Do you want to write a novel? Do you have a great story that you need to tell? Is there this little nagging voice in the back of your mind that has been saying all your life: ‘Go ahead and do it! Write your story!’ Do you want to finally stop reading books and start writing one of your own?
If you know you’ll never be satisfied until you sit down and write your novel; if you’re tired of people saying, “You’re not a real writer.”; if you know in your heart that you can do it, then begin! The truth is all writing begins in the human heart.
But then, how do you unlock what’s in your heart and write your novel?
Here’s how: You do it in the next 100 days. Over the next three months, you will write and rewrite your novel by following the simple instructions in this small book. The “how” to write a novel is the easy part because you will be following a method I have developed as a writer. It is the system I have used to write nine novels.
Writing is a craft that can be learned. If you follow these 100 days of instruction, you will have a novel that will be publishable by a commercial publisher, academic press or a print-on-demand publishing company and be available as an eBook on the Kindle or the Nook. There are many, many new ways of getting your novel published. But first you have to write the book!
Writing and working
Time to write is hard to find when you have a full-time job, a family and other responsibilities. Most writers have had to carry on two lives while they wrote. The poet Wallace Stevens was a vice president of an insurance company and an expert on the bond market. The young T.S. Eliot was a banker. William Carlos Williams, a pediatrician. Robert Frost, a poultry farmer. Hart Crane packed candy in his father’s warehouse, and later wrote advertising copy. Stephen Crane was a war correspondent. Marianne Moore worked at the New York Public Library. James Dickey worked for an advertising agency. Joe Heller, author of Catch 22, sold advertising for a magazine. Archibald MacLeish was Director of the Office of Facts and Figures during World War II. Stephen King was teaching high school English when he wrote Carrie. Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan, author of a novel that was a satire of American social culture, Look at Me, and the gothic novel, The Keep, took a variety of odd jobs that allotted her time to write. For a while, she was even the private secretary for the Countess of Romanones! And Charlotte Rogan, who published her first novel, The Lifeboat, in 2012 at the age 57 and after raising triplets and being a full time housewife, spent 25 years writing her novels in secret. Every author has had to find the time, and their own way, to write, and you can, too!
What makes a writer?
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that, “Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of a writer. It is like making wallpaper by hand for the Sistine Chapel.”
How do you know if you are a writer? Perhaps it is a single incident — one that happens early in life and shapes the writer’s sense of wonder and self-awareness.
It is never too late to begin a career as a writer. Take the case of José Saramago, the first Portuguese novelist to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The son of a peasant father and an illiterate mother, brought up in a home with no books, he took almost 40 years to go from metalworker to civil servant to editor in a publishing house to newspaper editor. He was 60 before he earned recognition at home and abroad with Baltasar and Blimunda.
As a child, he spent vacations with his grandparents in a village called Azinhaga. When his grandfather suffered a stroke and was to be taken to Lisbon for treatment, Saramago recalls, “He went into the yard of his house, where there were a few trees, fig trees, olive trees. And he went one by one, embracing the trees and crying, saying good-bye to them because he knew he would not return. To see this, to live this, if that doesn’t mark you for the rest of your life, you have no feeling.”
Begin with pure emotion and turn it into pure prose.
Let us begin
Sinclair Lewis was invited to talk to some students about the writer’s craft. He stood at the head of the class and asked, “How many of you here are really serious about being writers?” A sea of hands shot up. Lewis then asked, “Well, why aren’t you all home writing?” And with that he walked out of the room.
It is time for you to become a writer!
What follows is your daily log — each day has words of encouragement, advice, wisdom or a task for you to do to help you get your novel written. For the purpose of organization I am breaking the writing down into “days.” But a “day” might be for you only 30 minutes, or eight hours.
Also, plan ahead. You might start your book at the beginning of summer when you have long days ahead of you, or at the start of two-weeks of vacation.
But first, sit down and read this short book in one sitting, and start writing, and at your own pace, and write the novel you always knew you could write. Go for it! This short book will entertain you, point you in the right direction and, most importantly: get you writing your novel!
