writing (a) novel(s)

i’ve finished writing a novel. a few people have asked advice. i will make another post about what the hell i plan on doing with it, because… i have no idea! i think i’ve decided to go the old-fashioned route and send it to literary agents rather than self-publish (for now), consequently, probably building an even fuller rejection folder.

this post was inspired by an email conversation i’m currently having with n. ian mccarthy. who btw, is awesome.

before you decide to read this post, i need to present a full disclaimer: i have no idea what i’m talking about, and i am not fishing for any advice / personal opinions, although,  advice / personal opinions aren’t necessarily uninvited. i am also not saying that i am any kind of expert, because trust me, i am nothing near an expert at anything. except maybe avoiding conversations in public.

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writing a novel is not easy for anybody, least of all me. i am a full-time mother of twins, and when i say full-time, i mean full-time. i am pulled in two directions, and sometimes even three or four. my life isn’t unicorns and maidens, or power-lifting like some twin moms try to make it unrealistically seem to be. i am also a veteran with fucked up mental and physical health. most of you have read my ‘about me’ and already know this shit. i heavily procrastinated in creating this post because there’s a part of me that detests revealing anything about myself. and yet, there’s another that knows its freeing to do so, at least, to an extent. i believe in discussing what’s relevant, and it was relevant to reveal those few facts about me and which ever ones are forthcoming, because it will give you an idea of the odds working against me (which i might even impose mostly against myself) and how it’s still possible for you to do it (write a novel) too. this isn’t a pissing contest. i’m not saying my life is tough and that you ‘should’ be able to find the time to write a book. everyone’s fucking life is tough. and it isn’t about finding the time, it’s about wanting to do it.

but i want to do it! you may say. but do you, really? or do you want to write the best, most immaculate novel, ever, and then end up scaring yourself into procrastination? if you’re anything like me, then you’ve answered with a quiet pause, perhaps even glanced off to the side realizing that’s exactly what you’ve done.

i’ve scared myself into procrastination for years, because i wanted to write a great novel, too. i still have half written novels sitting around, because i was trying to make them perfect and lost interest.  if you want to write a ‘great’ novel, you will never start writing. you need to just want to write ‘A’ novel and start there. i resolved to writing ‘A’ book, because i knew i could keep on writing novels if i wanted to. you can work toward a magnum opus, or your favorite novel. most of the time, an authors personally favorite work is not the favorite of the public.

fuck grammar, if you’re strict with yourself about grammar, maybe that’ll be cool with you, but it wasn’t for me. i actually wrote mine in a format similar to lauren groff or cormac mccarthy. i didn’t add ” ‘s to conversations until after, and the book i’m going to start work on now will not have them whatsoever. the reason an author usually leaves quotations is because it causes a splitting, kinda interrupts the thoughts. if you don’t mind it, go right ahead. but for me, it helped not having to worry about that.

do not edit until you’re done. then you can reread your whole book, chapter by chapter and decide if you should add more detail, another chapter, maybe even another plot point, or change something completely.

if you do not cry while you are writing (at times), you are not tapping into something deep enough. dig deeper.

i did not use music, because i couldn’t. most of the time while writing this novel i had my kids asleep in the next room. i could’ve used headphones, but eh.

i am taking the rest of my advice straight from an email:

here’s my advice on writing a novel, or even beginning to write one. this might not work for everybody, but it did for me and i wrote mine in under a year.

first of all, use the format you’re ready to dump the most information with. i wanted third person, but ended up telling the story in first person. i hate first person usually, but that’s just how the story told itself.

second, think of the thing you fear the most… something that you can really speculate on and overanalyze. it could be anything you’re afraid of. a dysfunctional life, murder, shit, even fuckin vampires, who cares. fear is a good motivator. my book is about a woman whose daughter was killed, and she goes to find him and kill him (the killer.) i have two daughters—so you see where i used that fear. and then the book writes itself because it is a surreal, fucked up autobiography of a speculative alternative reality. i didn’t even plan the chapters. as i went along, i realized that obstacles come themselves. i usually do keep a loose list of what happens in a chapter. an example being: 

(chapter) 1. sees dead body.

(chapter) 2. goes to funeral. 

very simple, and yet it turns out to be a chapter. 

i have more advice than this, now that i’ve had some time to think about it.

re-read your favorite book, or buy a book you love by somebody who writes the way you wish that you could and makes you feel like writing. i read several books while writing my novel. these days, you can download a book on your phone and read it before bed like i usually have to.

have conversations with people in public. I KNOW! I’M A HYPOCRITE BUT HEAR ME OUT… real dialogue is the best dialogue, unless you can have a great conversation with yourself. i spend so much time in my own mind, that i can.

include some of your own (disguised / veiled) experiences and memories,  that way your protagonist is a fucked up you, as mentioned above, in another reality.

keep notes on your phone when you’re daydreaming about your story. i did. did i use them all? no. most of them will be deleted, but it’s good to think of as many ideas as possible.

if you’re writing something where characters are going to intersect, plan the chapters out with numbers. it helped me figure out the best pace to introduce them.

in conclusion, there’s no conclusion to my ‘advice’ in fact, if i think of more tips, i’ll post them. especially as i attempt to figure out where to publish my own book(s).

