So you want to write a novel
You think there is a book in you. It might be a memoir or it might just be a novel. You are not sure. Some scenes keep playing in your head again and again. You have even met the protagonist.
She comes in your dreams and talks to you. She has shared some secrets with you. Just some. You know there are more secrets but when you ask she remains quiet. She disappears. You push her to the back of your mind and get on with your life. Then one day when you have forgotten all about her she is sitting on the corner of your bed, in tears, accusing you of abandoning her.
She wants you to write her story. You have no idea how to. You tell her that but she won’t leave you alone.
Drip by drip she feeds you her story but not enough to make sense. You faithfully record what she is telling you. You even try to fill in the missing bits with your imagination but they are not that authentic. You need to hear it from her.
What can you do? Should you write her story as best as you can or should you tell her to leave you alone and let her story die?
This is the decision only you can make. No one else can make it for you.
If you do decide to write that story, and you have never written one before, let me tell you something you don’t perhaps know. Instantly you rise to the category of a select few. Writing a novel is hard. Very hard. That is the reason only a handful of us, out of seven billion, dare do it.
There are books and books written on how to write a novel by experienced authors. The gods of the writing world – Stephen King, William Zinsser, Anne Lamott, Dean Koontz, Annie Dillard, James Scott Bell, and Margaret Atwood – have shared their wisdom. I am a mere mortal who is still struggling with her first novel for more than five years. What can I tell you about writing a novel?
Perhaps not much, other than – writing a novel is like carrying a baby, it gets heavier and heavier with time and one day you have to deliver it. Sometimes you have a miscarriage, sometimes a stillbirth, but never it is that you can keep the baby inside you.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
If you are one of those who are carrying a novel in them, if you are the one who really wants to write it, there are a few things I have learned that I would love to share with you.
1. Your first-born is yours to keep
Like any first-born, he is going to be your dearest and rightly so. It was the most difficult pregnancy and most painful delivery. Yet it is not a baby you can show to the world. He is yours and yours alone. The sooner we understand this fact the sooner we come in terms with his role in our lives and ours in his.
Our role is to bring him out in the world and he is to prepare us to give birth to more.
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. – Terry Pratchett
Don’t tell yourself it is not worth it, or it will take too long, or you don’t have the skills, or even if you write one no one would want to publish it and even if it gets published you won’t make much money from it unless it wins the Man Booker prize and if it doesn’t what is the point of writing one.
Just write it for yourself.
2. Infertility is the thing of the past
Remember those days when you were told that you couldn’t have a baby because your eggs couldn’t descend or there was some problem with your fallopian tubes or sperm count was less … things like that. Those are all things of the past. Now there is artificial insemination, test-tube babies, surrogate mothers…
The limitation that you can’t write a novel doesn’t exist anymore.
James Scott Bell, a lawyer and thriller writer, wrote in his book Plot and Structure, that he wasted ten years of a prime writing life because he was fed a big lie. In his twenties, he gave up the dream of becoming a writer because he was told writing couldn’t be taught, that the writers were born, that you either have it or you don’t.
Then at age thirty-four, he read an interview with a lawyer who’d had a novel published. In the interview, the lawyer said something which hit James like a stack of bricks. He said he’d had an accident and was almost killed. In the hospital, given a second chance at life, he decided the one thing he wanted was to be a writer. And he would write and write, even if he never got published because that was what he wanted.
James wanted to write too. He went out and bought his first book on fiction writing. He taught himself writing and became a writer of more than 25 novels and countless other books.
Infertility is the thing of the past. There are so many options available now. Explore and use. Don’t lead the life of despair.
People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.— R.L. Stine
3. Conception is delightful
More than twenty years ago I read an interview of Barbara Cartland (she was more than ninety years old at that time) where she said she was still writing a novel a year, only that she was now dictating it rather than typing it. There was a picture of her with the article, where she was lying on a four-poster bed with a pink canopy, in a gilded bedroom. She was wearing a pink dress, a white fur scarf, diamonds, and full makeup and I said to myself, Wow!
I will never forget that picture of her. That was then I conceived the idea of writing novels.
The beauties of conception are always superior to those of expression – Walter J Phillips
I was seduced not because Barbara Cartland was living the fantasy life she was writing about in her novels, but that she was writing one each year, in her nineties and from her bed. How many professions are there where you can have that kind of productivity at that age?
Writing a novel is a worthy goal for any writer. Like Anne Lamott says, “Writing can give you what having a baby can give you; it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up.”
Since the past few days have been reviewing my half-written novel. Chapter 1 needs tightening, chapters 2 and 3 are perfect but I an not so sure about 4 and 5 where POV changes from protagonist to another character. Should I keep it that way or just get rid of them altogether. But they move the story forward. I like chapters 6, 7 and 8. My protagonist finds her inner strength here. There are places where I think, did I write this or someone else wrote them and my heart pumps with pride.
I am up to chapter 11 now and I am loving it. I can’t wait to hold this baby in my arms. Because it is mine and mine alone.