Over the past week, I wrote a series of blog posts on prepping to write a novel. (You can get the links to all three posts at the bottom of this one.) I thought that last Friday's post was the final one in the series, but as I wrote it, something kept nagging at me, telling me there was more to share.
And that something was a collection of somethings, thoughts about the mindset that you need to cultivate to write a novel. Because, it takes a while to get the number of words that make up a novel onto the page. Sometimes it takes a very long while. And for starters, you have to be ready to make a commitment to staying with it for the long haul.
But what, exactly, does that mean? It is a matter of willingness. To prep for a novel and to write the damn thing as well, you must have a willingness to:
Be Open. You need a willingness to go where the work takes you, and not necessarily where you want to take it. You may begin with an idea about a man who loses his wife, but then as you make beginning notes your realize, no its really about the man's daughter. You resist, but the voice persists. So don't ignore it, stay open. And remember that this is part of the process.
Go Deep. You need a willingness to go deep. Being open helps this a lot. When prepping to write a novel, you often have to push beyond the first thought–and then keep pushing. Go down another layer, unpack another sentence, really burrow in there. You just might be astonished at what comes up.
Follow the Writing Process. The first draft of your novel is just that, a first draft. It is you figuring out the story on the page. Yes, you've done a lot of prep work, but you'll still find yourself surprised at many a turn. In subsequent drafts, you will figure out the best way to present the novel to your readers. But, here's the deal: when you make these wonderful discoveries (oh, my main character is a dog, not a human) you'll probably want to go back and make changes to chapter one. But resist the urge. Because, honestly? You're going to find out even more as you go along (oh wait, now my main character is a tiger). Write all the way through the main draft to the end, taking good notes, and acting as if as you go along.
Go For the Long Haul. As noted above, this is not a short road you are embarking upon. Know that, and prepare accordingly. You plan a bit differently for a trip across country than for one to a town two hours away, don't you? Lay in your supplies and remember to replenish yourself often, with celebrations as you hit milestones, long walks, massages, acupuncture treatments, or whatever self-care works for you. Writing a novel is hard work. It is wonderful hard work, but hard work just the same.
Let Your Heart Pound. You'll know when you've hit the right idea because your heart will beat a little faster and your breath might catch a little. And, this will also happen to you as you go along. Its the signal you've hit truth. And all good fiction tells the truth–at least one version of it. Welcome it, cherish it, glory in it.
Those are my key pieces of advice for a novel-writing mindset to sustain you. What are yours?
The rest of the series: