As a writer, you have talent not casually handed out. Millions of people cannot write a simple sentence. You can. You are a writer; writing is what you do. Some days you will write badly, some days you will write well. But there will never be a day when you cannot write at all.
Two profound secrets about writers: All writers are afraid to write.
All writers ﬁnd writing difﬁcult.
ALL WRITERS ARE AFRAID
You’re scared to write a novel. You should be. Writing is a very dangerous profession.
(Bullﬁghting is a bit more dangerous but at least the bull doesn't try to rewrite your book.)
Fear and anxiety are natural emotions for a novelist and these feelings are not unique to beginners. It’s not that we professional novelists have no fear; we have simply learned to manage our fear and get on with the writing.
I've sold more than a million words, including nearly a thousand magazine articles, columns, and eight books, and I am still scared when I write.
My ﬁrst three published mystery novels, Kill Cue, Extreme Close-Up, and Option to Die, sold more than a quarter million copies since 1990, but every time I start another book, I'm frightened.
Writing a novel takes an investment of your time and faith and your heart and soul. Whether you have been published before or not, starting a new book is a frightening thing. It’s a journey you'll be taking for anywhere from a few months to a year and the destination is unknown.
Will you look deep inside your soul and ﬁnd nothing worthwhile? (Like that great line from A Chorus Line: “I dug right down to the bottom of my soul and I found nothing.”)
Will readers like the book? There is no way to know. But what made me a published novelist was the fact that I kept on writing even though I was afraid. Talent can help you write publishable ﬁction, but courage and persistence will help you even more. If you love writing, fear writing and hope you can do it well, you are probably healthy enough to be a published author. Because that’s the way most of us feel.
WRITING IS DIFFICULT FOR EVERYONE
Some beginners think writing is easy for all pros. They believe published writers knock out a perfect chapter before lunch and spend the afternoon by a heated swimming pool. Not true. Writing is difﬁcult for everyone.
(The next time someone tells you writing is easy, think of Ernest Hemingway, who rewrote the last chapter of Farewell to Arms 119 times, and on a manual typewriter, no less.)
Many beginners beat themselves up because the ﬁrst words they put down look dumb. They’ve been told, “If it’s not perfect, it has no value.” “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Guess what? It may need to be nearly perfect eventually, but it does not have to be perfect right away.
I was doing some volunteer work at a little Reno company that buys gold, silver, diamonds and stuff from estate sales and resells it on eBay. One of the other volunteers was a "Larry, The Cable Guy" lookalike whose name was Chris.
One afternoon, out of the blue, Chris says, "I heared you wuz a writter." (sic)
"I am," I said.
Chris says, "I'm a writer, too. I've only been at it two years, but I wrote 17 books. I just got a bunch of writing talent. I write all kind of books, poems, auto repair, fictions." (sic) "And," he continued, "Doubleday wants to see my next book."
Finally, I gave in, "What did Doubleday tell you?"
"Oh, I didn't talk to them. They just wrote and said we'd love to see your work, but you need to get an agent first."
"That's great," I responded, trying to be nice.
But he couldn't leave it there. "I'm almost done with my screenplay."
I asked, "What's the screenplay about?
He says, "I can't tell you. Don't want it stolen. But I write just like Quentin Tarantino."
Okay, now I'm beginning to feel like Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces: "I'm listening to some cracker asshole who lives in a trailer park compare his life to mine!" I find it difficult to listen to totally absurd bullshit like that from a guy who just began walking upright that morning.
If you are in the least concerned that you are not good enough as a writer, think about some of the signs that you are a Good Writer.
Good writers are driven to write daily. Writing is not a conscious choice. It is a need, as strong a need as any passion. Some people are compelled to exercise daily. Writers share the beauty of the written word with others. Good writers ...
- are observant. They see the beauty in things others don't find interesting at all.
- do not listen to critics. Instead, they listen to their inner self who encourages them to pursue their passion, to share the love of the written word with others. Their confidence that they have a voice that needs to be heard outweighs their inner critic or any other critics.
- are well-read. By reading a variety of authors, they get a variety of ideas and writing styles.
- embrace rejection as a learning experience. Their craft requires them to face the possibility of rejection on a regular basis. The best writers learn to use rejection as an opportunity to grow and improve.
