Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The Stages of a Writer's Career, Part 1: Finishing Your First Novel
Well, my writing blog has been on hiatus for the past few weeks, and now that it's back I thought it might be fun to take a broad look at the life and career of a novelist. Just like any other career path, writing has certain stages of evolution - rungs on the ladder to fame and fortune (or so I keep telling myself!). The following isn't based on any scholarly work or expert opinion, it's just a few observations of myself and others. I hope you find it helpful!
Stage One: Finishing Your First Novel
Deciding to be a novelist is a little bit like saying, "I want to be a mountain climber," and then running right out to tackle Mount Everest! There isn't a lot of middle ground. We don't usually say, "I want to be a mountain climber; I think I'll start with that hill over there!" No, typically we say, "I want to be a novelist," and then sit down and attempt to churn out a 300,000 word volume of painfully personal material, trying to make it both entertaining and literary. Or maybe that was just me.
So where does that leave us?
Challenges - One of the biggest challenge that I've found with trying to be a writer is that no one can really teach us how to do it. I mean, we can (and should!) learn grammar and punctuation, story structure and characterization, how to phrase action scenes and how to handle exposition. But the truth is we don't know how to write until we actually sit down and do it - and do it a lot.
Another challenge is that when we first start to write we don't know if we're any good. Writing can be a fairly painful exercise. What if we're terrible at it? What if all this suffering is for nothing?
And last but not least is the subject of motivation. It can be very difficult to stay motivated, to push through the rough parts of your book - the parts you don't want to write - and keep working at it.
Helpful Hints - When it comes to writing, there are no easy answers, no cure-alls, no tube of magic cream that says "apply to forehead and become a genius writer!" (And believe me, I've looked!) But there are a couple things that you may find helpful:
Learn your craft. Okay, it may seem like I'm contradicting myself here! Didn't I just say "no one can teach you how to do it"? Yes, it's true, I did. However, what I have found time and time again is this: knowing your craft will give you something to fall back on when the writing gets hard. Or when your muse has gone off to play someplace else, leaving you bereft and alone at the keyboard, staring at an unmoving cursor. So buy some books, take some workshops, find some good writing blogs (ahem!), etc. Learn your craft and write, write, write. You'll be happy that you did.
Figure out where and when you write best. Every artist is different. Our work looks, sounds, and reads differently from one another. It makes sense that our production habits will be as unique as we are. Personally, I write best either in a busy public place or sitting in the big chair in my living room. A friend of mine can't write in a coffee shop, but she can write while watching TV, which is something I've never been able to do (and yes in case you're wondering, I am totally jealous of her!). So don't think that you have to chain yourself to your desk; maybe you need to chain yourself to a lawn chair, or lie on the floor of your dining room. What works for you? Wherever you're happiest writing is probably the place where you're going to get the most work done.
Find a writing buddy. When I was trying to finish my first novel, the thing that saved me was having a "writing buddy." Somebody to crack the metaphoric whip and ask me, "Where are your new pages?" on a weekly basis. It's interesting how much can be accomplished when someone's demanding it! So consider finding a writing buddy, or an accountability partner, or a critique group. This may not work for everybody, but give it a try and see if it helps.
Next week we'll look at Stage Two: Trying to get published for the first time!
What kind of challenges are you facing (or did you face) in finishing your first book?