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The Adventure of Writing a First Novel February 3, 2009

Posted by Ann Bertorelli in Uncategorized.
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Larry R Thomas I have always been an avid reader. Since childhood I have always had at least one book going at all times. I minored in English in college and later got an MA in English. So it would be safe to say that the world of words and letters is my favorite place to be. For years I have had a desire to write a book. I was never sure what the book would be about but it was something I told friends and colleagues that I wanted to accomplish someday. And I had never embarked on the project. 

During 2008 I decided that it was time to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I decided to start writing a novel. Since current wisdom says that you should write about what you know, I decided to write about a woman who is a ballroom dancer. (I have been an amateur dancer for the last fifteen years.) So far, so good. I started thinking about what could happen to this character and how I could incorporate some of what I know about dancing since, with the advent of Dancing With the Stars, everyone is fascinated with ballroom dancing. But I was getting nowhere fast. It just wasn’t happening.

And then good luck and chance intervened (Well, not really–it was clearly divine guidance.) I came across an email with a link to something called the Writer’s Spawhich was happening in Taos, New Mexico at the end of July. Hmm, Taos, one of my favorite places on earth, a chance to spend some time in Santa Fe, and oh, by the way a chance to write. So at the end of July, I found myself with twenty-five or so other aspiring women writers, all of us committed to find a way to express our creativity through writing. The story of what was created and what I gained from the experience could (and probably will) be the subject of another blog post. Let’s just say it was a magical time. (The spa has been reconstituted into The Luscious, Nurturing Get Your Writing Done While Laughing Your Butt Off and Maybe Crying a Little Too Writer’s Retreat being facilitated by Jennifer Louden, same time, same station. See http://www.comfortqueen.com/workshops-retreats/writers_spa for the details.

As a result of my time at Writer’s Spa, I came up with a solid idea for my novel as well as a fairly detailed outline for the plot. Sounds good, right? However, I have found in the months since that there are other considerations beside having the plot nailed down. Because I am determined, I have continued problem-solving in order to continue my novel-writing. It occurred to me that others could benefit from my strategies so I have detailed some of them below.

  1. Figure out what your commitment to your writing is. If you want to dabble and not produce anything in particular, be clear about it and don’t beat yourself up for not producing lots of finished projects. If you want to produce a particular piece of writing, such as a novel, a book of poetry or an academic treatise, then get serious about it—get determined to produce that writing. Get totally aligned to that declaration. Steering from your declaration will gain you some traction in getting off your duff and doing something.

  2. If you want to be a writer, then write. I have a talent for stating the obvious, do I not? Here’s what I mean. Until I could say to others, “I am a writer” with a straight face and no internal cringing, I was could not work at writing as if I meant it. In order to be a writer you need to think about writing all the time, whether or not you are writing at that moment. (And if all you do is think about it, that’s not good enough either.) You need to put writing into your schedule, decide what else needs to be moved to the back burner or eliminated altogether, and then write at least two or three times a week. As you think about your writing more, you will find that you come up with a lot of ideas that could be turned into something. Rather than leaving your current project and starting on the new idea, write that idea on a piece of paper or in a computer file that earmark for that purpose. Keep this list of wonderful possibilities going and you’ll never be in question about what your next project could be.

  3. Build a network of others who are interested in writing. I know, I know, this is what all the articles always advise. I used to read that over and over again and dismiss it out of hand. I figured I could do it on my own with no help. After all, isn’t writing a solitary activity? YES! And that’s why you need a network of supporters. My experience at the Writer’s Spa introduced me to an amazing group of women and some of us have gotten together for weekly phone calls to discuss our craft, our blocks, our ideas, and our excuses for not getting it done. Take my advice– do this. Just put it out there and in no time at all you will have found at least one other person you can talk to about your writing.

  4. Approach your writing in small chunks. You’ve probably heard the question: How do you eat an elephant? The answer: One bite at a time. I have found writing a first novel to be a very daunting task. If I start thinking about how much I have ahead of me, I get overwhelmed. So rather than despairing because I am only one-quarter of the way through my first draft, I just concentrate on writing the next scene, then the one after that and so on. Is it always easy? Does it always work perfectly? Heck, no. But it is a strategy. 

    When I first started writing the novel I would find myself not sitting down to write because I did not have one or two hours to devote to it. Jennifer Louden suggested a strategy that has worked very well for me. She suggested rather than telling myself that I had to write for an hour or two, to simply set my writing goal for five minutes. Five minutes, how could I fail to meet that goal? The answer is, I couldn’t. And the good news is that when I sit down to write for five minutes, I always end up writing longer than that because I get caught up in the joy of the creation rather than fretting about what I’m not doing. So, give this a try—I predict that you’ll be surprised at what you start creating.

    I know that I have more trials ahead of me in this process of writing a novel. But as they say, it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. And I am determined to succeed at this challenge. I’ve gone too far to turn back now. (Isn’t that a song?) When I get the novel done, I’ll post a hallelujah chorus on my blog. And if I’m really lucky, my trials and tribulations will have helped others with their writing.  Write on…                  —Amara

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Comments»

1. Kate Robertson - February 4, 2009

Amara,

I read the whole post before I realized it was you. I came here from Twitter where Jen added a link to your blog. Your writing advice was great. I needed to hear it today. Thanks for posting,
I wish I were back in Taos right now…
Kate

edgyangel - February 4, 2009

Hi Kate–
Thanks for your comment. So nice to hear from you again. I go to Taos in my mind quite often–and I am going back again this summer…


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