The only thing that matters is that you keep at the task of writing something every day, employing the ideas, methods and words of wisdom from many successful writers I am sharing with you. For each “day” of this book I will give you a piece of advice to help you in your writing. Record how many words you write each day so you can keep track your progress. I also offer sayings and advice from other writers to remind you that you are not alone in your journey! And every day there is a new short assignment from me for you to complete and jot down in the Notes Page. Don’t worry. I’m an easy grader.
This is what you are going to do.
Novelist Abigail Tarttelin, who sold her first book, Golden Boy, to Orion Books in England for a six-figure advance puts it this ways: I’m not someone who doesn’t have to earn money, so I’ve always had to wait tables while writing. It has never been easy for me to find space, time and energy to write, but I think it taught me that you have to use your time wisely. I come from a small town, I’m younger than most authors, I had no start up money and I knew no one in publishing. Golden Boy is living proof that hard work, support from a close circle of friends and family, taking risks and a lot of faith can make a career. So can you.
Okay, let’s take a deep breath and launch your novel
A writer’s courage can easily fail him . . . I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.
On this first day, decide upon the story you are going to write. You will not have worked out every detail, but today you are going to begin the process. You are not going to procrastinate—procrastination is your enemy. Matisse advised his students, “Of want to be a painter, cut out your tongue.” The time has come to stop merely talking and write your novel.
My guess is that you have been thinking of your story for quite some time. It is the book you have always wanted to write. What kind of novel appeals to you? What really gets your juices flowing? Is it a good murder mystery, science fiction, a thriller, romance, general fiction?
It doesn’t matter what kind of novel it is. There are no rules other than that the book has to be interesting. It can be exciting, scary, fun, funny, romantic, sad, or true down to the very last word—but it must not bore the reader.
I wrote _____today!
If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write.
Today make a promise to yourself that you are really going to write your novel! This is critical. Without that commitment, you may as well save your pencils and paper. It isn’t going to happen. Remember, write as often as you can. That’s what writers do — they write.
You don’t have to write a lot. Ernest Hemingway would average 50 words a day when the ‘going was good,” as he would say. Think of writing this way. If you write 250 words a day then in 365 days you will have written 91,250, the length today of a novel.
Think of writing your novel another way. If you even writeless than 20 words a day, you’ll find that at the end of 100 days, you will still have written more than you ever written before. Set a goal for yourself. Say, your goal is four pages a day. That is 300-400 words on a page, double-spaced. Some days you’ll write only one page; other days you will write 15 pages. Try to average at least four pages a day. Be realistic in the amount of time you plan to write and follow that plain.
I wrote _____today!
It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer. Those who do not do this remain amateurs.
Edward FitzGerald (Gerald) Brenan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Carve out a specific time to write. This is important because over the course of writing your novel, you’ll get discouraged, bored, angry, or otherwise fed up, and when you start feeling that way, you’ll need a clearly defined pattern to keep yourself writing.
On occasion you may need to shift your writing times to deal with other demands in your life, but fight to keep your writing time as regular as you can.
What do I mean by specific times?
Two hours each morning and every evening, and one eight-hour day every weekend, for example. Decide how much time you will spend writing each week, and then do it. Many would-be novelists defeat themselves because they set a schedule that it too difficult and then don’t keep to it. Be realistic in the time you plain to write, and keep to it.
I wrote ____words today!
It’s very excruciating life facing that page every day and having to reach up somewhere into the clouds and bring something down out of them.
Writers write in different ways. Some writers write on computers, others on typewriters, or in long-hand. Agatha said that the best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes. It doesn’t matter how you write .What matters is that you write. What you need to do is these 100 days is create a routine for writing. Set your time and a place to write.
Set up your writing studio and over the desk (or on it) place a calendar so you can pencil in I how many words you wrote that day. Also, carry a note pad with you. If you are waiting for a meeting to begin, start writing. If you’re on an airplane, start writing. If you are waiting for your wife, husband, or the kids…write! Whenever there’s a second to write, do it. A few words, a thought, a sentence or two, all of them count.
And when you get home type in the words on your computer, or write them down in your manuscript. Once you have written them down, you own them.
