“I’m going to finally write that book,” you vowed on New Year’s Eve. Maybe you whispered it to your partner in bed, or brazenly trumpeted out your resolution at a party, champagne in hand.
Either way, now what? How can you start writing that novel or, more importantly, finish it?
As I head into 2014, I’m at an exciting point in my career as a novelist, with a new book being published by Penguin in April and a contract for two more. It took me a long time to get here. As I look back, I realized that the biggest stumbling blocks to my career as a novelist were obstacles I put there myself.
Here’s a list of the most common stumbling blocks all writers face, and strategies for hurdling them so you can successfully keep that New Year’s Resolution to write a novel:
1. The Block: My Idea for a Book Isn’t Good Enough
It probably isn’t–yet. Most book ideas sound insane when you first express them. That’s why a lot of writers won’t talk about their book ideas until those ideas are fully formed. But all books start with a simple idea, a character, or even a setting that are seeds for growing a book. Remember that you can’t finish a novel unless you start one, and every novel starts with just one sentence. You can write your novel two ways: 1) by using a synopsis or 2) by the seat of your pants. While the second method seems more organic, the truth is that writing a synopsis first can be liberating—and will keep you moving forward. Write a simple synopsis of 3-8 pages the same way you’d tell a movie plot to a friend, telling only the highlights and conflicts for each character. You’ll soon see what works—and what doesn’t. Keep asking these questions: Why would a reader want to read this book? Whose point of view is the most interesting? What’s at stake for the characters, and how will they resolve their conflicts?
2. The Block: I’m Not Really a Writer
Nobody is a writer unless that person is writing, and everybody who writes is a writer. It’s that simple! Oh, and one more thing: You can’t be any good at writing unless you actually practice your writing. Do you do Zumba or yoga? Invest money or sell real estate? Were you good at those things when you first started? Of course not. It took hours, maybe years, to become proficient. Make 2014 the year to practice your writing. Take classes, go to conferences, take a writing retreat, join a workshop of peers, hire a developmental editor or writing coach, or even apply for low-residency MFA programs.
3. The Block: I’ll Never Publish What I Write
Yep, that’s probably true for now. So first things first. No unfinished novel gets published, so put this fear of publication out of your head until you actually finish your novel. When you do finish your book, even then it’s not time to think about publication. It’s time to revise it—and that means letting a few trusted readers critique it. I don’t mean your mom, your husband, or your best friend, either. I mean other writers, a developmental editor, etc. After you’ve done a couple of revisions, then and only then should you seek an agent if you want to try for a traditional publishing deal, or explore the many self-publishing options.
4. The Block: I Have No Free Time to Write
Really? Do you watch television? Do you go out with friends at night? Do you have children? Do you have a job? Of course you have some or all of these things burning up the hours in your life. The question is this: how can you reorganize your priorities to schedule writing time? When my children were small and I was working during the day, I found it easiest to write fiction at night, after the dishes were done and the kids were in bed. Sure, I missed a lot of TV, and yes, I was tired, but I had a little ritual of making a cup of mint tea and carrying it upstairs with a square of chocolate to get me started. Now that my children are older, I find writing in the early hours easiest, while everyone is still asleep. I also make it a point to take at least four intense writing retreats a year, long weekends where I can really focus on my writing. (I see it as kind of like doing quarterly taxes.) You have to believe that writing is worth your time and commit that time to doing it. The rest will follow.
Happy New Year! Write on! This is your year to finish your novel.