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bear by san

March 2017

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sf doctor who meant to be?

there ain't no wood anyhow

So you've decided to write a novel. Like you do. (As one does.)

It's the month for novel-writing, after all.

And you may wonder, well. how do I go about this thing?

Well, in all honesty, it's pretty simple.

You put your butt in a chair and type. You type long and hard, and when you have typed your typing fingers sore, if you are lucky, you have somewhere between three and six hundred pages of material.

That's right. I said between three and six hundred pages of material.

That sounds like a scary awful lot, doesn't it? And yeah, in some respects it is. It's a huge amount of material, somewhere between 80,000 and 150,000 words of English prose. (I assume that you are writing in English chiefly because I am writing in English, and this is what I know about publishing original fiction in other languages: bupkiss.

Yep, that much.)

Anyway, so you've decided to embark upon this project.

And let me tell you, it's not an easy one. It's a major production, along the lines of building a house or organizing a seven-country European tour or writing a dissertation or building a house or setting up a big Italian wedding. It's a Project, in other words. I ain't gonna lie.

But here's what it requires:

Grim determination and a modicum of talent.

By grim determination, what I mean is the ability to get up every morning and put the butt in the chair and bang out a page, two pages, six pages.

I aim for six to eight pages most days. Cory Doctorow aims for one. Some other people (like John Scalzi) sit down and hammer out a book in a month or two every couple of years. You can be a tortoise or you can be a hare: it doesn't signify.

All that matters is the butt-in-chair. Getting the pixels on the phosphors. Making words happen.

If it's a first novel, honestly, your first and foremost goal is to finish. You can always fix or trunk it later.

That's the real secret of professional writers, by the way: they're not afraid to rip out old stuff and rewrite it, even though it hurts fiercely sometimes. And they're not afraid to abandon broken pieces.

Some stuff just can't be fixed. Write a new story, using what you learned when you wrote the last one. It'll be better.

That's what Steve Brust said to me, when I had finished my first novel. He said if you have written and finished one, you have done more than most writers do in their entire lives. And if you finish one, you can finish two. And the second will likely be better than the first.

He was right.

Comments

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I needed to hear this today. Thanks.
I was about to sign in to say this, too. Thanks. =)
Here I am, six novels in and I have one of those problem children that finished up at 70K instead of 85 to 95K where I usually end.

But hey, I've finished six and sold one. The big secret? Butt in chair.

Though I've noticed that audience members at publishing and writing panels seem to frown a lot when you tell them this.

There is no magic handshake, just a lot of slogging along doing the work until the work is good enough to sell.

Warren Ellis was once asked what it takes to be a writer.

In his usual fashion, he responded, "What's it take to be a writer? Fucking writing. If you're not doing that then you're not a writer."

And I totally agree with you, the hardest part of writing a novel is finishing the blasted thing. *grumbles and goes back to doing just that*
Yeah. Fucking writing. And doing it mindfully and with an eye to improvement.
I was remembering this advice, earlier today. I'm doing NaNoWriMo, first time I haven't decided I didn't really wanna the first day of November, and last night I just. . . didn't write.

And I got up this morning and went Oh God, I have to do 2.5k of words today and tomorrow each to catch up.

And after a while I hauled out the two pieces of advice that have been getting me through this.

"I don't have to want to do this. I just have to do this."
and
"Butt in chair."

And I wrote 2513 words. I even liked about two hundred of them, in two chunks.

So, you know. Thanks for talking about this stuff on the internet.
You are welcome.

"I don't have to want to do this. I just have to do this." gets me through a lot. It's a working-class mantra, I guess, but I'm a working-class girl.
So you've decided to write a novel.

More usually, the novel is the one who decides I'm going to write it. Sometimes it makes an appeal to my sense of whim, sometimes it tries to lull me into complacency by pretending it's only a short story so that it can get right up close and pounce when it's too late for me to get away, and sometimes it just keeps me awake night after night after night whispering tantalizing and disturbing things in my ears, but rarely do I feel like the decision is my own.

Also: butt in chair? Hard when you've gone and bashed up your tailbone. Not recommended. )-:
I finished two novels, and the second was worse than the first. Which killed my confidence for a while, because what was the point if I wasn't actually getting better? But now I'm back to writing stuff again--slowly, but working on it--because, you know, one trunk novel is not the end of the world, and I learned a lot of things Not To Do from that process. And I'm sort of coming to terms with the fact that "getting better" can be happening even if I write something that stinks, because I'm learning how to Do It Wrong in new and useful ways.
one trunk novel is not the end of the world, and I learned a lot of things Not To Do from that process.

I hear you there. My second novel was also bad -- no, that's not a strong enough word. It was absolutely rotten and I still cringe when I think about how many people I subjected to it in my initial fit of 'I wrote a second novel aren't I special'-itis. It took me until the next NaNoWriMo to get back on the horse, but that third most-of-a-novel was better, for all I realized it was irrevocably broken and never finished it. The fourth and fifth were better, especially as they were the start of me writing on a regular basis, and everything since then has been even better...

I'm not exactly glad I failed so hard with that second novel, but I'm glad I learned the lessons I did from it -- like getting my ego the hell out of the way of my craft! XD

NaNoNotNow

First year I tried my laptop died on me. Next time I gave it a go, an abusive customer at work harshed my mellow for weeks. This year I'm going to just say no. I think The Muses are telling me, "Never in November."

I think I'll wait till Dec. 1 to look at last year's draft. Perseverance, check. A modicum of talent? Oh hellz; I've read Dan Brown, I know I can do better!


Re: NaNoNotNow

Hey, around here, every month is nanowrimo.
Working on it :)
'preciate this post.
Oddly, of the examples, organizing a European Grand Tour and an Italian wedding both sounded startlingly easy to me, whereas writing a novel is daunting (building a house - I'm doing it. Don't.). I guess I know where my talents lie?

And yes, thank you for posting this - excellent advice, and well-timed.
See, I'd MUCH RATHER write a novel than organize a grand tour. OMG.

*g*
I'm coming to believe that all marathons have a lot in common, whether it's running or rowing a literal marathon (and the training required for that), knitting a sweater, or writing a novel. Butt in boat or sneakers on road, stitches on the needle, butt in chair and fingers typing.

(But then, I also tend to believe that Nike's "Just do it" is the most useful sports slogan ever. It doesn't make me want to buy shoes so maybe it's a failure at its intended purpose, but it's gotten me through a lot of training hours and unpleasant chores.)
Exactly. And it's useful because it's true.

Just do it.
Hey, let's hear it for ASSINCHAIRASANA!!!
I show you my street cred if you show me yours. *g*
I've found that the writing part is easy. In the past three years I've written two and a half novels.

The hard part is revising it and getting it published.
Thank you.
So true of all Projects. I may never write a novel -- my brain keeps telling me it wants to, silly thing, but has no idea what it'd be in for -- but I am doing all sorts of other Projects, and metaphorical butt-in-chair is the only way they ever get done.
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