A Dose of Motivation for Those Writing a Novel in 2019
We’re officially in Week Two of the new year, that moment when our resolutions start to lose their luster. Our eyes-on-the-prize tunnel vision is obscured by reality, as we realize that our lofty goals are far more difficult than we first imagined. Losing twenty pounds, running a marathon, writing the Great American Novel…who knew they were all so hard?
The practice of setting New Year’s resolutions dates back thousands of years, and for much of history, was used as a way to placate gods or absolve oneself of sins. If someone was able to keep their yearly resolution, they would find favor in their god’s eyes. Nowadays, the practice is far less religious in tone, yet still elicits the same fervent response in its practitioners. Credit cards are shredded in an effort to finally stick to a budget. Gyms overflow with new recruits, looking to whittle their bodies into new, firmer shapes. Organic produce flies off the shelves as consumers vow to finally start eating healthier.
Due to my particular social network, one common resolution I hear is to finally write and publish a book. It seems as though once you mention to friends and family that you’re a writer, the floodgates open. Everyone wants to tell you about the story that’s been bouncing around their head for years—the one they’ve been trying to get on paper for ages. Others have a finished manuscript, but no idea what to do with it. And some poor souls are trapped in the purgatory that is the query process.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in this process. A fair amount of luck and timing are involved, and sometimes great stories never make it off the ground. But if your New Year’s Resolution is to get your book on the shelves, I can offer a bit of motivation for the year ahead.
The First Draft: Don’t be afraid to write ‘ugly.’
The most common roadblock to writing a first draft is our own criticism. How often have we written a paragraph, only to reread and determine that we’ll never be good enough? That we clearly don’t have the chops to be a professional writer?
The kindest gift a writer can give themselves is permission to turn that inner voice off. All first drafts are ugly, and it’s completely okay. Great masterpieces begin their lives as badly-paced, half-baked ideas. Once the plot is committed to paper, the editing process can begin. Until that point, cut yourself some slack!
For new writers, I’m fond of #Nanowrimo, a November challenge to write 50,000 words. This fast-paced competition forces you to write quickly, so there’s minimal time for self-doubt. If you’re struggling to get a first draft complete, this is a great community to join.
Editing, Beta Readers, and Critique Partners: Find Your Tribe
Once you’ve cleaned up your manuscript as much as possible, it’s time to bring on the readers. For many, this step is both exciting and terrifying. New readers can give a writer a much-needed ego boost, or destroy their confidence, all with a few targeted comments. If you’re nervous, my advice would be to start with a kind friend, and build confidence before moving on to more critical readers.
I’ve written about the importance of finding a great critique group, and I believe it’s one of the best decisions a writer can make. Members learn from each other’s strengths and flaws, and can support one another when the process becomes overwhelming. This portion of the writing journey is one of the most enjoyable; connecting with others who share your passion and are willing to engage in deep, critical conversations about your stories. Spend as much time in this portion as needed, there’s no rush to perfection.
Pitch Wars is an excellent contest for writers who have a finished manuscript, but aren't ready to jump into querying yet. Writers compete for the chance to have a mentor critique and edit their work, to later present it to agents.
Some helpful Twitter handles and hashtags if you’re looking for readers:
Querying and Rejections: Learning from Failure
I won’t lie. This part can be rough. Expect to be rejected, many times. Some of the most famous and well-respected authors had painful, rejection-riddled starts. It’s best to keep in mind the following advice:
Life is a series of failures, but what really matters is what you do with them.
Most rejections will be form-letters, bland and vague, not particularly helpful. But every once in a while, an agent will give you a solid, brutally honest rejection letter. I’ve seen more than a few writers crumble in the face of such unrestrained criticism. (Myself included.) They’re painful, but they’re a gold mine, and a writer should consider themselves lucky to receive one. Once you’ve dusted off your battered emotions, this “failure” can give you new insight into ways to make your story and query shine. Every rejection is an opportunity to make your pitch stronger. You just need to embrace the opportunity.
The road to becoming an author is long, arduous, and can test anyone's emotional fortitude. A positive outlook, a great network of friends, and a healthy dose of stoicism can smooth the rough journey ahead. Keep the faith.