I wrote ____words today!
All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
Although there are no rules about story ideas, I would offer you one caution: think small. One of the worst mistakes most beginning novelists make is thinking big, trying to come up with an end-of-the-world story, in the belief that big is better. That’s not true. Keep your story idea small and focused.
Look into your creative soul and search for a little story but one that has real meaning to you. We are all part of the human family. If you create a story that has deep meaning to you, chances are it will have deep meaning for the rest of us.
Alice Munro is considered by many to be the best short-story writer in the English language. Her books sell about 30,000 copies a year. She is a writer other writers admire for her technical skills and the purity of her style. She is also known for the complex structure of her stories. A typical Alice Munro story might begin at a point that most writers would consider the end, then jump to a time ten years later, then back again. But what is most interesting about Alice Munro—who lives in a small town in southern Canada—is that her stories are about ordinary people: their secrets, their memories of acts of violence, their sexual longings.
Think of what to write about what is around you, from what you know and care about.
Even if your novel is about the paranormal, another Blade Runner or The Adjustment Bureau draw your characters with common, human traits that you observe everyday in everything that you do.
I wrote ____words today!
You can write about anything, and if you write well enough, even the reader with no intrinsic interest in the subject will become involved.
Analyze and learn and imitate. Take your favorite novel of the type that you want to write and read it again, as if it were a how-to manual for becoming a millionaire. Then break the book down into sections. Outline the action on large sheets of paper that you pin to your office wall. List the characters on another sheet of paper in terms of importance.
Now, take your novel (even if it is only in your head) and try and match it to this prototype. Do the same with your characters.
Study the two plots, yours and your favorite novel. What is lacking in your book that needs to be fixed? Or better yet, what new twist have you come up with that will make your novel more interesting and exciting.
I wrote ____words today!
Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him.
Imitation can lead to originality. Do short exercises imitating different styles. Try on a dozen voices until you find one that fits. Ape the sure hand of a master. But remember this: write from your own experience. Your experience is unique. As John Braine, author of Room at the Top, wrote, “If you’re to be heard out of all those thousands of voices, if your name is going to mean something out of all those thousands of names, it will only be because you’ve presented your own experience truthfully.”
I wrote ____words today!
There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
Most novels are written to a formula, especially big best sellers. For example, John Baldwin, co-author of The Eleventh Plague: A Novel of Medical Terror, developed a simple formula that he used to structure his novel.
His ten-step formula is:
- The hero is an expert.
- The villain is an expert.
- You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.
- The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him.
- Two or more on the team must fall in love.
- Two or more on the team must die.
- The villain must turn his attention from his initial goal to the team.
- The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.
- All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with “Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up.”
- If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.
I wrote ___words today!
I base my characters partly on the people I know—one can’t escape it—but fictional characters are oversimplified; they’re much less complex than the people one knows.
If John Baldwin’s formula isn’t for you, try Hemingway. When Ernest Hemingway started as a young reporter for the Kansas City Star, he was given a style sheet with four basic rules:
- Use short sentences.
- Use short first paragraphs.
- Use vigorous English.
- Be positive, never negative
Asked about these rules years later, he said, “Those were the best rules I ever learned in the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them. No one with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the things he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides by them.”
I wrote ____today!
My fear of writing a novel was simply due to the fact that I hadn’t done it before and part of the challenge was to go ahead and do it just because I wanted to overcome my fear.
Don’t be afraid to write down scenes or sections that don’t lead anywhere. Don’t discard them if they aren’t leading anywhere. Follow the advice of Joan Didion. She pins them on a board with the idea of picking them up later. Quite early in her novel, A Book of Common Prayer, she says, she wrote about Charlotte Douglas going to the airport. It was a couple of pages of prose that she liked, but she couldn’t find a place for it. “I kept picking this part up and putting it in different places,” she writes, “but it kept stopping the narrative; it was wrong everywhere, but I was determined to use it.” She finally found a spot for it in the middle of the book. “Sometimes you can get away with things in the middle of the book.”
I wrote ____words today!
by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64)