A Tale of Perseverance, Having Faith In Your
Abilities, and that Pesky Thing Called Plot
So you have an idea for a story. It will be a magnificent story filled with emotion, perfect grammar, lines that write themselves, and absolutely no plot holes! As Dwight from the Office says: False.
One of the hardest things to cope with as a writer is that your novel doesn’t just fall onto the pages ready to be published. There is nothing scarier than a blank page. It holds so many possibilities, from the accomplishment of your dreams to heartbreak. I know a lot of writers who are scared to mess up the perfection of an empty page. But here’s the thing: we don’t use typewriters anymore. Words can be erased. Pages can become blank again. You can start over. You can rebuild it. You have the technology.
Here are some tips that will hopefully help you get through your first draft:
1) Put That Sh*t On Paper—You can’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist, guys. If you’re trying to figure out how to fix a plot hole that you haven’t written yet, stop. Write it out. Put it on paper and then address it. I’m a notoriously bad plotter. I barrel head first into most projects, flashing both middle fingers at that thing called plot. I’ve always been jealous of writers that effortlessly weave together a story; that have some prophetic sight allowing them to see three books into the future. But that is a talent cultivated with time and—yes—drafts. I don’t think anyone writes a perfect story their first draft. So write the draft first, then address any plot issues. Don’t get hung up on it before your story even has a chance to stretch its legs.
2) Think Baby Steps Instead of Big Picture—Stephen King says any writer should be able to finish their first draft within three months. Stephen King is one crazy mofo. Sorry, Stephen, but not all of us pop out books like Tori Spelling pops out babies! It has always taken me, the procrastinator that I am, around a year to finish a draft—though I’m determined to finish my current WIP within six months. Did you know that if you write a mere 400 words a day, you will have a 75,000 word novel within six months? Take this process one step at a time. Taking on a whole novel all at once can be overwhelming, so chisel away at it…400 words here, 400 words there. Give yourself room to breathe, room to think about where the story is going.
3) But Don’t Pull a Writing Muscle—If you don’t feel like writing, don’t force yourself to write. It is possible to get burned out. You are in a relationship with your novel. What happens when you spend too much time with someone you’re in a relationship with? You start to need your own space. You fight over the empty toilet paper roll not being replaced, or the light being left on. Giving your novel “space” allows you to be excited when you return to it.
4) And Sweet Baby Jesus, Don’t Have Anyone Line Edit It—You’ll never finish the draft if you start line editing. I made the mistake of having someone look at my first seven-thousand words. They came back ripped up and stained with red. Don’t get me wrong, the edits were great and none of the comments were unfounded. But writing the rest of the novel is a big enough job—don’t burden yourself with thinking about all the rewrites you already need to do.
5) Do a Lot of Research on Your Topic—If you find that you’re stuck on something, research, research, research. Read every book and article you can on your topic. Watch every movie available. Find someone on the internet that has experience with your topic and talk to them about it. Knowledge leads to inspiration.
6) You Know How People Say First Drafts are Supposed to be Bad?—They are right! It’s okay to write “vocal chord” instead of “vocal cord,” or “scone” instead of “sconce”. There will be commas where there should be none; semi-colons will be used incorrectly. Scenes won’t make sense, reactions will be unrealistic and dialogue will be unbelievable. Don’t fret. Get that skeleton draft together and then layer muscle and flesh on it until you have a functioning novel. This is the hardest step for me. I’m a perfectionist and edit as I write. If there is a glaring mistake in the MS, I will immediately fix it—but I never get stuck on anything. If you are a perfectionist like me, don’t let yourself get hung up on a scene that isn’t perfect. It can be fixed during rewrites.
7) Keep THE END in Mind—Know where your story is going, and don’t get lost along the way. Knowing how your novel will end can help you when it comes to plotting. If you know your destination it will be easier to stay on the path.
8) Get inspired—Don’t dedicate all your time and energy to writing. New experiences can also fuel inspiration. So I urge you to go out and do something you’ve never done! Go to a concert, movie, or bar. Go out with a friend. Take a vacation! Read books, regardless of whether they are in your genre or not. Whatever you’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the time, go out and do that thing.
9) Join a Writing Group or Book Club—MeetUp.com is a great way to find other writers in your area. I am part of one of the most amazing writing groups. Every two weeks I bring five pages to read and a group of 3-5 people critique them. If nothing else, I know I’ll write five awesome pages with which to impress my group. Not only do you get several critiques at the same time, but you also get to socialize and network with other authors. My group motivates me when I’m feeling as though I should drown myself in episodes of The Office.
10) Fall in Love with Your Characters and Settings—If you don’t love them, change them. Get excited about what you’re doing. Fantasize about your MC’s love interest. Act out your favorite scene or the scene you’re writing—and be as dramatic as possible. Remember that you control the characters and settings, not the other way around.
11) And If You’re Stuck, Change Something—Often I get stuck if my novel has veered onto the wrong path. Hung up on some dialogue? Can’t visualize your character’s surroundings? Erase it. Yes, you heard me correctly. Erase it and start over. As I mentioned before, words can be rewritten (trust me, I’ve accidentally deleted whole pages before). Often if I look at a scene from a completely different angle the words will start to flow.
12) Reward yourself—Ah, my favorite step. What is your weakness? For me, it’s the delicious thirteen dollar sushi rolls at the sushi bar down the street. If you’ve just met your writing goal, whatever it may be, feel free to reward yourself. What you’ve just accomplished—whether it’s your first 1,000 words or your last 100—is a big deal that you should be proud of. It’s okay to splurge a bit when you’re happy with yourself.
13) And Above All, Be Patient with Yourself—Don’t rush this. I know you want to blow through this manuscript, write a query and synopsis, and immediately start submitting. Slow down. Take a second to breathe. Agents aren’t going anywhere. Your novel isn’t going anywhere. Cutting corners can cost you, whether you go the traditional route or the self-publishing route. The publishing world will keep spinning around you in an infuriating blur. Other writers will get agents and accept publishing deals. You have to find the Zen within yourself and work at your own pace. Above all, you must be patient with yourself.
Hopefully these tips help you. The truth is there is no right or wrong way to write a novel. Every writer has a different process, and it’s up to you to come up with a system that works for you. So Pantsers and Plotters alike, good luck to you in your plotting. May you find that inner plotting Zen!
The Query Faerie