The Weirdness of Writing a First Novel: 4 Musings on the Journey to Finish
The past two weeks I’ve been hard at work on the second draft of my first novel, and I’m in a good rhythm. I’ve been writing from 1000-to 1500 words a day 6 days a week. I’m not sure how sustainable that pace is, but for now, I like where I’m headed.
Novel writing has been a unique project for me. I tried once about 10 years ago and gave up. But mostly I have never worked on something quite this big. Usually, I work in poetry, short stories, blog posts, or articles for magazines or websites, but I have avoided novel writing because frankly, the length of the work terrified me. I think the longest piece I ever wrote was for grad school, which I believe was about 100 pages. This will be 2–3 times that size. But unlike my other attempt at writing a novel, I don’t see myself giving up. The reason? Here are 4 things that have helped me stay focused.
- Managing Expectations
Managing expectations has been by far the most important part of novel writing thus far. I constantly have to remind myself that this will not be Dostoyevsky or even that very good at least initially. Or to put it another way, during my first draft, I have to keep forgiving myself for sometimes being a mediocre or bad writer. My first draft was a kitchen sink draft! I threw everything at the wall. Some stuck. Lots of it didn’t. I saved what I liked and cut the rest and moved forward and kept it moving, and it is totally ok.
Managing expectations goes for publishing as well. It is completely natural to think about the future and the publishing market. But thinking about the future only gets in the way and takes us away from the present moment. I cannot write because I think I’m going to publish my novel. I have to enjoy the act of writing for the sake of writing.
2. Turning off judgments
Turning off judgments is generally good life advice, but it is especially important during the creative process. The reason: you will be frozen in place by anxiety if you are judging your work too harshly. To write decently, one has to be in the creative flow, free from the anxious judgments of the mind. I often start my writing sessions with a meditation to clear my head before I start.
This was big for me. I wrote much of my 20s and 30s but did it haphazardly. Sometimes I wrote every day; other times I didn’t write for months. What changed? Scheduling. I write in the morning. I block out a half-hour. If I don’t do that, I don’t write. It’s as simple as that.
This has been a tough one. I’ve had to sacrifice fun. That means a lot less going out a whole lot less. It means sitting in my poorly-lighted apartment by myself, struggling away at the keyboard to who knows what end. It means knowing that others are doing things without you and that you are left out. It can be very tough. But the work of art means that we must sacrifice in the hopes of something greater.