How did it feel writing my first novel?
Well, some days I felt like I was stumbling through a Siberian tundra, frostbitten and starving, with a hundred-pound weight on my back, and Russian oligarchs hunting me for sport. The words wouldn’t come, or if they did they were terrible, as if Satan had intercepted them and twisted them into evil gibberish when they were en route from my muse.
Other days I felt like I was whirling and chirping through the air like a carefree bird. I dropped paragraphs on the page like Zeus hurling thunderbolts. My description was sublime, my analogies leapt off the page like glowing neon signs of literary awesomeness, my dialogue sizzled.
Sound like a familiar experience?
Most authors know what it’s like to plummet from the conquering summit to the valley of despair, or vice versa –sometimes within the same day. Writing is like that; it giveth and it taketh away.
But while I still sometimes wildly swing from one pole to another, I’ve learned how to better keep myself on an even keel. The Clerk (available now on Amazon!) was a harsh taskmaster, but as my old weightlifting teacher used to say, good steel must go through the hottest fire.
Below are some of the things I’ve learned in my first foray into self-publishing, and how I’ll use them to increase efficiency and maintain sanity in the future:
A deadline destroys me
Since I’d be late to my own funeral, I should’ve known setting a deadline would be a bad idea – but I did it anyway.
The idea was, of course, to keep me pounding away at the keyboard instead of twiddling my thumbs and watching League of Legends highlight videos on YouTube. I set a four-month deadline for completion, believing this would be a reasonable amount of time for a newbie to write a 80,000-100,000 word novel.
Instead, the novel rode me like a government mule, digging its spurs into my sides and lashing me with a whip every chance it got. When I would take a rare day off, the novel lashed me even harder: “You’re falling behind. How many words could you have written today? A thousand? Two thousand? Four months is your deadline, Matt…”
It was like doom-drums were pounding in my head.
While I did finish the novel in four months (and by “finish,” I mean finished the first draft – we all know what that means), the stress wasn’t worth it.
No more deadlines for this guy. The important thing is to write as often as I can; the word count will take care of itself. If you chip away at a tree every day, eventually it’ll fall – and then you can turn it into paper and use it for your next novel!
Beta readers are not just important – they’re essential.
Oh, you think you’re done with your novel? Why is that, Arrogant Writer?
“I’ve edited it numerous times – I’m talking fine-tooth-comb line edits. It’s ready to go. The characters are well-developed, the pacing is perfect, and every typo has been fixed.”
To which I say: Has it been beta read or edited?
“Well, no, but that’s just a waste of time. I’m telling you, I’ve worked hard on this. How can some random beta readers help me?”
To which I say: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Every writer needs beta readers and/or editors. This is just a fact. You’re not good enough to bypass this stage. I don’t care if you’ve been tweaking the same draft for twenty years, or if you’ve won ten Pulitzer Prizes – I guarantee you’ve missed something in your manuscript.
I wasn’t exactly the Arrogant Writer depicted above, but while I knew beta readers were important, I didn’t know how important until they raked The Clerk over the coals. They caught typos, pointed out things that didn’t make sense (or were flat-out wrong), and offered up their own interpretations of characters and scenes.
They suggested fixing things that, deep down in my writerly heart, I knew needed to be changed. These are the best beta reader-to-writer interactions, when a critique aligns with the voices in your head and creates an amalgamation that says, “You know you done wrong. Get yourself straight” – and you nod humbly and head back to the keyboard.
If I could afford a professional editor, I might hire one, but I would still use beta readers. Never discount the wisdom of crowds.
If you’re looking for beta readers, I found mine at the Goodreads Beta Readers group, and the Goodreads Support for Indie Authors group. The latter is especially helpful; in addition to their “help wanted” section, they have tons of other useful links and discussions.
If you’re going the self-publishing route, linear A>B>C thinking will doom you.
My plan for The Clerk was a linear as that yardstick your second-grade math teacher used to rap the blackboard with:
1.) I’d finish the novel.
2.) I’d then submit it to traditional publishers.
3.) If no one accepted it, I’d self-publish it.
Since I knew little about self-publishing, this meant I’d need to learn all about the process if I got to that step. But hey, one thing at a time: first write the damn thing, then submit it to publishers, then learn self-publishing if necessary.
Obviously, no traditional publisher so much as sniffed at my manuscript, and I quickly became irritated reading all the different submission guidelines and bored waiting for someone to contact me. On to self-publishing!
My crash course began, and I have learned a lot, but my planning process was ridiculous. It was inevitable that no one would pick up The Clerk, so I should’ve been learning about self-publishing from the get-go. That way, when the novel was done, I would’ve been ready to put it on Amazon instead of spending several more months learning all I could while going through the hoopla of designing, formatting, beta reading, etc.
But now I’m here on the self-publishing landscape (I’m a small dot, just west of Nowheresville), and I understand the process at least a smidgen. My future novels will be written and published in a much more efficient and not-idiotic manner.
Although I hate the word “multitask,” this is what self-pubbers have to do. Otherwise, nothing will get done in anything that resembles a reasonable timeframe.
I can write a book if I set my mind to it.
Yes, this is the typical uplifting ending to a blog entry, but gosh darn it, I wrote a fucking novel! I’m entitled to get a little mushy.
For years, I’ve told myself that I have poor self-motivation. Yes, if I worked within a structure that had clear goals and rewards – such as college – I could do well, but on my own I didn’t put much stock in my work ethic.
Turns out I was wrong. As my old man would say, it’s all about inertia. Once I got into the rhythm of things, well, I created a structure with clear goals and rewards, and I kept hammering away until I had a proof of The Clerk and could stare gobsmacked at its snazzy professional awesomeness.
I’m writing this before The Clerk has received a single review. I have no idea if it’s a masterpiece, a decent piece of kindling, or something in between – the last possibility is most likely.
No matter what, though, I’ve learned a tremendous amount. If I failed with this novel, well, next time I’ll fail better, to quote Samuel Beckett.
Anyone want to tell the harrowing story of their first novel? Let’s hear it in the comments.