A Novel Takes Time

Are you writing a novel? I am.

Writing a novel requires the creation of a living, breathing alternative world. That’s hard work.

It takes years to write a book, between one and ten years. Annie Dillard says, “Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant.”

When it bothers you that it’s taking you a long time to finish your manuscript, don’t give up. Keep going. Keep writing. Keep revising.

Writing is hard.

Really hard. It just is. As soon as you accept this, you can stop resisting, and start putting your energy toward moving forward.

Don’t bother looking for shortcuts. It takes time and hard work.

Don’t listen to charlatan’s who say it’s easy. Writing is never easy, and on some days it’s not even fun. But for writers, writing is the only thing worth doing.

“Writing a book [substitute your favorite genre for book] is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”–George Orwell, author of literary classics 1984 and Animal Farm

Tiny Thought #1

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.
~Howard Aiken

Read your way to writing

 

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I read every day. I tell my students to read and read widely.

Reading is the one necessary prerequisite for writing.

If you’re a reader, you know the forms and conventions of writing and how others use the forms and conventions to shape their work. You know how to write.

Maybe you don’t know how to begin or continue or finish. Maybe you don’t know how to publish what you’ve written.

But I’m here to tell you that you do know how to write.

The rest can be learned.

This blog can help.

Write Some Words

“A word after a word after a word is power,” says novelist Margaret Atwood.

Today is January 9. We’re leaning into the end of the second week of January 2020.  What have you written this year? What are you writing today?

 

The Courage to Write

Cynthia Ozick said, “If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage.”

To sit down and write when you have dozens of other pressing demands, takes courage. But there is no other way to write.

Today let’s remember Katherine Anne Porter’s words: One of the marks of a gift is to have the courage of it.

Begin Anyway

I’m thinking about this today. Reminding myself, remind my students, reminding you, dear writer . . . Writing is a huge undertaking, immense; it take more than all you have when you begin.

Begin anyway.

Keep writing.

 

Use Emotion

Emotions are contagious. More contagious than any disease. A smile or grimace will spread through a group of people far faster than any sneeze ever could.

As writers, our job is to make sure that readers are moved by what we write.

When we can connect with our reader on an emotional level, we engage them and keep them interested.

To do this, we need to pay attention to the emotions of the people in our stories.

After all, words are merely costumes for the emotions built deep in our primordial soup. These are emotions such as: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, and Surprise.

Emotion is key.

Emotion is essential in both fiction and nonfiction.

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Robert Plutchik Wheel of Emotions

Study Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions. Knowing the purpose of each emotion lets you use them in your work, both fiction and nonfiction.

It can be helpful to keep it handout when you’re writing.

Your goal as a storyteller is to get your readers to feel one or more of these emotions. If your story doesn’t trigger any of them, then it’s not really a story.

It’s just a list of facts.

And that’s not very interesting. It’s not the kind of writing that sells.

In a guest post in Writer’s Digest’s editor blog, David Corbet said, “To create genuine emotion when crafting a scene, identify the most likely or obvious response your character might have, then ask: What other emotion might she be experiencing? Then ask it again—reach a ‘third-level emotion.’ Have the character express or exhibit that. Through this use of the unexpected, the reader will experience a greater range of emotion, making the scene more vivid” (para. 5)

Women Writers Who Give Me Hope

How does a woman learn to commit to safekeeping time and space to get her writing work done? Finding answers to that question is not easy. The kind of things a woman should change, commit to, and double down on to make her writerly life a success are hard to pinpoint. The theme of virtually every article I have read about how to write is straightforward: Just do it. Just find the time to write. Just write! You need a self-management goal plan, and you need to do it!

So why don’t we? How can so many women be so morally bankrupt that they can’t take this simple advice?

Here’s what I think: we try to pretend that the advice we are given is really good and the failure lies with all the women writers who can’t make it work for them. The failure lies at our feet.

It doesn’t make any sense. Is it not more logically that the advice we are given is just really bad advice?

Toni Morrison admits that she has no routine. She says, “I am not able to write regularly. I have never been able to do that—mostly because I have always had a nine-to-five job. I had to write either in between those hours, hurriedly, or spend a lot of weekend and predawn time.”

Likewise, Margaret Atwood, despite her enormous output, does not write every day. She said: “You always think, ‘Oh, if only I had a little chalet in the mountains! How great that would be and I’d do all this writing . . . Except, no, I wouldn’t. I’d do the same amount of writing I do now and the rest of the time I’d go stir crazy. If you’re waiting for the perfect moment you’ll never write a thing because it will never arrive. I have no routine. I have no foolproof anything. There’s nothing foolproof.”

These woman give me hope.

I know that I often feel totally overextended, as I suppose most women who want to create do, and like bell hooks, I think “often and deeply about women and work, about what it means to have the luxury of time – time spent collecting one’s thoughts, time to work undisturbed” (p. 125).

Writing requires time, and it is difficult to try and sneak in shreds of a creative life. We can pretend it is not so, but sneaking a life because the real one is not given room enough to thrive is hard on a woman’s vitality. I know, deep inside, that it is not a scheduling issue. And I suspected for many it is not a resistance issue, even though Rosanne Bane (2012) said, “Every writer experiences some kind of resistance from time to time” (p. 5). Writing is about art and craft, but it is also about discipline. Women who know their current methods are not working need simple practices that bring them to their writing space regularly. It is too easy to be subsumed, and for people to assume that this is natural and how it should be. It is a matter of staking our ground to get and maintain a sustainable and satisfying writing habit.

We can do it. There is hope, especially if we are willing to listen to women writers who have done it, who have made it work, like Morrison and Atwood and hooks. Let’s not listen to the people who demand that we just do it! They don’t get it.