The Sort-of Non-Writing Related Stuff of Writing My First Novel

Truthfully, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with writing. While I get to world-build and create characters only to put them in crazy, dystopic scenarios, writing, in all its forms, is exhausting. I believe I have talked about building up my writing stamina previous, and yep, it’s been a grueling process. My thesis director says the more consistently you write, the easier it will become to get words onto the page. I believe him. It’s slowly getting easier, but mental fatigue and eye strain is still a serious issue for me.

Photography, on the other hand, has always filled me with energy. Maybe it’s for the simple fact that I am outside, on my feet, moving around to find the best shot. My blood is flowing. My eyes are fixating on objects near and far. I don’t need to wear my glasses. With writing, you become stationary. Your mind falls into itself rather than out of itself when you are photographing what’s around you. (Just in the most basic comparison to photography. I know plenty of writers who find inspiration just from their surroundings.) I can process film for hours in a darkroom just because I am on my feet. Sitting down to write involves many breaks, for me, even if I am writing by hand, which I’ve hand-written about 30 pages of my novel at the moment because I want to keep my hand strong and not have it cramp up when ever I try to write my name. The hardest part about writing is writing.

So, maybe this isn’t so much a creative issue as it is a personality or physical issue, but holy shit has writing my first novel been a grueling yet most excellent challenge. Between reading through slush piles, editing interviews, game reviews, and writing lesson plans for my teaching gig, I had to set myself a minimum of writing 5, double-spaced pages a day so I could complete my thesis on schedule. There are parts that I am still writing, but I’m into the editing stages now. About half of the time I am able to manage the work load. The other half of the time I’m overwhelmed, so I go have a good cry in the shower with a bottle of wine until I can compose myself and get back on track. (I don’t really cry in the shower with a bottle of wine… it’s just a glass.)

The other part of this experience is that I learned, no matter what I am writing, I need to have a summary, outline, notes, whatever to work from. I can’t dive into fiction like I can poetry; I have to plot, and plot well, but not too much. I’m in the process of trying to figure out how I can plot out my entire story, but still leave room for things to change. I suppose once I’ve been writing — and I mean really writing, like, every day working on a short story or a book and getting it all published — for 30 years then I’ll be able to at least articulate what that balancing process entails, but right now, I’m swinging a machete through the thick of the jungle. Octavia Butler once said that you can’t wait for inspiration — you just have to do it. Of course, she said it way more eloquently than me, but I’m sure you still get it.

I’ve also learned that having people around who are either seasoned writers or who are just getting their feet off the ground is important. Having a network of people who understand the process without needing to articulate it is important, as is having people who may not necessarily be writers, but creatives themselves; they will understand the time you need to take away from the world. You also need those same creative people to help push you along. You will come across people who don’t understand — a parent, sibling, your significant other — people whom you love and care about deeply. You will want to show those people a poem or ask them to read a short story, and they might start to read it, but then hand it back and say, “I don’t understand. I don’t know how to read this,” or some other mind-boggling statement that will make no sense to you. This will hurt a lot, and you’ll probably be pissed off, but channel whatever you are feeling into your work and into the people whom you trust with your work. Fuck the rest of them — they don’t deserve your energy. You can still love them, of course, and all of this is easier said than done, but you’ve got a novel to write. Put their character in there and kill ’em off. Make them the villain everyone is happy to see die at the end. Make them King Joffrey.

Writing your first novel is just as much about the process itself, and the people around you while you write it, as it is creating the story. I don’t have all the answers, but the simplest advice that I can give is that it ain’t gonna write itself, and give fucks sparingly, if at all.


Featured photo from Abandoned Spaces.

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