SPOILER: It’s not all rainy days spent in coffee shops sipping chai lattes.
As I embark on the journey that is writing my first novel, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I have learned so far along the way. Patience, my dear friends please, as working on this novel means my blog posts will come a little more slowly. I still hope to do one great post worth your precious time per month, however as you have come to expect from me, sometimes it’s a little longer between drinks. My passion for Noir et Blanc and blogging has not wavered, please don’t fear the worst, but as anyone writing a novel will tell you, it’s time-consuming! And aside from that, I never want to just post a blog for the sake of posting one and have it be about absolutely nothing. This blog is not known for high-level output, but I sure as hell hope it’s known for quality. We’ve had some giggles and tears here at Noir et Blanc and I assure you, that’ll never change.
But here I am, working to become a published author! Crazy, right? Here are a few things you should know if you find yourself wanting to follow the same winding path.
1 – It’s really hard work and it’ll take way longer than you could ever imagine possible.
OK, so this isn’t really a secret. The road to being a published author has never been considered a straight forward career path but the grind to produce a novel is REAL. I’ve always considered myself to be a good writer but going into fiction was an entirely different structure I had to spend time becoming familiar with. Writing workshops and/or creative writing courses are absolutely worth your time. You can study online, there are many institutions that will allow you to do everything by distance, however, getting the opportunity to meet with and talk about the process with other writers will be hugely beneficial for you. I highly recommend using this study period to write short stories, seek advisement and sharpen your skills while fine-tuning your idea before diving into the whole writing process. However, once your story is written… you have only just begun. Strap in for the long road ahead of trying to get the damn thing out there for people to read.
2 – Nobody really cares and no one will take you seriously.
Sounds harsh, but you’re on your own for the most part, kid. Your mother will have a heart attack and wish you would just go back to University to get a degree so you can fall back into a safe job of TEACHING about literature rather than writing it and we love her for looking out. People will laugh but don’t pay them any mind, it’s only because they’d never be brave enough to attempt something this big for themselves. Now, if you have really great and supportive friends like I do, they’ll be excited for you. From time to time, they’ll bring you coffee when they know you’re in the middle of a sesh and occasionally ask how it’s coming along. But for the most part my love, nobody knows what you’re going through while you’re writing it and nobody wants to hear you harp on about it either. You’re not going to get the ego soothing approval a creative soul like yours constantly desires until the final product of a shiny hardcover with your name on it is in their hands and that can be incredibly scary. Its something you just have to accept may or may not happen for you and march on anyway.
3 – Inspiration? Myth. Motivation? Myth. Discipline? Key.
I recently tweeted about spending my Saturday night in making solid progress on my novel because the inspiration had “hit hard.” It hadn’t, I just told myself to sit down and fucking write and that is something you’re going to have to do over and over to get anywhere. Inspiration will hit from time to time and it’s important to get those ideas down in those moments and revisit them later if you have to. But it’s rare you’ll feel the burning desire to write every single day. Do you have to spend time sitting at your laptop every single day? No, especially if you’re someone who also has a full-time job. However, a schedule that you can put into your calendar and adhere to is a great way to keep you accountable. Every Sunday night I look at my week and what I have planned and enter in writing sessions around it. If something comes up? Too bad. Short of an emergency, you’re just going to have to sacrifice the mani-pedi time and get work done. Make sure you do pop out for a social Guinness and see a show now and then. Don’t drive yourself insane. It’s a long process so don’t end up resenting it.
4 – You’ll spend more time editing than you will spend writing the damn thing.
“Well… what the fuck is this drivel?” I’ve said this about 100 times already after reading back what I wrote at an earlier date. You’ll write and re-write your story so many times. Change the plot, cut out moments that don’t really fit, even something as simple as changing the name of your characters because the man you wrote doesn’t really sound like a ‘Scott’ anymore. (No, Scott is not my guy’s name.) Even after you’re done, you’ll find an editor and you’ll re-write the whole thing in sections, over and over. It will never reach a point where it can’t be further improved, where you won’t pick up something you want to change. You’ll be your own worst critic throughout the process. Which brings me to my next thing no one tells you…
5 – Writer’s block isn’t your problem, perfectionism is.
