Is there a book burning within you that wants to burst out? Is this the year you should write your first novel? Deciding to forge ahead and write your story can feel like a big decision, and considering it may stir some surprising emotions.
We wanted to share Leslie’s story, below, for anyone who desperately wants to write a novel, but who hasn’t quite committed yet. She published this post in 2014, when she worried she didn’t have the skills or knowledge necessary to write a novel. If this is where you’re at, read on (and read to the end for her 2017 update).
I am writing a novel for the first time. I have several friends who are indie authors with multiple novels under their belts. I’m a newbie, though I’ve been writing for a long time.
I didn’t intend to write a novel this year. I had been focusing on working on Writership, writing my blog, and doing my personal writing practice. I was a confirmed nonfiction writer.
This conviction came from a time when I wanted to write fiction, but didn’t know how. I read voraciously, wrote professionally, and did a lot of writing practice, but didn’t know what the steps were between an idea and a finished novel. Over ten years ago, I took creative writing classes through the local university extension. The MFA graduate instructors were nice and supportive, but the classes weren’t that helpful to me. They consisted of reading exquisitely written short stories and the encouragement to go forth and “do what they did.” I couldn’t, and I took that as a sign that I didn’t have the fiction gene. I went back to writing nonfiction.
I love Writership because it represents the intersection of three areas I love dearly: writing, community, and passing along what I’ve learned. But although we serve fiction writers, I never imagined I’d be writing a novel myself this year. When we first started Writership and offered free writing workshops, we used many fiction prompts. One character kept showing up in my writes: a cross between my best friend when I was in fifth grade and the character in a series of books I’d been reading. With few exceptions, even when I started writing about something else, she showed up and did adventurous things that I had never done, like sneaking out of the house at night to explore her hometown.
It was just after this that I started to play with the possibility of writing about my character. Then I was lying in bed one night, and I thought of a setting, and as my character moved about in the setting, I suddenly had a premise. I set up a twenty-four hour retreat for Mother’s Day to create an outline for my novel, and then I sort of floundered. I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to it. I became worried that I wouldn’t be able to do this, or maybe it wouldn’t be this year. When I sat down to write, I heard a loud voice in my head: You’re just kidding yourself. You cannot do this. I found tasks other than working on my novel; there's always plenty to do. I hoped I would get back to it, but hope doesn’t write the words.
Then I read this piece by Kelsye Nelson, and made a commitment to myself to get up and write every day in June for two hours before my children wake up no matter what the voice was saying. I am pleased to report that I'm making good progress. There are parts that are hard, but I am finding that it's all figure-out-able, as Marie Forleo says, because there are so many generous writers willing to share their knowledge, expertise, and experience. I'm sure there will be many more bumps along this road, but I am firmly committed to this goal of writing my first novel.
I share this story in case there are readers who, like me ten years ago, desperately want to write a novel, but haven’t yet acquired the necessary skills and knowledge. There is plenty of support available. The best strategy for me has been to think about the kind of help I need and keep looking for it until I find it. It is out there (some of it is here), and it is figure-out-able.
We invite you to share the journey of your first novel in the comments below, whether you are a seasoned author or haven’t yet written the first word. Where are you at in your journey, and what have you learned?
Since writing this post, I’ve continued to work on my fiction. It isn’t always smooth sailing, but it’s a voyage I’m enjoying. I often struggle with balancing my personal writing with work, but am inspired by the amazing authors whose fiction I edit. My story has morphed from that first character and setting to something quite different, and every turn it takes teaches me something new about myself. I have two rough drafts, not a finished novel yet, but the journey itself is a joy.
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