The 14 Stages of Writing a Novel

1. You start your novel with the enthusiasm and energy of a 7-year-old hopped up on sugar packets. 

 

2. Quickly becoming rather impressed with yourself. 

 

3. …Then the distractions come. Mostly social media, even the ones you never used to use.

 

4. Then the sugar high wears off and you remember that it’s really hard. 

 

5. So you spend your time doing “valuable research.” 

 

6. Now you just accept it. 

 

7. No matter how urgent, your novel can always wait until later. 

 

8. Then you feel guilty. So you rationalize it. 

 

9. Then you get the kick you need to start writing again. 

 

10. And you’re flying. 

 

11. And you’re convinced your novel is going to be bigger than Harry Potter. It’s going to be HUUUUUUUGE.

 

12. So you follow your notes and outline, and push yourself to your limits. 

 

13. And you finally reach The End, although you’re a little beaten up.

 

14. And then you make sure that when your friends ask how it went, you put on a good face. 

 

Question(s) of the day: Any of these familiar to you? Which one hits closest to home?

How to Write Your Novel When You’re Scared

How to write when you're afraid


There are times when you just don’t know what comes next.

For me, I’ve reached that point.

A year ago, I would have felt guilty saying this. Now, I don’t. I haven’t written a single word in my novel since the end of November.

I’ve focused my time and attention on other things like my family and my full-time job. Lately, that’s been my focus. And I’m totally okay with that.

I’m getting to the point now where some of the seasonal craziness is winding down. And I’m realizing it’s time to start writing again.

But I’m scared.

I’m really scared.

I never let it show on the outside, but just realizing that I’ll pick up my novel and start writing again, and suddenly torrents of doubt and fear rush in.

Here are a few of my fears:

  1. That I’ll re-read my writing and realize it’s embarrassingly bad and unusable
  2. I won’t know what to write next
  3. What I write next will come out awkward, clumsy, and forced
  4. I’ll think it’s good, then when I show it to someone, they point out 10,000 flaws
  5. My plot will crumble
  6. I’ll lose heart and leave the project unfinished
  7. Finish the story and realize it’s boring

I believe that if you let fear fester within you without addressing it, or bringing it out into the open, it grows and grows, and sets its roots into you.

And I don’t want any root-setting here.

So I’m addressing this head-on. I know many of you face similar fears every day. Some of you are paralyzed by it. Some of you cope with it.

I’m writing this blog post more for my own benefit.

Sorry.

Feel free to inhale my insight second-hand.

I know that if I expose my fear and force myself to look at the truth instead, I will be able to push forward with courage. There is no such thing as a person who has no fear (with the rare exception of a mental condition or insanity). Being courageous doesn’t mean having no fear, it means doing the right thing in spite of your fear.

So I’m going to address each fear with the truth, and move forward courageous:

  1. If my writing needs heavy improvement when I re-read it, that’s what second drafts are for. And third drafts. And fourth. And fifth. And this could go on for a while. I need to recognize that I will NOT like my first draft when I re-read it, and that’s OK! It’s expected. I need to give myself grace to mess up. It’s impossible to have a wonderful first draft. There will be good components and terrible ones. I just need to winnow away until it looks shiny.
  2. This point is true: I probably won’t know what to write next. That’s also OK! Everyone deals with this. It’s normal. I need to push on. There are some tactics to overcoming writer’s block: review the next plot point, spend time with my characters, free write, and re-read the last few pages.
  3. What I write next in my novel WILL come out awkward because I haven’t written in 2 months. It will take a few days of hard work, but it will start flowing quicker and more naturally the more I apply myself.
  4. I need to realize that it’s literally impossible for all my fears to mutually co-exist. Fear #1 and Fear #4 are contradictory. Yet I fear both. Wow, Ben. You’re a piece of work. My beta readers will point out many flaws, but the main ones I’ll be looking for are story structure, character development, tension, and the like. If any of those are lacking, then I can address them one by one. After all, you can eat an entire elephant one bite at a time.
  5. I already have a plot structured. I can revise it in my second draft. The plot virtually always needs some nudging. Stop being a drama queen, Ben! Don’t expect to be the unicorn of authors and write the most magical first draft ever. Sweat a little, gosh!
  6. This is a very real fear. I like to jump from one thing to another. But if I truly want to finish the novel, I will set up boundaries for myself, challenges, and accountability so that even if I lose interest, I’ll push on. In the end I’ll appreciate it, because the sense of accomplishment will be greater than ever.
  7. Your face is boring. Seriously, this is actually rather easy to fix. If it is boring, then I’ll need to make my antagonist more involved, increase the tension in each chapter, and raise the stakes. Move chapter to chapter until every scene has a healthy dose of tension.

