How to start, write, and edit a novel? It’s a commonly asked question that answers itself: START, WRITE and EDIT! But for the sake of elaborating on what many consider to be a multi-faceted topic, let’s start with the basics.
To start, you need to drop your cache of excuses. The vast majority of people that achieve anything in life are busy people. Busy people realize that life is finite, and that to validate themselves they must PRODUCE. Should you have a family, a job (or many), a truckload of responsibilities and so forth, you are no exception to the rule – you are, in fact, totally ordinary. To overcome this ‘ordinariness’, you need to rise up from the humdrum and craft your visions into a realized product. Thus, if you have a novel inside you, the only reason it’s still there is because you’re fronting excuses rather than your skills. Drop them, wipe your brow, and get serious!
You see, no one’s going to care if you don’t write your novel. Except maybe you. If you’re reading this article, you’ve no doubt harbored deep-seated dreams about bringing your story (and accordant genius) to life, but feel too caught up in the convoluted magnificence and importance of your own existence, right? Ok, enjoy that then. But just don’t expect anyone to take you seriously if you never produce anything to show for it. Perhaps you’re after money, acclaim, or just credibility, but remember that these are earned rather than transmitted (or bullied) into being – if you want a smidgen of any of these, the onus is on YOU!
Ok, so you’ve screwed your head on right. What’s next? WRITE! Whether you know every detail of your story or not isn’t important: the content of your book will find its place, but only if you give it the chance. Like so many loafers, I also whined for years about how misunderstood I was, how my talent was wasting away, all because I couldn’t see an ending to my story, or had misgivings about how to write dialogue. And what cured both of these? WRITING! Yup, it all started one cold winter’s night. I was living up in a forest bungalow then, and had just run out of whiskey and cigarettes. I felt cold and alone, and in that uncomfortable state got writing. My first words, in hindsight, proved to be quite revolutionary:
I woke up startled.
That’s it! The moment you genuinely commit to the cause, you DO wake up startled! What I then did was write whatever came to mind, and within six months I’d put down a hundred-thousand words. I swear to you, the process unveiled itself magically, like alchemy. But again, it’s only once you fully commit to the cause that the Universe delivers in mysterious ways.
After that, it’s not all sunshine or rainbows. Next comes the long, aching slog. Man, don’t for a second believe it’ll be easy! While writing novels is alchemical, you’ll still need oodles of time to WRITE IT! For many, this is the prime hurdle: When to write? My take on things is that if you really want to write a novel, it will get written. Whether this means waking up in the middle of the night to snatch some hours, taking your laptop into the bathroom, giving up your weekends/social life/friends and even your family for the cause, it will be done. While this may terrify some, the reality is that bringing something of substance into this world takes sacrifice and courage. Of added benefit is that the process will unveil those who really care – the important people stick, no matter what. Think of novel writing as an existential spring cleaning: all that’s unnecessary gets swept away, leaving that which really matters.
Another HUGE hurdle is self-belief. Or lack thereof. There are days when the words and ideas stream easily, and your genius gets translated into a sublime cadenza that get transcribed with irrepressible precision and wonder. And then comes self-doubt, when despair lords over a sullen, meaningless landscape in which nothing makes sense, and your accordant writing falls into (momentary) ruin. Well, if solace can be drawn from this, know that EVERYONE experiences the same thing! I’d stake my life on the fact that every author who’s ever written something half-decent has charted the same stormy courses, only to come out with a book, as well as a galvanized spirit at having stayed true to their cause. Really, a book is like life in a microcosm: A magnificent achievement on the surface, layered over innumerable (untold) tales of blood, sweat and sacrifice beneath. Bearing this in mind, never forget that your process has worth. If you’ve committed to writing a novel and have been doing so for a while, there’s benefit in what you’re doing. Whether it be that you’re destined to become a famous author, learn more about the world, or improve yourself by coming to know yourself, you’re growing, and that wealth always exceeds expectations.
But what if my book fails? you whimper from a dark space. Well, what if it doesn’t? It’s natural to hold concerns and imagine worst-case scenarios, but if a book is living inside and never gets to see the light of day, isn’t THAT the worst-case scenario? I mean, how can you live with yourself while an unrealized talent screams for release? It’s at this moment that Henry David Thoreau’s immortal words spring to mind: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. Gendering aside, don’t be one of those people who careen quietly through life, never speaking your true voice, only to die in the mortifying realm of OBSCURITY FROM SELF! Ultimately, writing a novel shouldn’t be about success or failure; it’s about letting the process be, you reveling in something that catalyzes a relationship between you and the sublime. Yes, it’s the definition of an End-In-Itself, a thousand times over.
This is where the real writing comes in. You’ll realize at the end of your first draft that the process isn’t as difficult as first imagined, only to get slapped through the face at what editing entails.
To start, you MUST edit. If you don’t believe this, you’re either egotistical to the point of insanity, or have written something that’s probably unreadable. It’s not a claim against your talent and skills to say that you MUST edit: it’s an a priori fact. To write something of considerable length and to feel you’ve nailed it first time without needing to review is unbelievably naïve. A novel is a living thing, infused with such complexity that to tie everything together in a meaningful, honest way requires review, re-enactment, and henceforth an edit. You start by going over your manuscript again and again (I’m not kidding when I say I’ve edited each of my books fifty times), fixing what you can before handing it over to beta readers. If these readers are anonymous, that’s best, because there’ll always be bias when handing it over to family and friends. You see, editing aims for objectivity, and if strangers have an opinion about your book, you’ll know where you stand, objectively. Once your novel comes out of that mill, give it another solo edit before handing it to a professional editor. Ughhh, you sigh. Yes, it sucks to pour your heart-and-soul into something only to then bury yourself in additional debt, but employing a professional editor goes beyond fixing lexicon and syntax. They professionally gauge your book’s market, its competitors, and ultimately it’s possible commercial value. Additionally, they can offer advice on how to market your book (if self-publishing), and often know people in the traditional publishing industry that can prove a useful foot-in-in-door. Also, each author-editor relationship is laden with potential, in that editors offer you an educated platform to learn more about the novel writing process, and often prove to be really interesting people. It’s worth the investment, hard as it may be to swallow initially.
In a nutshell
To write a novel, you need to START. Not in your mind, but on a page! This takes commitment, courage, and possibly facing serious flaws that you hold against yourself. Once that ball’s rolling, it’s a long, hard slog, punctuated mostly by snatching parcels of times to write amidst the crazy flurry of things modern life requires us to do. At the same time, know that you’ll persistently be battling notions of not being talented enough, wise enough, or disciplined enough to get the job done. If you pull through this with a first draft intact, next comes the rabbit hole of edits, this a slog that can literally have you tear your hair out. This is followed by the HUGE step of letting others read your work, in which your book either gets complemented in a sentence, criticized in a harsh paragraph, or not read at all. If you come out of this not wanting to kill yourself, you might consider doling out a considerable sum of cash to have an editor check your work. This is an eminently beneficial exercise, one where the process of novel writing comes to a head. Once this is done, your book is finished, and you can say with conviction that you’re a writer (only to begin the torturous process of trying to get published!)