I’m not sure I even really believe in writer’s block anymore. As writers, we are always capable of sitting down and putting something together. That is why we have chosen this path – because we have the ability to create with words. Our problem is not an inability to write, our problem is that we want it to be perfect the first go around. Every time I sit down to write, I have to fight with myself. Reminding me to take a deep breath and just let go. Whatever comes out might be absolute horse shit, or it might be something you can work with. But the constant re-writing and re-shaping of every sentence, every scene the first time you write it is what’s getting in your way. Let go. Write. Even if you’re not sure where it’s going just yet, see what comes up. It won’t be perfect straight away, but it just might be something that works it’s way into your final piece.
6 – Writing the book is one thing, Marketing the book is EVERYTHING.
The story is finished? Great, now the really hard part begins. Selling it. I don’t have the advice to give as I am not at this stage just yet, however it is a big bridge I am well aware I will have to cross once I have a story I am happy is an acceptable and complete manuscript to start shopping around. I see it everywhere on forums about publishing – “selling yourself,” “building your platform,” “social media buzz” etc. Writing the novel is half the battle. Hopefully, we land somewhere with a great marketing team. *Crosses fingers.*
7 – No idea is original and you’re not special.
Sorry, not sorry. Evil doctor creates superhumans soldiers? Been done. Husband dies and woman has to find herself again without him? Been done. Lose a child in a horrific car crash and shattered family has to rebuild? Been done. Your story has been done in one way or another. What makes yours unique and different is the way it all comes together. Your characters and the depth you give them. The inspiration and reasoning behind why you wanted to write this story. The setting and scenes you write, interactions between characters that lead to your major events. The twists and turns and conflict you create are what make your ‘just another romance novel’ one that can sell and keep your audience engaged.
8 – IF (and yes, it’s a big IF) it does get published, no one will ever appreciate what went into writing it.
It might produce a tear from the ones who eventually get to read it, but they will never know the tears that may have gone into it. The heartbreak you went through that inspired the story. The countries you travelled to along the way. The man who doesn’t know you modelled your main character around him. The funny office story your colleague told that evolved into an important scene in your story. Every sentence and every word has a life that went on behind the scenes to create them.
9 – If you’re doing it right, it will consume you
Catch yourself in the copy room trying to sort through a conflict from your novel while you wait for your spreadsheets. Finding parallels in movies you watch, stories from friends and families and relationship drama around you that immediately make you think – what if? What if something like this, lead them here? Xyz = Abc and so on. Waking up in the middle of the night and writing down the dream you just had because you can use it. Sitting on the beach and watching the waves roll in wondering why your protagonist is the way they are and how can we weave them through this journey on paper. Most spare thoughts you have will automatically go to what you’re presently working on, try not to let it drive you nuts. Embrace it, this is good.
10 – It doesn’t have to be your only book.
You have so many great ideas and you’re wondering how they can all work? They can’t. Fine-tuning your idea is so important. Your characters can’t do every thing. Maybe they can if you write a series, but there are some ideas that are for separate stories entirely. Don’t ever stop having great ideas, store them all. Write them all down and make sure they’re backed up on your cloud, you never know when you can use them. Just get really good at identifying what is a great idea and what is a great idea for the story you’re currently working on.
No matter where you are in the process, whether you’re toying with the idea of writing a novel or you’ve committed to actually turning out pages, remember to breathe. You will cry, you will jump out of bed in your PJs and do the silliest of happy dances on a Sunday morning when you realise you just wrote something epic. Life will get in the way, you will put things on hold and suddenly inspiration will find you again and you’ll tornado your way through a conflict that held you up. You’ll become a caffeine dependent night owl. You’ll change your mind a hundred times, re-write things over and over and improve them little by little with each edit. Your advisor or editor will offer their professional opinion and you’ll need to take it on board, no matter how hard it might be. They’ll offer a fresh perspective and pick up on things you couldn’t see because understandably you are just too close. Choose these mentors wisely, make sure you trust them with your baby. Above all else, enjoy the process. For me so far, as challenging as it has been, it is the most rewarding when you see progress being made and things start to come together.
I have no idea really where my writing will take me, but the goal will forever remain the same – for you to have the shiny hardcover with my name on it in your hands. Until that day, wish me luck! And if you’re reading this, in the same position as me, good luck to you too. You’ve got this.
With love, sending you that creative flow,