- challenge them. Highly creative people wake up every morning fully aware of the need to grow and push themselves. Writers don’t just talk about writing, they take action. If they need to get up two hours earlier than usual to write, they will do it. I wrote my first novel from 5 to 7 each morning, five days a week.
- are driven to the point of obsession. Writing takes priority over what they consider the most mundane. Writing takes priority over laundry and dishes. They must write like they must breathe. The dishes can wait.
- can write at any hour. They will write even if it is 2 o’clock in the morning. They are oblivious to the fact that the world is sleeping or that they should be sleeping. Although they can write at any hour, they write best at certain times of the day.
Good writers can write anywhere they have access to a computer a pen or a phone.
That's why I compare myself only to the kind of writer I was yesterday.
Let out your anguish, concealed enigmas, dusky depths of despair, all the things you wanted to write but didn’t have the nerve. Just do it, find out where your real energies are, your real beliefs. It’s less expensive than a psychiatrist is and your cat already knows all about you.
About a third of the way through the draft, you might lose momentum. Don’t worry. This is the secret draft. You may feel frustrated and discouraged, but don’t let it stop you. No one will know. If you’re having problems, create a storyboard to keep you going.
Storyboards for writing, not advance planning.
A storyboard can be as helpful for writing your novel as it is for animators and film directors. Write on an index card the basic idea of a scene.
Ben asks Abigail to marry him. He’s worried their child is actually Chad’s baby.
You can color code the cards to mark different kinds of scenes, or for different chapters in your novel. You can include specific information about a scene. Each card might describe the scene in a few sentences and you put it on a pink card for "advancing the plot" or a green card for "developing a character."
Use the storyboard the same way you did your leapfrog outline. Use the index card storyboard to ‘troubleshoot’ your secret draft. With storyboarding, you can literally write down the ideas behind the big moments of your scene and you can plot just ahead of where you are. It helps you write in a linear fashion.
Of course, storyboarding is a common approach to scene writing used by filmmakers. Storyboards give you the opportunity to see how scenes link with one another and the larger story. Planning scenes in this way, as you are writing, won’t kill your spontaneity. Some scenes and events will only occur to you as you write. Once you have your secret draft done, you can go back, delete and consolidate scenes using your storyboard cards.
Breaking your novel down into scenes while writing the secret draft can help you ensure your novel has a strong narrative drive and the pieces of it connect to one another. Remember, your readers want your story to keep on keepin on.
Nobody writes perfectly ﬁrst time. Remember that.
Some authors try for a perfect first chapter before going on with the book. Not a good idea. You can always fix it later, once you know what the story is. Frankly, I would go crazy trying to perfect one sentence at a time, because what happens later in my books almost always changes what I've said earlier in the books. However, if you inspect every word and seek a perfect one, you’ll won’t finish your novel. Besides, no one is going to pay money for a first chapter only, even if it is perfect.
I am a Virgo. Some of us are cursed with a desire for perfection. We seldom reach it; we just want to. However, perfectionism will ruin your writing if you let it. You don’t have to hush your perfectionist trait; you just have to say “not yet.” You can perfect the book later on when you revise it. Sure, it should be nearly perfect eventually, but it does not need to be nearly perfect right away.
Nothing you write is carved in stone until you publish it and, even then, you can make corrections. The secret draft is seldom final; it's just a starting place. Even if it's imperfect by nature, the secret draft is far more productive than sitting staring at a blank screen be-cause you're determined the first sentence you write should be perfect. Secret drafts are for experiments, adventures and easily forgiven misses.
What works for me is to write a secret draft as far as I can and go back and fix things as they occur to me. Once finished, I print out a semifinal draft on cheap paper. Then, using a red pen, I go through the hard copy, make corrections and suggest revisions. I go back to the computer, rewrite and revise using the hard copy as my guide.
A secret draft is not supposed to be wonderful.
It is usually dreadful, nothing like what you thought it would be.
When you read your secret draft for the first time, you may consider getting out of writing. Don’t.
The secret draft is the framework that allows you to revise it into something beautiful. I'll strive to share my secrets and you strive to keep writing. Read my books when they come out and ask me questions via Email. Write your novel. It’s okay if you're scared.
(From NOVEL SECRETS (paperback or Kindle)