My creative birth came at 27, the same age, coincidentally, that a bunch of prominent creative people met their untimely deaths.
While I’d been writing in secret since childhood, I only started taking myself seriously as a prospective novelist when the rest of the world stopped taking me seriously as a human being. (That is, when I decided to extend my maternity leave to be “at home” with my baby a bit longer.)
At first I (jokingly) told my friends and family that I was gonna write “my million dollar novel”, but what followed was a good four years of trial and error. And then a Masters, another novel and another few years of rewrites.
Novel writing is hell on earth, save yourself and do anything else!
So anywayz, here’s some stuff I’ve learnt so far:
- Write with confidence.
Your voice and story are just as valid as any other. ‘Women must write women,’ says Hélène Cixous. Whoever you are, you must write you. You can’t rely on anyone else to write your experiences and thoughts. Don’t angst that you’ll never be as good as “the greats”. Literary greatness is a social construct, like streets and lunchtime. Just write.
- The phrase “write what you want to read” is idealistic bullshit.
Soz brah. Unless you’re self-publishing (in which case, all the best!), you have to write what publishing houses think people who buy books will want to read. If you’re lucky these two spheres MAY intersect at some points, but mostly it’s a completely soul-destroying process. Be brave, but also, this is an industry. Capitalism sucks. Get used it.
- Writing is a condition.
There’s gonna be times when you feel mentally unbalanced if you haven’t written for a few days. Welcome to your life now. I can recommend caffeine and small, portable notebooks.
- Plan your novel.
I learnt this the hard way. I set out to write 100,000 words, and that I did – between the hours of midnight and 3AM, one thousand words a night. But when I got to 100,000 words, I realised I didn’t know where the character was ultimately headed. So I had fun, but what followed was years of rewrites. I’ve lost count of how many words I eventually wrote. Put the plotting and planning time in at the start and you’ll reap the rewards later.
- Your first draft will always be shit.
I read somewhere the other day that people should never send their first draft to ANYONE and I completely agree. I have made this mistake and it still gives me social anxiety. You’re gonna rewrite your novel, so think of your “beta readers” as resources. They can only give you a fresh set of eyes once, so don’t send them your sucky first draft.
- Always get your feedback in writing.
When you do send it to your beta readers, it can be tempting to have a pleasant convo about what they think. BUT unless they tell you they loved it and have no notes (which is, by the way, deeply unhelpful and a waste of your time), even the most constructive of criticism can cut very deep. Tracked changes and a bottle or two of wine are your friends.
- Paper editing works best.
It’s easier and more satisfying to edit your own work with a pen, and bonus: you won’t get lost in a sea of words on screen.
- There’s no such thing as wasted words.
During your rewrites, keep a file of words/sections you’ve cut, you can always use them for something else later, like in other novels, or short stories, or blog post examples of what not to write…
- Kill your darlings.
If you think it might need to be cut, it does.
- Read widely.
Make it part of your novel writing process. Not the trash on the library bookshelf, the good stuff. If you’re broke you can get free eBooks from Project Gutenberg (the classics) and Netgalley (a mechanism for publishers to give new releases to readers in exchange for an honest review).
- Write under a pen name if you need to.
For a while there having a nom de plume was the only way I could mentally liberate myself sufficiently to write. The world is so full of bullshit about who said what and people pretending to live the perfect life, so if you need to hide to get to the heart of your story, don’t be afraid of that.
- Evidently agents are not necessary.
I read the other day that 60% of books published in Australia are not agented, and the Australian Society of Authors provides contract legal advice. Plus about fifty percent of Australian agents are closed to submissions at any one time, and there are a bunch of major publishing houses that have unsolicited
manuscript submission processes. Boom. Don’t bother.
- Save yourself the hours of pre-mature self-promotion and just write the thing.
The tendency when you write your first novel is to tell people about your progress, completely ignoring the fact that what will necessarily follow will be probably years of edits and rewrites (unless you’ve sold your manuscript before your written it, or you’re being paid specifically to do it and have your childcare sorted). Seriously, Twitter is full of people who have quit their jobs to spend a year writing a novel, and instead spend five years trying to crowd source ideas for their antagonist’s weekend hobby and favourite sports team. Shut up and write.
- Smile and nod when people suggest you self publish.
“I heard this thing on ABC radio the other day saying that heaps of authors are self-publishing eBooks!” I know, I know, you want to punch them in the face. Me too.
- Ignore all of this advice.
You’re producing culture! YOLO, etc.! Have fun!