If you have different fears, write them down. Then write the truth down. Some of the fears might be plausible. The point isn’t to hide your head in the sand and pretend it will never happen, the point is to face them head-on in battle.

Fear will never control you.

You will control your fear.

Question(s) of the day: What about writing scares you? Has it been holding you back, or have you been able to push forward in spite of it?

Becoming a Lifelong Student

I worked in foodservice throughout high school and college. And the types of people you meet in the restaurant industry can be interesting.

There are a lot of phenomenal people, and a lot of people who are genuinely passionate about that field, and will never leave foodservice. And that’s awesome. That’s what they love to do.

But there’s a subset of servers who take on this worldview that everything is stacked against them. They think their life isn’t where they want it because they get stingy tippers all the time. They’re not happy because of lousy company policies. They’ll never be “successful” because of the area code they grew up in.

And they think that if all those problems were reversed, then they’d be rich, happy, and successful.

That attitude always bothered me. And it’s not exclusive to servers.

I’m still super young and super ignorant when it comes to the majority of life. But I do know that I’m not a victim. If I don’t like something about my life, I change it.

I didn’t like the pay when I was at the restaurant job, so I don’t work there anymore. I changed it.

Such a novel concept, I know.

In my opinion, education is the one thing that bridges the gap into a better life. Whether that’s improving your craft, getting a promotion, becoming a millionaire, or whatever your goal is — education will get you there (obviously paired with hard work and persistence).

Lately, I’ve become obsessed with learning.

Podcasts, audio books, physical books, ebooks, Youtube channels, radio shows — anything I can get my hands on that improves my mind, I’m in love with it. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like if I stop learning, I’ll die.

Or worse…

Become (more) ignorant, stupid, and apathetic. Yes, I definitely have some of those in me. I try to quell them as much as possible though.

If I’m not learning, I’m losing ground. Right now my focus is on finance and leadership. Two areas I want to develop in.

I ran across this statistic the other day that said the average millionaire reads a nonfiction book a month. So, I think I’m going to read two. I need extra help. 😉

My goal is to be a lifelong student. And so far it’s been incredibly fulfilling.

Question(s) of the day: Are you apathetic or do you crave the next thing you can learn?

How to Read Like a Writer

Reading


The other day, I picked up the book Divergent. I’m not that into fantasy novels, but the movies are entertaining.

It was a boring night, and the book was staring at me from my bookshelf. 

After reading the first four pages, I immediately felt dwarfed.

It was incredible.

I highly doubt anyone would argue that Divergent should be among the literature greats… let alone the best of the century… or decade. But no one would argue about its entertainment value. It gets the job done.

So when I picked up the book, I’m going to just be honest with you, I pre-judged it super harshly. I barely expected anything because, hey, it’s meant for teenage girls. 

I can feel you judging me.

I’ve judged myself enough for the both of us.

I mainly wanted to have some insight for the beginning of my novel. I’m having some difficulties with the first chapter. In that, I don’t have a first chapter. Well, if you want to be technical about it, I have five introductions.

And I can’t pick which I like, or if I even like any of them.

I felt dwarfed in the first 4 pages of Divergent because in a span of two minutes, Veronica Roth established Tris’s personality, family life, place, time, theme, motivation, tension, and explained some of the core beliefs of the factions.

I’m 175 pages into my novel and I barely feel like I even have those elements.

Of course in my second draft, those are big things I will be touching up, but seeing it in such a concise, effective way made me feel dwarfed. It was encouraging to see how potentially seamless a first chapter could be.

I’ve found that reading has answered so many questions I have about writing. But you need to read like a writer if you’re going to get anything out of it.

Here’s what I do when reading a book.

 

1. Read with questions in mind

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, or if you’re male, you’ve probably been accused of “listening but not hearing.” The first time my wife told me that, I was pissed.

I thought they were the same thing, and I defended my point for way too long because I’m super stubborn (an extremely healthy trait in any partner).

From my very limited understanding, hearing in this context means listening with understanding. If my wife tells me, “Get off your computer,” I think through the context of what she’s saying, apply what I know about her, and realize that in this instance she must mean, “I had a hard day at work. I would like some time with you.”

