...All the technical explanations in the world can’t prepare you for the experience.
I always wanted to write a novel. I’d written some children’s books. I’d written plenty of articles, even a few short stories.
But nothing matched that compulsion to author a novel. No matter how happy I was writing, that was what I really wanted to do.
I decided to give it a try. Followed the instructions from a book on novel writing to the letter – plotted out the story, did character profiles, yaddi yadda. Wrote the first 80 pages or so, convinced myself it was crap and quit.
First mistake. I decided to try.
Second mistake. Following instructions from a book. More on this later.
Third mistake. Listened to my doubts and chucked it in.
Well, the third mistake might have actually saved the thing, because I’m convinced my second mistake doomed the project to failure.
A year later, I found those 80 pages. We’d moved. I’d lost the outlines and everything else. Thankfully.
I realized those pages weren’t complete crap. I wasn’t sure where the story went now, I couldn’t remember. But the pages had potential.
So, this time, I made a decision, to finish this book, let the characters tell me who they were, and not worry about good, bad or whatever. Just finish the book.
And when I did, I became a novelist.
That’s how I wrote Suspicious Circumstances. Of course, I’ve since shredded it a few times, and it still has huge room for improvement. But the bottom line is, I wouldn’t have a deal today if I hadn’t decided to finish that book.
I cut my teeth on it. Oh, yes, there were some horrendous juvenile mistakes. Some pathetic writing. Some weak characterization. Thankfully, I’ve got time to go over it again, with a pro, and hopefully fix any lingering errors.
We’ve all heard the saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And in writing, that’s really true.
But it’s also true that writing a novel isn’t a technical exercise. Part of it comes down to instinct, to being able to listen to your gut, to knowing when moving a certain way or using a specific tactic will please the reader and make for a more memorable experience.
There are some things about novel writing that can’t easily be taught. They can only be truly comprehended through experience.
The bottom line, for me, is that there are no magic formulas. I think we fall into the trap of believing if we just do everything the same way someone else did, we’ll succeed.
Which is ridiculous. I can wear a nice suit, stand on a stage, tell jokes and look stupid, and people still won’t treat me like Seinfeld. I lack the spark he’s got that engages people. It isn’t me. It isn’t in me to do that.
This is one of the reasons that I love interviewing authors. I can ask them how they approach writing, plotting, whatever. And no two answer quite the same. It’s different for everyone. Everyone has to find their own path, their own way, and trust their instincts instead of trying to conform to how someone else is doing it.
I’m not big on formulas. It is true that doing certain things can improve the odds, but at the end of the day, it’s still you, the muse and your keyboard or notepad. And no matter how many people tell you to do it this way or that way or try this move, it’s all worthless advice if none of it works for you.
Question for the writers. How do you guys plot your books? Fly by the seat of your pants? Distant Shores method? Driving at night? Complete roadmap with trip planner in hand before word one?
Or if you prefer, you can try to prove me wrong about technical books on sex.
And don't forget! Pseudo-stalker* Cornelia Read will be penning her first blog post today as part of Naked Authors. Make sure you drop by and ask to see her goodies.
On a Sears hairdryer -- Do not use while sleeping.
On a bag of Fritos -- You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.
(The shoplifter special?)
On a bar of Dial soap -- "Directions: Use like regular soap." (And that would be…?)
On some Swanson frozen dinners -- "Serving suggestion: Defrost." (But it's just a suggestion.)
On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom) -- "Do not turn upside down." (Well...duh, a bit late, huh!)
On Marks &Spencer Bread Pudding -- "Product will be hot after heating." (Really?)
On packaging for a Rowenta iron -- "Do not iron clothes on body."
On Boot's Children Cough Medicine -- "Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication." (We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we could just get those 5 year-olds with head-colds off those bulldozers.)
On Nytol Sleep Aid -- "Warning: May cause drowsiness." (I'm taking this because…?)
On most brands of Christmas lights -- "For indoor or outdoor use only." (As opposed to…?)
On a Japanese food processor -- "Not to be used for the other use." (The other use? C’mon, tell me more!)
On Sainsbury's peanuts -- "Warning: contains nuts." (Talk about a news flash)
On an American Airlines packet of nuts -- "Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts."
On a child's Superman costume -- "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."
On a Swedish chainsaw -- "Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals."
(Got that fellas?)
* Pseudo-stalker, lurker. Tomato, tomahto.