Sunday, October 26, 2008

Starting a Novel (Part 2)

[Continued from page 1.]

Here's my promise to prospective book authors. Write the first 20 pages (and not just any 20 pages but the beginning 20 pages) and see it through no matter how awful you feel it's coming out. Then, write ten more, and see if they feel any better.

And somewhere in there, whether it's on page 3 or page 30, you'll have a moment: you write the first thing you actually like, the thing that makes you say, "I knew I was this good!" And it's true, you are. If you weren't, why else would you have started writing? This won't be the last time you feel this way. This feeling is called realizing your potential, and it's absolute heroin.

You like that? You want some more of that good shit? Yeah you do, you little crack whore.

When you have thirty pages, thirty pages that now include a gem or two, you'll no longer view your manuscript like a deformed arm, for it has become your baby. And the thing about your baby is you can always make it bigger and better, a little bit at a time. Even if you have to leave it for a while, it will be there when you come back (barring fires or computer crashes of course --- back it up!).

I'm jumbling a couple of metaphors here, but let me introduce one more. I've often thought of working on my book like building a model city in my basement. I descend the stairs, and first take in all I've done so far --- I mean, really try to appreciate it --- then start thinking about what to add next. The adding isn't always satisfying, and sometimes it's a real struggle, but the ratio of satisfaction to struggle improves with each new bridge or building I add.

And there, in the middle of my city, I can see the first little tower I made, the one that started it all. Sure, it's crooked, the paint's gooey and blobby... truth be told it's ugly as sin, but it doesn't ruin the whole city. I can barely tell it's there unless I look for it. Probably I'll replace it at some point with something that does the rest of the city justice, but I'll save that old rickety structure, that kernel that sprouted everything. Why? Because I'm sentimental. I won't show it to anybody --- it's a little embarrassing to be honest. Okay, maybe I'll show it to other beginning model city builders just to demonstrate that it's okay to start by producing something below your standards. Not just okay, but necessary.

One day at a time, one building at a time. Sooner or later it will be "finished," and I've got some idea of how that might happen, but it's aways off and I've got more towers to build, and that's satisfying work. Live for the process, not the result, which will happen in it's own time. Your work has acquired a life of its own. Respect it, nurture it, love it.

Part [1] [2]


Merc said...

Pretty much agreeing with all you've said here, Ink and Beans! *grin*

Starting is definitely the hardest, and let's be honest, more than the first chapter will undoubtedly suck. ;) The thing to remember is:


First drafts were made to suck. :P One of the hardest things for (still) is accepting that first drafts will be crap. Yes, there are some good bits in there, a few stellar lines, a handful of scenes that I really think work... but mostly not.

You get the majority of the good stuff when you revise.

The first novel I ever finished wasn't the first one I started. I'd started way too many anthro fiction novels (the only thing I would write when I started), gotten a fair way with at least two, but didn't finish. I kept going back and re-starting, revising, changing things, adding unnecessary plots and characters (I really never learned how to stop being so wordy and streamline plots until a few years ago). The result? I never got anywhere noticeable.

So then I started another anthro novel, a complete change for me. It was light hearted, first person, humorous and supposed to be a bit of fluff to take a break from my "serious" writing.


The new novel, about a weasel named Willy, took off. I finished it eight months later (writing off and on) at some 60,000 words. Starting was the hardest part, but I think the key was I forced myself to keep going and going until I hit the end. Wasn't easy.

That novel still sucked :P but once I finished, I had this epiphany: I can finish a novel. I'm a novelist!

It's such a great feeling, it almost makes those days of loathing and teeth-pulling stress worth it. ;)

Starting is the hardest part. Finishing through all the obstacles is the second hardest and requires more stamina than starting, IMO.

It takes a lot of work and ranting and depressive bouts of insanity to finish. But it's doable.

Does it get easier? Um, well, no. Sorry. :P I find every novel harder than hell to start, equally frustrating and tedious to finish, but getting done is such a rush and having a draft to work with on revisions is also very... bolstering. I have material here I can shape and polish and turn into something people won't want to gouge their eyes out upon reading.

You need to finish to have that. So keep plugging away, and whether it takes you a month or a year or more, keep at it. The end is worth it.


Merc said...

Um. Sorry about that huge comment. :$ When you said wax nostalgic, I didn't mean to use up the whole pail of wax. O:)

jim cooney said...

I thought wax collected in balls, not pails.

No apology necessary! Astutely put! Except I hope to disagree with you after I finish (again, hopefully) my second novel, and claim that it was, if ever so slightly, easier than the first.

Merc said...

Pails, balls, whatever. O:)

I too hope you can disagree--it'd be great if the second novel came much easier. B-) Go go go!