his story. Gives up and bitches about his job. Homeless guy starts to tell him story. He writes a very popular article about it. Gets to be more in demand. The whole story ends up being a lie.
How about this nugget of poop?
Benny tries to commit suicide using his bumbling father’s pills. He lives, then has to suffer the humiliation of everyone knowing he tried to off himself.
He did it because a girl he had a crush on for years has drama, his friends lives are screwed up, and he doesn’t have the motivation to do well in school despite the pressure his parents put on him.
He tries again by jumping off the school roof. He survives. Learns stuff.
More than likely neither of these are going to see the light of day. Still, the inspiration hit and maybe it will on these concepts again. But, seriously, learns stuff? If your best idea for a source of conflict is that the guy needs to learn stuff, please don’t work on the story more until you know what that stuff is!
My next tip is to flesh out a small section or sample chapter of your potential ideas. Try to write in the voice and tone of what you want the story to be. If it starts to drastically change as you write it, then you might want to sit down and work on an outline or more complete story treatment.
Here is one that I really like and want to return to one day.
Stella grasped out for Remmy’s hand, but his hand was slippery from holding the heavy leather bag she felt his fingers slipping from her own. She tried to grip tighter, but the change squeezed his hand farther down her grip instead. She looked at the city below. People were walking, talking, eating, and just plain loitering about, oblivious to the deadly struggle taking place fifteen stories above.
She looked back to him and their eyes met. His neck was strained red and that vein she used to make such fun of him about stuck out even farther than she had ever seen it before. She’d have to rib him good about that one once they got back to the commune, she was thinking to herself as she reached down to grab him with the other hand.
Their situation was bad, yes, but not as bad as chasing two bulls away from the cows when they were in heat. It also wasn’t as bad as the bandits that had come to loot the year before. They had guns, while the commune only had their old wooden farming equipment. That had required brains and luck. This situation only required on thing.
“Remmy, DROP THE STUPID BAG!” she screamed at him.
He had to take a deep breath before he could speak because the pull of his legs expanded his body so much that his diaphragm was being pressed on.
“No!” was all he could manage to spit out even after all that.
“Remmy, quit being a putz and drop it! It isn’t that important. We can get more stuff and still get back before dark!”
She was surprised to hear the plea in her voice. She knew it would be alright. It always was.
Just as that thought crossed her mind, she felt Remmy push the bag into her hand and let go.
She watched him fall.
Down he went.
He was gone.
She pulled herself back from the edge before he hit, but she heard the sounds of it and began to retch.
You may see more of this one in the future, but you may not. Why? This leads me to my third suggestion- Don’t try to write something with such a huge scale that it is unwieldy. Sure, you could try writing your five-book Harry Potterish series, but you have no guarantee that people will catch on to your magic sauce. An epic story is a major investment in a reader’s time. Try to limit your scope to something manageable. At least for your first novel.
I have a huge series based on the life of Alexander the Great and the library of Alexandria that I would love to write one day. But now isn’t the time. It’s too ambitious and nebulous at the moment, and I would rather wait until I have a (probably meager) following of readers before I even think of attempting it.
Now, that last one may not apply to you if that is where your inspiration is and if you have the dedication to see an epic story through. Still, a work with a limited amount of characters will make you more likely to actually write something you can finish and work on editing to perfection.
One of the hardest bits is actually getting yourself to do the damn writing, so set goals. If you have a two week vacation from work, then set a two or three chapter goal for that time period. The more you can find ways to force yourself to write, the more chances you have of actually getting something written. Telling yourself that you will do it one day is the procrastinator’s way to delay actually doing the damn writing.
Again, I am far from an expert. I will also probably end up publishing a novel that is a relatively minor blip in the annuls of writing history. It may even be completely ignored. Still, if I could empower anyone else to take some of these steps and at least attempt to write, then I have done a great thing.
Writing Empire, Nevada has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Some things changed a lot from when I started it. Some things disappeared completely. More will improve as I prepare to publish. I’m not saying you can write a first novel and earn millions of dollars off of it. As a matter of fact, my last piece of advice is to not expect to make a ton of money off of your writing. One of the things that truly scares me about self-publishing is that I don’t want to turn into a huckster spamming Twitter with links to my book. I am writing this because I have always wanted to write a novel. Everything else beyond that is icing on the cake. My initial goal is to make $2,000 off of Empire. Something tells me that is doable, but I refuse to let myself get any ego in all of this. There are much more talented writers than myself. I truly believe that I would be doing it wrong if I went into this expecting to retire from teaching and live in the lap of luxury. Besides, I love teaching and hope to find a way to both write and teach.
I hope these tips help you a bit. Please let me know if you have any tricks you use to write- Especially if you have managed to write your epic series and not let the scale of the endeavor have you puking in fear.
I will post more soon, but not so soon that it keeps me from actually getting the damn work done!