You’ve decided to write a novel, now where to begin?
The pathway to writing begins with desire. Imagery of glamour and excitement are only illusions, for creative writing is fraught with disappointment, rejection and continued determination. Just the setbacks in plot alone can render a writer helpless. Then there’s the bad secret awaiting around the corner when you have finished the first draft: It’s called rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until you can spit sparks across the room.
Desire to become an author is the first reason why a magnificently intelligent human being would ever take up writing. Before we go further, please forget the dollar signs. Definitely clear your mind of watching the cinematic version of your first novel at the Festival de Cannes. Today, the publishing industry is undergoing a dramatic change. Barnes & Noble, the world’s largest bookshop chain is up for sale. Borders Books announced Sunday evening (1/30/2011) that it was delaying January payments to vendors and landlords in a move to conserve cash. Or as John Steinbeck once observed, “The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business.”
Yes, there is money in writing novels. It comes from promoting yourself as a brand. This involves creative and aggressive strategies to achieve widespread recognition. Be assured: if you do not promote yourself, no one else will! More later in a subsequent blog post…
Passion is the second and most the driving reason to write a novel. The emotional link with characters of your own making is beyond belief. You’ll be unable to shut them out. They will rule your life. So powerful is the link with these special individuals that I suspect we writers would at once hunt for them in the hereafter when we exit stage left.
We’re now at the threshold, the moment of truth. You have made a dazzling decision: you’re committed to writing your first novel. This is a heady moment. Your head is full of possible story lines. The trouble comes with knowing which way to go. Welcome to the Zen of creative writing.
There is an incredible ally on this significant journey. Help is available 24/7. No, I’m not referring to the Internet, but rather to the meditative state, where the subconscious or unconscious mind is actively involved with providing suggestions. This is the part of the mind that never sleeps and works continuously when you are unaware. Have you ever noticed when you go to bed with a problem how the resolution is waiting when you wake up in the morning?
Regrettably, unconscious thoughts are not directly accessible to ordinary introspection, but rather they are capable of being tapped and “interpreted” by special methods and techniques such as meditation. First, there’s some serious work to be done before enlisting your subconscious.
This is the moment to know about the ten genre categories under the heading General Fiction. They include: Children’s, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Short Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Westerns and Young Adult. A kind suggestion: consider selecting the genre you most enjoy reading. Your own preferences for fiction, cinema and theatre productions should offer a clue.
Once the genre has been selected, you’re ready to consider a story line. This could come from a plethora of life experiences. There might already be a story that has been haunting you for years. This is the way my first two novels came about.
My first novel, Rules of Engagement, is based on an unforgettable summer romance in London. Although the relationship never progressed beyond London, I imagined what it would be like if we were to meet again. Would the magic still be there?
My second novel, The Signs of Destiny (to be released this year), is based upon a long-ago dialogue with a female companion from Liverpool, who told me the tragic story of her young friend who visited a fortuneteller and learned she would die a horrible death six years hence on her 24th birthday.
Ironically, both ideas popped up out of the subsconscious.
Your own history may yield ideas, and the subconscious will be a pool of inspiration as well as your screening room. Truly, there is not a plethora of possibilities. The significant themes will soon become clearer to you. Be sure to think about story lines as you lie in bed in the twilight between being wakeful and falling asleep. The most amazing results emerge from this powerful ally.
There are many ways to elicit the subconscious. My favorite is via exercise. Please know this evolves a significant caveat: you must be proficient in the form of exercise to open the subconscious while the body is working. Bodily safety cannot be a concern! The result is a double whammy. You come away with great ideas and you’re simultaneously charged with delicious endorphins. It’s a win-win situation.
There is another way to dip more deeply into the subconscious. Thoughts, images and sensations occur in a person’s mind during sleep. You would be amazed to learn what is going on in your subconscious during sleep. To find out, place a writing pad on the nightstand beside your bed. Then set your alarm clock to awaken you at intervals during the night.
Write down, with each interruption, what you were dreaming about. With time, you will no longer need the alarm clock and you will begin to retain your dreams when you normally awaken. Eventually, you will be able to record from four to six dreams or more after one night’s sleep. Make note to differentiate dreams in black and white and those in color.
Hopefully by now you should have your story line. This is the moment to think through the development of your story, the individuals involved and the locale where the story takes place. You are on your own… It’s your story. This is also the first draft. Don’t worry there will be changes later. Most importantly now is how the plot and the characters flow together in the narrative.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to look in the mirror and seriously say, “I’m writing a novel.” Be positive. Control your trembling hands and wobbly knees. Continue looking until the eyes in the mirror look back at you with authority and conviction.
Please remember you are not telling a story. The interaction of the characters will tell the story. On the Internet there is a plethora of information about plotting. You will find advice on how the darkest moment occurs midway through the novel and how everything will be resolved at the conclusion. Most of this is self evident if you are an avid reader of the novels in the genre of the story you are writing.
Technical guidelines to writing are important. It’s good to know them. It’s bad to be inundated by them. For example, have you have ever taken a golf lesson? The intricacies of the perfect golf swing overwhelm neophyte golfers. The fun of the sport is quickly extinguished with the intricate instructions on hitting the ball correctly. It takes time before you can ‘feel’ how to hit the ball correctly. Beware the same instruction on writing might disrupt the flow and ‘feeling’ of your narrative.
It’s your story. You and your subconscious know where you are going. The most important thing is to write and the complete first draft. Be sure to let the reader ‘see’ your characters and the location where the story takes place.
There are tools as you begin on the journey to complete your first novel. First, pay specific attention to everyone around you. Notice how some people stand at the edge of subway platforms while others wait further back. Or on a crowded street, observe how some make eye contact while others look down. Experiment by making eye contact with a perfect stranger and then smile.
Be sure to notice people during meetings: Do you remember the sort of good-looking lady who comes to each session appearing frumpy and dishevelled. Then one day she appears with lipstick and makeup. The transition is remarkable. Something significant has just happened. Imagine what that might be.
The most important thing of all is to sharpen your listening skills. Of course, you hear what is being said when people talk to you! But did you really listen? Or were you concentrating on a clever response? Did you notice facial expressions and body language? Stay with it. Keep focused. The moment has arrived to go beyond the words and to listen carefully to what is being communicated. Once again, your incredible subconscious will assist you. Don’t be fearful of asking the speaker, ‘Am I hearing you say ________? This is not nonsensical! It is primordial and will determine if your characters become real and the dialogue you write will achieve everything you intend.
A final word: The response to a compliment is never ‘Thank You!’ It’s the most terminal remark in the English language. Example: Someone says you look great. Try responding with, ‘Oh, why do you think so? What’s different?’ Isn’t that the answer you really want to know?
In closing, there are two recommendations. (1.) Go to http://www.eharlequin.com/ and scroll down from Harlequin Extras. Read the Writing guidelines. (2.) Join a National Writer’s Organization: I belong to Romance Writers of America http://www.rwa.org/.
Romance Writers of America is dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. There are terrific RWA support groups in almost every major U.S. city and they exist to help you become a publisher author.
Other fiction genres have similar support. If you begin to feel like Sisyphus in Greek mythology that was compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down… then find help. There are excellent writer’s chat rooms. Yet in the end it’s always a singular journey.
May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, The foresight to know where you are going, And the insight to know when you have gone too far. (Irish Blessing)