You would think if you are going to commit to finishing your novel the words would have the decency to flow like water from your brain. No such luck. After staring at a blank screen for twenty minutes I had to resort to writing drills to warm up. This is as good a time as any to bring up another important step in finishing your novel: developing your process. What process have you set up to help you finish your book. This is a process that you develop in the beginning of your career that can be used over and over again as your career progresses. Some people outline their entire novel. They have the bare bones of what’s going to happen, who the characters are, etc. Others use index cards and blackboards. Still. others just write whatever comes to mind and follow the flow of the writing. Now is a great time to find and develop what works for you. Whatever your process, once you develop it you can plug in any book idea and complete your book.
I, personally, like to use a loose outline. By loose I mean it has a very flexible layout of what will happen in general in my book. I then proceed to move my story towards these benchmarks. This works for me because it leaves me wiggle room in my narrative to change a story line that may not be working for me. You do you. Experiment with what works for you and don’t be afraid to dump one method and try another. Remember, the goal is to finish your book not perfect your process. The process is only as good as the book it produces. Now, stop surfing the web and go write.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Outline:
Having a dedicated place to write is as important to writing everyday as…well…writing everyday. You need to commit an area to your writing. Then make that area a clean, organized, nurturing environment in which you write everyday. It does not have to be a big area. It does not have to be awesome or amazing or even beautiful. It just has to be a committed spot for you to go to everyday and write. You need to figure this out before you began. It can be challenging if you live with other people or in a small space but still possible.
The valedictorian of a D.C. high school was homeless. She maintained a perfect GPA by studying in the hallway of the homeless shelter everyday. The same place everyday. Not only did she become the valedictorian of her class but she received a full academic scholarship from Georgetown University. Same place every time, people.
Your space can be the table in the kitchen. A room not being used. A large closet. The Starbucks down the street. It can even be the bathroom if that is the only place you can steal an hour or two alone. Granted a separate room with a wall of bookcases and an oak desk would be great. But you’ve got to start where you are. If the bathroom is all you’ve got then sit on the edge of that tub or on that toilet with the top down and write for two hours every day.
STEP ONE: Commit a space to write in every day.
There is one absolute must when trying to sell your first book: FINISH YOUR BOOK. Everything grows from there. I do not have a magic wand that will tell you how to do this because there is no magic in doing this. It requires sitting down and doing the work. Write until you are sick of your own book. Write until your brain freezes over. Write until your fingers fall off. WRITE UNTIL YOU ARE FINISHED. I know how difficult this is because I have been working on one novel for SIX YEARS! This does not include research. I have stopped many times for various reasons all of which seemed really important at the time. But now as I celebrate yet another friend’s publication of her fourth book and I am left to ponder, “What the hell are you waiting for? Finish this book!”Therefore, good readers, I am challenging you to join me in finishing our current projects by the end of the year. We cannot sell them until we finish them so let’s finish them. I will publish a link to an excerpt of my FINISHED book on this site at the end of December and a link to any subscribed writer’s excerpt, advertisement or blurb of their finished book. A few guidelines here: I ACCEPT NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR PROTECTING YOUR UNCOPYRIGHTED WORK SO DON’T SEND ME LINKS TO ENTIRE BOOKS OR WORK THAT YOU HAVE NOT PROTECTED. In other words I will give you a shout out to my subscribers the rest is on you. I will give periodic updates and open my comments section so those of you who accept the challenge can give us updates, share your writer struggles and stories (as will I). This is big for me because I tend NOT to do comments. While they are mostly great, it tends to distract you from your purpose. Some bloggers spend more time reading their comments than blogging.
The challenge starts July 27, 2014 (mainly because I have to be in Philly for a week and will not be back until then). To those of you who want to join in, the comments section will be activated on this date. It does not only have to be a full length book. If you are not quite at the book level in your life, commit to finishing your short story or article by the end of the year. Really finishing, research and re-writes included.
Also, one note, do not submit works in progress. Not that kind of challenge. Tell us the status of your work, the challenges of writing consistently, that kind of thing. Save the nuts and bolts of your work for another venue (a.k.a. NOT HERE). I will do the same. Let’s encourage each other to hang in there and finish. And let’s finish. Take the bite, don’t take the bite but I’m finishing. And selling. And publishing. I’ll continue to post writer related posts along the way. Until I’m waaaaay too busy with my book tour that is. Let’s do it! Let’s finish!
The importance of the re-write cannot be overstated. You are not “finished,” your book because you have finished the first draft. You are just through the first draft. Writing is editing, re-choosing, re-seeing your words again….and again…and again. Do the work to make great literature. Many new writers are so excited when they finish the first draft. They run around announcing to everyone who will listen (and in workshops) that they are finally finished their book. And then they read it to you or ask you to read it and you are thinking , “what the hell?!!!” I know the whole self-publishing explosion has given rise to many people who can afford to pay for it, having “published,” books. But just because you can self publish your book doesn’t necessarily mean you should. And even if you do go ahead and publish what can only be described as a first-draft, do not be so super sensitive when people do not embrace your badly written/edited book and it ends up on Amazon for a penny. I cannot repeat it enough….DO THE WORK! DO THE WORK! DO THE WORK! This will save you a lot of embarrassment when you do finally sell that first book. Someone in the audience of your launch party will not pull out that rushed, horrible first effort you just had to “get out there,” and ask you what the hell you were thinking. You want to be considered a serious, talented writer? Do serious/talented work.
It is always tempting to go for the “Great American Novel.” Who doesn’t want to win a Pulitzer or a National Book Award. But on your first book, resist the urge to write the best novel of your life and just write a good novel…a solid and complete novel. Create believable, well rounded, well developed characters who carry your story to its completion. Avoid prologues unless they help your book. A prologue with a long list of promises about what will happen in the novel or what is relevant in the novel and than reading a novel that does not keep that promise completely defeats the purpose of the prologue. Prologues are suppose to give the reader some insight into what they are about to read. When they don’t it is frustrating and annoying. It also makes the writer seem incompetent and amateurish. Finish your first novel, Edit and re-write your first novel. Workshop it to see if readers are getting what you intend and than re-write it again. Put in the work to complete a good solid first product. You already have the pressure of being a first-time novelist or a beginner writer (non-fiction) to deal with. Do not add to it by trying to win a Pulitzer your first time out. Yes, it could happen but it probably won’t. Your first book is your reading audience’s first impression of you…make it a good one. Save the ,”Great American Novel,” for your next book.