Think you don’t have time to write? You’re probably right. Between a day job, a family and all of the obligations of modern life, the goal of finishing a novel is clearly impossible. Much less writing a novel every year. And yet, though common sense tells you no, the truth is that you can do it. Continue reading
Posts Tagged With: first novel
Q: I’m about five chapters into writing my first novel and I’ve reached a total impasse. I flat-out don’t know where to go from here. Everything started out so well, I had lots of story ideas and the pages were coming fast. But now I’m stuck, and I don’t know what to do. Should I scrap my novel and start over? How do I beat writer’s block?
A: Don’t worry. Here’s a solution that’s guaranteed to shake loose your creativity. And you can do it in just six easy steps. Ready?
First, take a deep breath. Set aside what you’re working on and think about the basics of your story for a moment. Go back in your mind to the original inspiration you had for your novel. Forget about the chapter you just wrote; focus instead on the bigger concepts. Remember the very first thing that inspired you.
Got it? Good. Now, in your notebook, answer these six questions:
1) WHO is my story really about?
Sometimes we get ourselves turned around and focus on the wrong person. Hint: the main character is the person with the most to lose, the person who spends the most time on stage, or the person who gets hurt the worst.
2) What does that character WANT?
It needs to be something specific that we can visualize her achieving. Something we could see in a photo. Is she trying to fix a problem? Achieve something that’s never been done before? Write down exactly what it is.
3) WHY does the character want it?
The more primal and universal the reason, the better. Especially if the character thinks that achieving this goal will make her a better person or mend a broken relationship.
4) What will the character DO to achieve it?
What direct action might she take in the future? Brainstorm at least ten actions. Later, you can pick out your favorites.
5) What stands in the WAY of the character achieving that goal?
How would these obstacles force the character to change plans midstream? Brainstorm at least ten obstacles: opposing characters, inner conflicts or physical roadblocks in the setting.
6) How should things get RESOLVED in the end?
Does the character achieve the goal? Or fail? Or realize that she was chasing the wrong goal all along?
Answering these questions will give you a bare-bones plan for writing your novel. If that doesn’t get you totally unblocked, spend time brainstorming more obstacles for the hero to overcome. Giving your character a problem to solve will get your story rolling again instantly.
So, in a nutshell, your novel is about a CHARACTER who has a GOAL or PROBLEM for a vital REASON. He or she DOES SOMETHING about it, but RUNS INTO TROUBLE. Finally, THINGS GET RESOLVED.
That’s it. Everything else is just fancying up that one basic paragraph. See, isn’t that simple? Here’s a quick cheat sheet for you:
My main character is __________. He/She needs to __________, because __________. So the character does __________. But __________ stands in the way. At the end, __________.
Just fill in the blanks and get back to writing your novel. It’s that simple!
As a writing coach, it’s my job to help people get a little perspective on their story problems. Recently, a client asked me to help him out with his first novel. He’d gotten halfway through and stalled out. I put together a laundry list of ways to fix his various story problems — and then I told him to ignore my advice. “For a little while, at least,” I said. “First, finish your novel. Later, you can go back and fix these things.”
That’s really the best advice I can give to anyone working on a first novel: forge ahead and finish it. Get all the way to “The End” before you go back and start making changes to the story. The rough draft of your first novel always seems like an insurmountable challenge. Why? Because you’ve never done it before. But don’t let that stop you.
Once you finally finish your novel — once you reach the very last page — you pass a milestone that most would-be authors never see: you’ve actually written a novel. How cool is that?
I’ve done some highly unscientific research at the local bookstore and discovered that 100% of all published books are finished. I’ve never heard an editor say, “Well, this author only wrote the first couple hundred pages — but it was so perfect, we decided to publish half a book!”
But you’re beset by fears. What if the second half of my book is no good? Then you’ll make it good. What if I don’t know how to end it? Then you’ll make it up. Remember, you’re the creative type. Improvise!
The first draft of anything is just that: a first draft. You’ll make it better in the second, and in the third, and so on. It’s like a sculpture: once you have the basic form worked out, you can keep chipping and polishing until it’s beautiful.
Plus, there’s a hidden bonus. The more you write, the better you get. As the pages pile up, you get more skilled at the craft. The learning curve for your first novel is usually so steep that by the time you get halfway through, you think to yourself, “Wait, now I know how to do this better! I should go back and fix all of that stuff I wrote earlier!” It sounds reasonable, but it’s a trap.
Instead, write yourself a note and keep going. You’ll need every last bit of creative strength to reach the end of the novel. Don’t squander your energy on perfecting things that you might delete later. It won’t be flawless, especially not in the first draft. So for now, just concentrate on finishing your novel.
First, get it written — then later you can get it right!
If you’re like me, ideas swirl around you all the time — stories, characters, settings, dialogue, and so on. It sticks in your brain, so you write it down. Before long, you have so many scraps of paper around you that a single gust of wind could turn you into a human snow globe.
This is not good. You can write a novel only if you can find your notes — but how are you ever going to find a practical way to sift through all that stuff? Ideally, you want to spend as little time as possible sorting your notes and as much time as possible doing the actual writing. Well, consider your problem solved. Just follow these simple steps:
1. First and foremost, WRITE IT DOWN.
Don’t tell yourself that you’ll remember your idea later. You won’t. Human beings can hold something like seven to nine bits of information in mind at any given time. Once you crowd things up with grocery shopping, errands, cleaning, that thing you need to tell your neighbor about his dog and the phone call you need to make — poof, your great idea is gone forever. So write it down!
2. Every so often, gather up your notes.
Empty out your pockets. Clean out your nightstand. Rip pages out of your notebook. Pile up all of your notes in one convenient location. One of those office-supplyish “In Box” trays should work nicely. Or a shoe box. Whatever.
3. Pocket everything.
This is the key ingredient, the gem, the single best tip in this article: Use pocket folders. Or ordinary file folders. Or those expandable accordion things. Anything with a pocket that can hold different size scraps of paper. Make one pocket per project. If you have ideas for more than one book, make a different pocket for each one. If you have a bunch of random story ideas, just make a “Story Ideas” folder. You get the idea.
Why pockets? Because they’re fast. You can pick up a piece of paper, decide which pocket it belongs in, and just drop it in. You don’t have to worry about putting it in some kind of sequence, or pasting it into a notebook, or punching binder holes in it. Or, heaven forbid, actually retyping it into a computer. No, instead you can just drop it into the proper pocket and get on with your life. In this way, you can dig through that massive pile of notes in no time.
And the hidden bonus is that it clears your mind. You don’t have to worry about trying to remember all of those great ideas right now. They’re safely put away, ready for you when you need them. And now they’re sorted out by project, so you have everything at your fingertips. How cool is that?