A man walked up to my table at a book fair. “Writing a novel is easy, right? “I have this story I want to write. Tell me where to start?”
I gave him the advice I heard from someone once. “The beginning is easy. What comes next is hard,” I said.
“Huh,” he said.
“First, you need to get a license. Do you have one?”
“I had no idea,” he said. “Where do I get one.”
“The Department of Creative Writing,” I told him. “Each state capital has one, or province if you live in Canada. You have to pass a test. The written part is the hardest,” I added.
“I had no idea,” he said again, starting to sound repetitious.
OK, the conversation didn’t go exactly like that.
Still, we’ve all had one close to that. We’ve been asked where we get our ideas. Is it hard? How long does it take to write a novel?
I did have a woman tell me she would like to write but didn’t have an imagination.
I would be lost without my imaginary friends and enemies. I’ve been fortunate to have Alec telling me his story that chronicled his journey to Spain to fight in a war in 1937. His was a story filled with personal loss and disillusionment. It was going to be a test of his firmly held beliefs.*
The next story came to me from Josh. He thought he had found a shortcut to fame, that writing his novel would be easy. Sometimes when something comes easy, the price comes later, and can be expensive.**
Sean’s story began when he found out he wasn’t even Sean.* Drawn to the truth about his family roots, he finds himself facing a feeling of revenge, something he thought he was above.***
Matt’s the latest. He wants to expose the truth behind the curtain, a conspiracy. Mostly, he wants to stay alive if he does.****
There’s a drawer full of notes, other characters waiting in line to tell me their stories. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. We don’t need a license or a university degree. We have a compelling urge to tell stories.
The stories all have something in common, if they are to be told, hopefully well.
- It starts with imagination. Some idea of a storyline tugs at us. We begin to imagine the characters. We give them shape and voice. We put them in danger and then try to get them out of trouble. We tend to do that a lot in a novel. The story tends to take a lot of detours to the end. Sometimes the danger is from other characters. Sometimes the danger comes from Nature, a hurricane maybe. Sometimes the danger is from the inside, a serious character flaw. In the remarkable stories I read, it sometimes has all three of those elements. Whew.
- I mentioned the beginning is easy. The hard part is what follows. The toil of writing. We might have fun at the start and find it exciting toward the ending. It’s that part in the middle I find hardest.
- Toil, sweat, sweat, and more toil. The wastebasket holds all the false starts and dead-ends if you use a typewriter. File icons serve that purpose for us ‘puter types.
- I ask my fellow writers if they find it as hard as I do to “let go.” I sometimes fall deeply in love with my words and need a real kick in the backsides to let the unnecessary ones go. A writing coach told me, “if in doubt, leave it out.” Hard to do. Hard to do.
So, how long should a novel be? As long as it takes to get to the final period. When I’ve done my best at telling my character’s story it time to quit. Then it’s time for the real sweat, editing.
Pay for it if you can afford it. It’s worth every penny per word. Two edits for content and a third for copy would be great. If not, pour over it again and again. I’ve rushed the process at my own peril. I have a chapter “Thirteer” in one of my novels. Ouch.
Why do we do it then, the writing thing? That’s the easy question to answer. “Because we have to.”
Tell me about your writing experiences.
* Tears in the Dust
** Remington & the Mysterious Fedora
*** Served Cold
**** TBA (coming soon)