Friday, 23 August 2013

So, wanna write a book?

Lots of people say they want to write a book. “I have a novel in me.”

When they say that, I always, without exception say, “Go for it. Write that book.” I don’t think I will ever discourage anyone from writing a book. More people should give it a go, I believe. Writing’s good for the soul.

Alas, most people never do [write that book]. If they regret not doing it, that’s their own fault.

I’ve never heard anyone who has written a book say, “I wish I never did that.” (Then again, I hang out with people who want to write, and do write, books.)

So, wanna write a book? Here’s some things you need to know.

  1. Don’t just talk about it. Go forth and do. Great. I’m glad you want to write a book. But until you put a word down on paper, it’s just a pipe dream.
  2. The first sentence is the hardest. It really is. It scares everyone, even me. A friend once told me the hardest thing about playing the clarinet was picking the darn thing up. Same thing with writing. That first sentence is the hardest. Once you’ve written it, everything else flows easier.
    I think the reason it’s so difficult is because the writer expects the first sentence to be brilliant. Here’s a secret; it doesn’t have to be. I sometimes get stuck wondering how to start. When that happens (sometimes recognised as “writer’s block”), I write the following: “I will write a sentence.”
    If I am still stuck, I will also write, “and here’s another,” followed by, “This is what I want to write about. Our Heroine is upset about…” and then I start writing about what I want to write about. Eventually I segue into the actual WRITING writing. I can go back and edit out my motivational nattering later.
  3. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s another thing that gets writers stuck is the belief (either conscious or subconscious) that everything has to be perfect. It doesn’t. Nobody cranks out clean draft the first time, not ever. Don’t be fooled. Every writer does an editing pass or ten once the draft’s finished.
  4. Start the sucker. Finish the sucker. For every two people who never start their novel, there’s one person who never completes it. Sometimes they realise just how long a novel is (80-120K, average), or maybe their idea wasn’t as good as they thought it was, or they’ve forgotten, or it’s not that important. Whatever. There’s a million reasons why novels don’t get finished.
    But deep down, if you wanna write a novel, commit to finish it, no matter how short it ends up, no matter how bad. The triumph of finishing a novel in the first place is worth it. So what if you peter out at 20K. So what if you get sick of it and the final chapter is “And then aliens came down and shot them all, The end”? That’s okay. Do it, finish it, celebrate.
    In November, try NaNoWriMo.
  5. The first novel sucks. Accept it. The first novel anyone writes will be terrible. And that’s okay. Allow yourself to accept a sucky first novel. It’s your initiation badge of honour.
    My first novel, The Atomic Girl, really sucked. Second novel, Legacy of Leporis, also sucked. Third novel, The Marvelous Adventures of the Great…whatever, I forget, totally Mary-Sue sucked. Fourth novel, first draft of Of The Dark, sucked a bit less, but still sucked (great idea, poor execution). Fifth novel, Daughter of a Lady, less suckitude, but not the best idea. Let Sleeping Gods Lie, getting better.
    And so on. It’s taken me this long to get good. That’s just me. Lots of other people wrote a sucky first novel, then a brilliant second novel, which sells.
    But the first novel always sucks. Don’t tell yourself any different. Don’t berate yourself either.
  6. Write until you get it out of your system. Everyone wants to write a book because they’ve got The Itch. Go ahead and scratch [with a pen on paper] until the itch goes away. Some people complete a novel, and that does it for them. That’s okay. If you’ve only got one novel in you, you’ve only got one. Write it, get it out of your system, then go on with your life. We don’t mind.
    Then there are those of us for whom the itch never leaves . People like us, we’re called novelists. Best way to deal with us is to go away and let us write.
  7. You don’t have to get it published. Some people mistakenly think that the only way to achieve validation is for the novel to be published. Not true. An unpublished manuscript is just as valid as a published manuscript. But if you want something tangible to hold in your hand, I’m sure Lulu (who is happy to print anything) can print a few, very nice looking, personal copies. Just keep it personal.
  8. Nobody owes you anything. Don’t think that just because you’ve poured a whole bunch of blot, sweat and fears into a manuscript that the world owes you accolades. Completing a book, no matter how good or bad, is a personal achievement. Keep it that way. Sure, you could go the publication route, but keep that pursuit for your second book. The rest of the publishing world will agree with me.
    Effort does not equal genius.
  9. Want to be published anyway? Go do your research. There’s a whole lot more involvement when it comes to pursuing publication. Educate yourself as much as you can, young apprentice. Go write another ms. (This is mandatory.) Go learn what “ms” means. Go workshop. Go network. Build a positive online brand. Write some more. Read Miss Snark, Preditors & Editors, Query Shark, and random author blogs. Go hang with other writers, preferably ones who are enjoying at least a modicum of success. It’ll rub off on you. (Don’t hang out only with bitter, unpublished wannabees. That’s the train to Nowheresville.) Get used to rejection and disappointment. It’s part of the territory.
  10. Overall, be glad of the journey. So, you wanna write a book? Do so, and let it bring you joy. So what if there's a few rocks in the path? Take joy in starting a book. Delight in adding to it. Rejoice when you complete it. Keep a positive attitude if you pursue a more professional path.

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