Why Writing a Novel Should Scare the Crap Out of You


There’s an old saying that everybody has a least one book in them. And if you consider the explosion of self-publishing in the last few years thanks to sites like Amazon and Smashwords, I’d say people are writing that “at least one book” that is in them. Quite possibly with dreams of being the next J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, Stephen King or Michael Connelly. Especially thanks to the self-publishing revolution.

And plus, there’s all that money that indie authors are making.

And you don’t have to bother with finding an agent or a publisher.

And fame is cool too.

So…why not?

I’d never discourage anyone from writing because well, I think writing is cool and a great form of self-expression. And hell, I make my living cobbling words together for other people. Also kind of cool.

So why then should you be scared?

It’s hard. Despite what people who confuse conversation with writing may say – it’s damn hard to write a novel. It’s an 80,000 – 120,000 word commitment. That’s a lot of words. Whether you use an outline or write by the seat of your pants you still need a plot, subplots, characters, secondary characters, character arcs, good guys, bad guys, tension, and it has to make sense. People have to care. They won’t read it if they don’t care. And while writing it you may:

  • Experience tremendous doubts
  • Probably have to give up your social life (including TV and Facebook)
  • Have no guarantee it will be any good
  • Realize that somebody else will always have a better book
  • You may decide not to finish it

Tremendous competition. The very thing that may be convincing you to write the novel, the indie publishing explosion, is the very thing that could defeat you. Everyday, thousands of books are published on Kindle alone.

You have to sell it after you write it. That’s right. You’ll have to promote it and sell it. The world won’t even know it exists if you don’t tell anybody. So you’ll need to know or learn marketing, sales copy, landing pages, ads, social media campaigns and more.

Before you can sell the book, it needs a lot of stuff. Like babies, books require a lot of extra stuff – covers, formatting, editing, proof-reading and beta readers ain’t a bad idea either.

The odds are against you. Even before self-publishing became the new black, your odds weren’t good. Now the odds a thousand times worse.

If you do write it

You’ll often feel that people are conspiring against you to prevent your masterpiece from seeing the light of day—your spouse, your beta readers, your cover designer, proofreader, editor, friends, family, your kids. They won’t be but you’ll feel like they are.

And no matter how hard you work on it, how many times you edit, polish, spit and shine the damn thing – no one will ever love it the way you do.

So you see you’ve got to be a little crazy to want to write a novel. To put yourself through all of that without any kind of guarantee or promise of even a modicum of success.

So why do it?

While writing a novel is absolutely not a get rich quick scheme (and if you’re in it for that maybe finding a cool widget to sell on Amazon might yield better results) and in fact may not enrich you at all, there are reasons to do it anyway:

  • Because it’s in and you must or you’ll explode
  • Because it matters to you deeply
  • Because it’s your calling and what you were meant to do
  • If you don’t write it the story won’t get told
  • No one will understand the need to tell it but you
  • You’ll always wonder what could’ve been

So while writing a novel may scare the crap out of you, and rightfully so, do it anyway. If you must. If you will self-combust if you don’t. If it’s in you so deeply that it won’t let go. Go ahead. Do it. Do it now.

Writer Chick

Ugly pies and the first draft of your novel

first draft of novelSo last weekend, I wanted something sweet.  But the cupboard was bare and the piggy bank was empty, so I had to think on it a spell.  By and by I remembered I had some blueberries in the freezer and possibly enough flour to make crust.

Gotta love the Internet because I hopped on and looked for recipes that even I couldn’t screw up – or so I thought.  Anyway…the above picture is a pretty good depiction of what I ended up with.  Well, actually it didn’t even look that good.

But as they say from my hometown, “pie is pie, and you don’t waste pie.”  So, we ate it.

Was it the best pie in the world?  Not even close.  Was it the worst pie in the world?  No.  And even though Gordon Ramsey would definitely send me home from Master Chef if I turned in a pie like that – we didn’t waste it.  And it had a very short life because it was gone in less than 24 hours.

So, what does my ugly pie have to do with a first draft?

Actually, first drafts of novels are a lot like ugly pies, because they:

  • Are less than perfect on technique
  • Are sometimes one big hot mess
  • Don’t look the way they ought to
  • Have some cracks and fissures that shouldn’t be there
  • Aren’t competition worthy
  • Are uneven and patchy

However, an ugly pie can still taste good and so can your first draft.

The thing about first drafts is that they aren’t supposed to be perfectly written works of art.  They are the beginning.  The starting point.  They are the uncensored passion you felt for the story when you got the idea.

First drafts are that rush of words that sprang from you fingers as they flew across the keyboard.  The whacky characters and crazy dialogue that bubbled out of the cracks.  The tempest that burst out of the tea pot.  The embryo of what will someday be your fully formed and matured story.

So give yourself a break – play with the recipe

To me, the whole idea of a first draft is about giving yourself permission to do anything and everything with your story.  It’s the time you can put in the scene that you know you’ll probably have to cut later.  The time when your characters get to tell too many jokes.  When your villain practically has Bugs Bunny pointing at him with the big arrow.  The broad strokes if you will.

Every writer is different.  Some outline, some don’t.  Some try to write a first draft and edit at the same time and go Cray Cray, but most don’t.  Some write several drafts and some feel they have it right on the third draft.  But it’s a process and you don’t have to rush it.  It’s your process, only you know when your pie will be perfect, but in the meantime, I say enjoy every morsel.

What’s your process?  Made any ugly pies lately?

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013