How to face the fear and write your first novel

January 29, 2020

So you want to write your first novel, eh?

That’s brave of you. You probably have a real job. Don’t want to let anyone know that you want to be a writer. At least, not just yet.

You’ve probably dabbled in a couple of short stories. Or maybe you have a file with a thousand opening chapters, and none of them finished. But you really, really want to write a novel.

But how? It seems terrifying. 80,000 words is a lot. And what will people think? 😬

Just remember, there are two simple requirements for being a novelist:

You must love fiction.

You must love writing.

No one goes into writing a novel without these two things; it’s almost impossible to finish the writing ultra-marathon without loving the work that you do. It’s a terrifying and daunting thing to put pen to paper, even more so in an elongated form.

Even so, here are some things I wish I’d been told before I started. Note that this is not a craft list – there are plenty of things I could tell you to do with the craft of writing, but these are the psychological things you need to know.

You can do it

You are fully capable of writing a novel. You can actually do this thing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Don’t listen to the family members who scoff at you for wanting to write a book. Don’t listen to your inner monologue saying you can’t do this.

You can do it. There have been thousands of novels written over the years and each one of those novelists had to start at a blank page.

The first book is the hardest because you don’t know whether you’re capable of doing it. You don’t know if you can actually climb the proverbial literary mountain because it’s big. Really big.

Don’t be daunted.  

Which leads me to my second point…

Break it down

In the absolute, 100% Vanilla Ice way, you need to break this novel down. Breaking it down into little goals makes it achievable. I wrote my first book with a goal of 500 words a day, which took me around an hour to write on public transport.

If you write 500 words a day, you can write a novel in around six-months.

It’s a goal I keep even today, although my writing time has shifted to large blocks on two days a week. I aim to write about 4000 words a week, which is not much more than 500 words a day.

Months like NaNoWriMo are great for kickstarting these goals, but if you find that daunting, set a small goal you can reach consistently.

Consistency is more important than a huge writing day that will smash you mentally for a fortnight.

Accept that your first novel probably won’t get published

Let’s face it. Your first novel is probably going to be a trash fire.

Mine certainly was. It has been compared to Vogon poetry by those who have read it.

It will probably never be published. Nor will my second manuscript, what can only be described as Dracula fan-fiction.

But these two manuscripts taught me so much about writing. I don’t regret writing them at all. I don’t regret that they might not see the light of day. The process of writing them taught me many things.

Firstly, that I could write a full-length novel, which has made each successive manuscript easier and quicker to write.  

Secondly, that planning and having a structure for a book really helps me.

Thirdly, it helped me find my voice. It helped me develop how I like to write.

You should definitely write like no one is watching, ‘cause no one might ever be watching. And that’s okay.

Remind yourself why you’re doing it

Look as much as I love fortune and glory, writers are usually not in the business of writing novels for profit. You’re better off becoming a treasure hunter.

Check your motivations for writing a novel. Writing does not have to be fun, but the reason for writing a book needs to transcend material wealth and the desire for fame. These things are fleeting and transient, and if you don’t achieve them, you might end up feeling deeply unsatisfied.

Some great reasons to write a novel are:

  • For pleasure
  • To say something meaningful about the world
  • To create art
  • To share your thoughts with other people
  • To make people (and yourself) laugh
  • To express something through characters that’s difficult to say in person
  • To process trauma or grief
  • Because you love books

These are not all easy reasons to write, but they are meaningful reasons.

Write down why you’re writing on a post-it and stick it near your writing desk. Look at it when you feel down about your book.

You don’t need fancy equipment

Finally, you don’t need fancy equipment to write a novel. You just need a pen and paper, or a word processor. Don’t get so caught up in the planning process or organising your writing time that you forget to write.

When you make time to write, sit down and start. No excuses. Write as long as you can to hit that 500-word mark. Don’t look back. Don’t self-edit. Keep going.

And the next day do the same.

The way ahead is hard. But back to point one. You can do it.

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