If I only listened to her, I would think she wanted me off the computer, nothing else. That’s when I can get stupid and say things like, “I’m in the middle of something.” 

And that’s proof that I didn’t hear her.

The same is true for reading. Reading is like listening. Active reading is like hearing. 

A few questions to consider while reading are:

  • What’s the purpose of this dialogue? Is this the most effective way to share this information to the reader?
  • How has the character changed in this chapter?
  • How is the tension being managed?
  • What is the narration adding or detracting from this chapter?
  • How is the author handling exposition?

 

2. Don’t read for fun

Our culture is obsessed with entertainment. I don’t have to convince you of that if you’ve been alive for more than ten seconds. It’s obvious.

Heck, look at any living room. The seats are pointed at a TV. They used to be pointing each other.

No, I’m not going to be one of those people preaching, “We’re all dying because we only look at screens all day…” but if I spend the majority of my time consuming entertainment, my brain will be comfortable shutting down and floating in brain juice instead of working.

Which makes creating more difficult.

Reading for entertainment and fun is great. Totally do it. But if that’s all you read for, you’re never going to get anything out of it other than passing time. And if you’re on planet earth to pass time, you might as well not even be here because you’re not contributing anything.

Go out of your way to read books you usually wouldn’t read. Only read romance books? Pick up a political thriller. You’ll learn a lot.

If you only ingest content that’s preaching to the choir, you’ll never be challenged.

And if you don’t care about being challenged, then please never come back to my blog again, because that’s childish.

And I hate you.

 

3. Read to critique

Critiquing and being critical are different things.

The darkest place on earth is in the comment section of Youtube.

It’s filled with emotional vomit, defensive outbursts, and violent threats. That is not critique. But it’s easy to think that it is a critique because it’s being critical of something.

If you read Divergent and say, “WORST BOOK EVER! TWILIGHT HAD A BETTER LOVE STORY!!!!” you’re not critiquing the story, you’re being an emo little troll.

Take emotion out of it. I don’t care if you like it or hate it. Your feelings have nothing to do with it. Dissect the writing, syntax, and structure. Analyze what worked and what didn’t.

Then you can apply your findings to your own work.

See? It’s fun when you get something out of the deal, isn’t it?


 

Last night I watched the romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan. It was entertaining, but I kept pausing the movie to see the timestamp. There was virtually no tension until the last 25 minutes of the movie, and even then it was weak.

I kept thinking, “The tension is going to hike up any second now,” but it never really did.

There were things that worked about the movie and things that didn’t. Even though I was watching it to relax, I was still critiquing it because it can help me.

And I’d encourage you to do the same.

Question(s) of the day: Do you prefer to read to be entertained or to grow? What’s a story you read/watched that challenged the way you write?

A Little Bit About Me…

Firepit


As you can tell, I haven’t posted a blog in a month, which is unusual because I pride myself in being punctual.

It wasn’t supposed to be a break at first. But it kind of turned into one.

After I finished NaNoWriMo, I was exhausted. I’d barely seen my wife in a month. We were both just worn out. So the week after I won NaNo, I didn’t write a word. I wore sweatpants in the apartment, slept in on the weekend, hung out with my wife, and we started watching the TV show The Goldbergs together on Hulu+ (it’s hilarious. If you haven’t seen it, check it out).

That’s lasted all month now, and it’s been amazing. It’s felt like vacation even though I’m still working 9-5. My 6pm to 1am is open and it’s so freeing.

It was some much-needed R&R. I actually haven’t written all December, and I don’t have an ounce of guilt. I’ll start back up in January. I know I’ll be just fine.

Winning NaNo has done an interesting thing: it’s restored my trust in myself.

I know, I know…  that sounds like something you’d see on the front cover of a self-help book, and I’m sure Oprah Winfrey would approve of it, but I really mean it. When I set such a high goal for myself (50,000 words in a month) and I accomplished it. If I set a goal, now I know no matter how big or outrageous it is, if I really want it, I will do it.

And that knowledge is so empowering.

There’s nothing worse than setting on a journey towards a goal when you’re traveling with your worst critic: yourself. If you bog yourself down, silently doubting you’ll ever accomplish it, chances are you’ll end up listening to to that negativity and quitting early.

I know it because I’ve done that many times.

Whatever goal I set for myself in January, I know I’ll hit it.

Question(s) of the day: How have you been? Do you trust yourself to complete your goals?

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