by Robert Gray

You’re ready to write your first novel. You’ve got a great story that has been building in your head, one that speaks to the human condition, one that allows you to release all of those fears and loves and grievances. And then you start to write, but what appears on the screen isn’t what you imagined. Your sentences are weak, and the characters move like mindless zombies from page to page. You’re only in a few thousand words, but you can already feel your momentum dying. You can’t figure out why everything’s going wrong. Hell, your three-year-old in the next room is coming up with better stories with a pocket dictionary turned upside-down. Why can’t you, a grown adult who knows a thing or two about writing, barely form a coherent sentence?

Because this shit ain’t easy, that’s why. Writing is a lifelong investment, one that is never truly mastered. So when you start writing the next great novel, you should be mentally prepared for a tough road ahead. And like any trip, you need to make some preparations first.

Get On A Schedule

Just because you decided to sit in front of your computer and write a novel doesn’t mean you’re serious about the craft. You need to put in the hours, and, more importantly, you need to get into a routine. Put some time aside – everyday if possible – preferably when you’re at your most creative. Some texts recommend you write for a certain number of hours, some say stick to a word count. I say do what makes you comfortable. The point of a schedule is not only to help improve your ability, it’s also to prep your brain, to let it know it’s time to get into writing mode.

Avoid Distractions … Or At Least Try To

Stephen King suggests that your writing room have only one thing: a door. “The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

Sure, it’s hard to tell the people in your life, Hey, I’m trying to write right now, so please leave me alone. I know. When I try I usually get blank stares. But too many distractions, and you’re never gonna get into the right frame of mind.

And what about those self-inflicted distractions? I’m talking Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. I’m talking television and video games. I think young writers break from their stories often because they have this romantic notion of The Writer as one who stares out the window upon a snow-covered lake, not writing, but pondering about life. Only when the muse has been appeased, and the writer sits down to the page, a fury of golden words will spill out. There is a small bit of truth to this. During writing, there are always moments of reflection, but they should be brief and charged with internal discovery. What they should not be is a Twitter update that says, Check me out. I’m writing my novel right now.

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

When you sit down to write, the best you can do is to put one word in front of another. There is, to my knowledge, no other way to finish a novel. Sure, you’ll be rewriting scenes, taking in and pulling out characters, tightening your prose. You’ll have days that go smooth and others where you want to bash your computer with a baseball bat. That’s normal. You should have a deep emotional investment in your story, both good and bad. Just keep at it. Find the next word, and then the word after that. And keep it going until you reach the words THE END.

Write Your Story

Every story is, in part, a biography. It’s your world and how you see it. And it is the reason when an author tries to write outside of themselves, usually in an attempt to sell more books, the effort is often stale at best.

If you find you’re having a hard time writing, then maybe you are trying to write someone else’s story. Joyce Carol Oates suggests to her students that they write about their true subject. “How will they know when they are writing of their true subjects? By the ease at which they write. By their reluctance to stop writing. By the headachy, even guilty, joyous sensation of having done something that must be done, having confessed emotions thought unconfessable, having said what had seemed should remain unsaid.”

Write your novel. Don’t be afraid to explore all that you are. I guarantee you’ll find more material than you ever thought possible.

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