I’ve written before about the question I most dread as an author: “How did you come up with that?” or “Where did that come from?” A related question–but not quite the same–that I’ve gotten before from one friend in particular is, “How do you have that much story in you?”
You’ve probably heard similar questions or comments before. “You wrote a book? That’s so cool! How?” “I could never write a novel. I’m just not creative.” Things like that. It really all boils do the creative process. So, what do you need to write a novel, or a series of them, or a group of unrelated ones?
- Perseverance. Writing a novel is one of those bucket-list items in the same category as “running a marathon” or “running a five minute mile.” The difficulty lies as much in the long, drawn-out process that’s entailed in succeeding as it is in anything else. Any goal that requires that much time, energy, and devotion has built-in with it the pitfall of just giving up. “I don’t have enough time.” “I have other things I have to do.” “I started off good, but then this happened, and that, and….” That’s why I–taking Stephen King’s advice–always tell people they should write each day. Even if it’s fifteen minutes or half an hour. Write every day, because if you do that, I guarantee you, you’ll get your novel.
- Tunnel vision. Tunnel vision isn’t always a good thing, but as I wrote about here, it’s a useful tool for finishing a novel. Don’t worry if the book’s good. Don’t worry about edits you’ll have to make later. Don’t stress about not knowing how to end things when you’re 40,000 words in…. just work on the scene at hand. The current moment. This is my preferred method of shutting down my “inner editor” while I’m creating a first draft. I don’t let myself consider the novel’s “big picture.” I work on one scene and one scene only, because the only way to get a novel written is one word, one sentence at a time.
- A basic concept. You don’t need an outline if you don’t want one, and you don’t need to write from a developed plot. But you do need some basic idea of what your story’s about. “A sorcerer-noble takes over the kingdom and kills most of the royal family.” (My first novel.) “A convict released from prison, bitter and violent, changes his life after a bishop forgives him, instead of having him arrested, for stealing his silver” (“Les Miserables.”) “A spoiled brat of a Southern Belle tries to save her family’s plantation during the Civil War.” (“Gone with the Wind.”) Start with your concept (again, as Stephen King suggests,) and from that, your characters will develop. Once your characters are there, they’ll guide you the rest of the way.
- Flexibility. Things will change on you. Possibilities you didn’t foresee will pop up after you thought you know where things were headed and totally reroute you. Go with it. Flow with it. And enjoy it. I tend to be a creature of habit and routine, so it’s nice for writing to teach me how good it is to be flexible and less nailed-down from day to day.
- A Sense of Humor About Yourself. You will write things you know are just horrible. Entire scenes. Entire chapters…. You will doubt your abilities, I guarantee it, at various stages in the writing process. If you don’t have a sense of humor about yourself–if you can’t take yourself and what you’re doing lightly enough to shrug those doubts and disappointments off and keep going–you will throw in the towel. I tend to be a serious kind of person–far too serious–so writing helps me to laugh at myself and take things in stride. I need that so much, and I try to transfer that attitude somewhat to the rest of my life.
So, those are some requirements that came to my mind. Fellow writers: what would you say is necessary to get a novel down on the page?