Saturday, December 18, 2010

Writing Advice #5: Recipe for a Novel

People often ask what it takes to write a novel. There’s a lot that goes into it—too much to discuss in a quick Saturday afternoon blog post—but here are a few key ingredients :

Recipe for a Novel

1. Good eyes

I don’t mean that literally. I’m actually quite nearsighted.

What I mean is, it’s important to observe people and situations. Watch how people act. Listen to what they say. Study speech patterns. Notice quirks and habits. Pay attention to physical appearance. Analyze what has happened in a person’s background to figure out why he/she acts and reacts in a certain way. You’ll need all of these things to create characters who come to life on the page.

2. Time

You don’t have to quit your job to write a novel. Even if your time is limited, you can find the time to write. If you have full-time job, you can write before work and during your lunch hour and when you come home. You might have to give up things—like seeing a movie over the weekend or just relaxing on the couch. "I don't have the time" is an excuse I don't buy. It means you're not truly interested and motivated. Writing is like anything else—if you want it badly  enough, you’ll make the time.

3. Patience

Don’t be so hard on yourself. You can’t write a novel overnight, and that’s okay. The longer you spend with your story and your characters, the better your finished product will be. So don’t rush when you’re writing. Let everything simmer and develop. Patience is something you’ll need even when you get your book deal, because the publishing process moves very slowly.

4. Space

Have you ever read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own? In it, Woolf discusses the importance of a writer having his/her personal space. Woolf’s meaning is much deeper than what I’m suggesting here, but I’m quoting her because in the literal sense, it is very important for a writer to have a “sanctuary.” You should have somewhere to go—a home office, a couch in a quiet corner, a seat under a leafy tree—that is your space alone, that’s off-limits to others while you’re working, where you can write undisturbed and without distractions. And make sure those around you respect your space.

Honestly, when you’re deep into your manuscript and someone  interrupts you, it’s hard not to act like Jack Nicholson  in this clip from The Shining (don't watch if you're the type who gets offended by the F-bomb):


Yeah, he’s pretty rude to poor Wendy, but...can you blame him? It’ll take him TIME to get BACK to WHERE he WAS!  I’m feelin’ him on that.  I've been there. So please, people...don’t distract the writers. It's like yanking a bone away from a dog who's very busy chewing.

5. Support

“It’s impossible!” “You’ll never be able to write a novel, let alone get it published.” “Are you crazy? What makes you think you can do this?”

If your friends say these things (or worse) to you about your aspirations, then you need new friends. Because the ones you have now are J.E.R.K.S.

As a writer, it means a lot to have supportive people around you—family or friends or a spouse/significant other. It’s important to be surrounded by those who believe in you and  cheer you on. But if you don't have those people in your life right now, then make sure to root for yourself.