You want to write a novel, but life gets in the way

I read a lot of blogs these days; it’s the unintended consequence of becoming a blogger. One thing I have discovered from reading blogs is that even among bloggers who don’t blog about fiction, there are many who are working on writing a novel. Even more dream of writing a novel.

Bloggers, with some exceptions, blog because they have stories to tell. A fair number of them have special stories kicking around in their heads, waiting to spill out into great novels.

I’m still searching for commercial success as a novelist myself. But as someone who has written a handful of novels, maybe I can offer some advice and inspiration to those who feel daunted by the prospect of finishing, or even beginning, their novel.

To begin with, I have good news and bad news. I’ll start with the bad news because that’s what writers would want first.

The Bad News: You’ll probably have to write more than one novel, if you want to build a readership for your work. The age of the Harper Lees is gone. Hell, Harper Lee isn’t even a Harper Lee anymore.

The Good News: Once you finish the first novel, you’ll realize how non-daunting writing novels can be. You may even become eager to start another.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s the first one that’s the trouble. How do you make it happen?

Assuming you’ve got a good story to tell, you tell it in the same way you tackle every other life challenge: one day at a time.

A daily routine

Captain Scott was on a mission to reach the South Pole and he still found a few minutes every day to write. Okay, so maybe not the best example of a success story, but you get the point. (Image: H.G. Ponting)

The secret every aspiring novelist should know is that you don’t have to put your life on hold to write a novel. But you do have to make it a part of your daily life.

It doesn’t have to be a big part as long as the commitment is there. If you write a mere 500 words a day, excluding weekends, in two weeks you’ve got 5,000 words. And you may be surprised to learn how often you can write those 500 words in half an hour. In eight months, you’d have a respectable 80,000-word first draft. The caveat is that the words have to advance the plot; your characters can’t lose focus and go on about the weather, unless the weather is about to kill somebody.

A daily 500 words is fine, but how do you consistently move the plot? Trust your characters. Let them do the logical things for interesting people to do in their unique circumstances. Also, don’t wait until you’re on the clock for your novel to happen. The most time-intensive part of writing a novel is not hammering out the story at the keyboard; it’s thinking about the story. This you can do while you’re walking the dog or waiting in the car line at your kids’ school.

If you can’t meet your goal one day, make it up when you’re on a roll. In between, think about how the place you’re in fits into the big picture. Use the writing and non-writing parts of writing a novel together to problem solve. Write the scenes; think the big picture. Novels happen one little bit at a time.

And after you’ve finished your novel, what do you do with it? Maybe somebody smarter than I am will answer that question.

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6 thoughts on “You want to write a novel, but life gets in the way

    • Maybe the best way to tackle this is to start by incorporating the thinking about the story part into your everyday routine. The more you have planned out in your head, the more eager you will be to regularly get it down on paper. Thanks for visiting.

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  1. Great advice, Scott. Thank you! What comprises Petals is what my book (s) will be about. I have to sit down to first think how to categorize my subject matter …. that is what I find so daunting. Yet, knowing what I do about life, if you don’t just jump in and begin, you won’t get anywhere. Then there is the publisher. Geesh, just HOW do you choose? And an editor? So much to think about … First things first. I need an outline as to how I want to organize my subject matter. I think it might be seasonal. I do my best thinking actually when I am in non-thinking mode …. like cleaning. Then the ideas come and I find myself running to my yellow pad and pen to write down the ideas/words that are dancing in my head!!! Tee hee ……

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    • One thing at a time, Amy. Don’t try to solve it all at once. A little bit every day will add up faster than you think. Let the creative process come to you, even if that’s when you’re cleaning. Then, you’re saving time by killing two birds with one stone.

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      • You got it, Scott!! I’ve learned not to rush the process for it only lands me in frustration. I seem to flow best when I step outside of “think land” and just “flow”. I just bought some adult coloring books which I really look forward in using, for I have a suspicion they will enable me to get the thought processes flowing, outside of the contraints of thought. Does that make any sense? (smile) <4

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