Since I published my first novel, several people have told me they’d also like to publish a novel or memoir. I think this is great, but in some cases it’s surprised me because I didn’t know these folks were interested in writing. Maybe–in some cases–they didn’t know it either.
If there’s anybody out there who is inspired by my example to pick up a pen, I say, Yes! Go for it! But now here comes the unsolicited advice.
If you haven’t been doing a lot of writing, but now you’re wondering “Shall I write a novel or a memoir?”–well, I have to say I think you’re asking the wrong question. Here’s the right question: Do you like to write?—because if you want to write a novel, it helps if you like to write.
Try this: set aside some time to write. I suggest 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week. I think it’s best to aim for the same time every day (e.g. right after breakfast, during your lunch hour), but I’ve heard some people schedule blocks of time in their calendars every week, wherever it fits.
The idea is to develop a Writing Practice. You’re like a musician practicing scales or an athlete doing warm-up drills. Writing every day helps you develop a habit so when you sit down to write, the words spill out and you actually write, rather than thinking about writing.
Now when you first start this practice, don’t try to write your novel or memoir out of the gate. At this point just write. Write fast. Write whatever comes into your head. You’re practicing. You’re learning how to get into a flow, a rhythm. Write silly stuff, write angry stuff, doesn’t matter, just write.
DO NOT spend three or four hours writing everything you’ve been holding inside for years and years in one giant cathartic rush that you just can’t wait to get onto the page, and wow, it feels so good to finally do this, yes, yes, I can write and I can write a lot for a long time, all right, and now I’m done. You read it over, it sounds brilliant!! You feel great about it–but you don’t pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard again for four months, because you’re waiting to feel inspired like that again.
Yeah, sure, you can do that if you want, and probably somewhere there’s a successful novelist or two who writes books this way. But I’m here to tell you that most people who write novels sit down and work on it day after day after day.
So when you want to develop a practice, on Monday you write for an hour and it’s trash. On Tuesday, you write for an hour and it’s trash. On Wednesday you start to write a cool story about your Mom leading the Girl Scout troop in fourth grade, and the hour is up but you’re not done. That’s great. You stop anyway and the unfinished story rides around with you for the next 23 hours and when you start on Thursday you waste no time. You get right into it, and the story is richer in detail and complexity because it’s been cooking in your subconscious. Maybe you don’t finish it till Friday, or maybe not even till a week from Friday. That’s fine. But the day after you finish that story, you come back and start again. And maybe it’s trash again. That’s okay, it’s all part of the process. But now you know that, because the practice gives you the confidence that you can stay with it for the long haul.
I suggest you try this for a month or so, just to see how it goes. I know it’s not easy to stick to a schedule. If you need to skip a day now and then, that’s okay, just start up again the next day. The main thing you want to find out is this: is it fun? When you’re actually writing, is it fun? Is it satisfying? Are you enjoying putting the words on the page? If the answer is yes, then you’re going to write that novel. You will. You’ll figure out when and what and how. But if you don’t enjoy it, well, maybe you’ll want to re-think this novel-writing goal. But if you’re determined to write even if it’s not so fun, I do have another idea. Join a writing group. Not a critiquing group—that’s for later. No, join a group of people who actually writes together. Because we writers are so much fun, we’ll guarantee you a good time.
Here’s a link to an earlier post about books I’ve loved that have helped me with my writing:
And here’s a link to a post about writing groups:
Good luck, have fun, and drop me a line if you’ve got any questions! Happy New Year!