the novel i’ve just written, as mentioned above, is about a woman who’s seeking out the killer of her daughter, to kill him. obviously, other shit happens. it is provisionally titled ‘stars, but no heaven’ which i stole from my homeboy s.k. nicholas. i’m sticking with that title for now, unless, when it comes time to make a cover, the words don’t work.

speaking of titles that don’t work, my poetry book was initially going to be called ‘those nocturnal hours’ but that didn’t quite work with the cover. it ended up being titled ‘six red seeds’ instead, and i’m waiting the few weeks to allow amazon to make the picture look less stupid and for there to be a preview. i also don’t understand this kindle shit, but i think you can do both at the same time, unless you want it printed by KDP, in which case, you can’t use create space. i’ll figure it out later.

also? i am not going to tell anyone to buy it. it is all content that you can get for free here on my blog, except like, maybe 3 poems and a personal introduction.

the second book i’m starting, and, wish me luck because i am going to be attending school full time, so who knows when it’ll be finished, is called ‘dust’ and will follow some disorderly characters and their struggle for survival in the great depression.

i may submit to a few more short story calls for anthologies, but we’ll see.

i am going to start posting an excerpt from each chapter of my novel. there are… 30? i believe, chapters. i probably won’t be putting them chronologically, and some chapters may even be skipped.

keep in mind, i am not saying i wrote something great. 😉

please make me stop typing now.

50 thoughts on “writing (a) novel(s)

  1. Those last four paragraphs of advice sound very familiar. I do all of them. Particularly the last two – my phone is full of barely literate shorthand words to buzz the images back into my imagination before they are lost, as is my notebook – and I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that was not in some way autobiographical. Even down to a single overheard sentence or a single point of a location. Everything is recycled.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one with any of those. I’ve often had merely a lyrical sentence put down in notes, hoping it would be able to unfurl later on when I’d have more time to expand on it. Sometimes that’s a success, others I forget my whole mindset at the time. The way my mind works is too vivid, so I recycle a lot too. I take my memories and make completely new ones, in different situations… if that makes sense. Of course, some stuffs all from the ol’ imagination.

  2. I am incredibly happy for you, and proud as fuck. Finishing a novel is for realz, no short feat.

    “if you do not cry while you are writing (at times), you are not tapping into something deep enough. dig deeper.” This especially resonated. I believe that some of the best lines in Magpie in August were written in the midst of a mental breakdown. I cried. A Lot. And I love reading books by authors who murder me over, and over again.

    Also, I agree that reading your favorite titles, or works by an author you admire is necessary to stimulate your own creativity, and spur you on to not only finish writing your own novel, but to improve your craft.

    A million hearts to you, Sam.

    1. I can tell from what I’ve read of magpie that you tossed yourself into that shit like a fire. I love it so far. You’re a fucking writer. In fact, reading yours helps me write, too. Even if lately no one wants to sleep and I have no time lol

      A million more hearts to you!! I’ll be sending some stuff to you soon for a sig 🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤

  3. I am on the edge of my seat reading this. I can’t wait for the book. I love the way you write.

    “f you do not cry while you are writing (at times), you are not tapping into something deep enough. dig deeper.” LOVE!!

    1. Do you do that, too? You gotta make yourself emotional. Sometimes I think that I’m being theatrical with myself, as if watching a sad movie, but maybe that’s me putting myself into the words in secretly wanting to make someone else cry, too.

      1. I do! I’m far less emotional now that I’m older, more inclined to be moved by the writing of others than by my own. I’m a selfish writer though, I think? If something shitty in my life forces me to write, then I’ll write for my own catharthis and don’t care if nobody else gets it.

  4. So excited for you and for this book… I love the way Cormac McCarthy writes! When I think about writing a book, I thought the same thing, “Think of the worst thing that could happen.” And then I looked away and haven’t written a word more about it, lol1 Congratulations ❤

    1. I like torturing characters, which is much like an existential way of coping with my belief that life’s absurd. I was just talking to a friend of mine and he said “life’s hard and short like a body building elf” and I said “is it? What is longer to the subject than it’s life?” So I think I live as many fantasies as wholly as possible.

      1. I think that’s why I like books and movies with tortured characters, it helps me deal with the absurdity of life and kind of makes me feel less alone (like Cormac’s novel, The Road). It’s great to live as many fantasies as possible… why not? Regular suffering is quite boring 😉

      2. I remember reading “outer dark” and really beginning to like McCarthy. He just tells a story. He doesn’t bedazzle it. And it’s always got blood, suffering, and true shit.

      3. YES! I love that book and those are the reasons why I love him as an author… it’s just, here is a story and it will kick you in the ass. That kind of writing feeds my rotting soul 😉

      4. He’s wordy at the right times, too. He tells a simple and yet such a great story. Blood meridian is violent af, but so easy to read. I totally want to copy the no quotes this time around.

      5. I agree! I’ve read all of his books and I think Outer Dark and The Road are my favs. I also really like Child of God… have you read that one? The darkest of darkness, written with run on sentences and simplicity, I just love his style. I’m excited for yours to come out!

      6. I haven’t read that one yet. My goals to read all of his books, so I’m taking your recommendation next. I’ll let you know what I think of it. Going to download a sample now!

  5. You already know this blog is the Art class i never attended. And I’m always punctual af. The advice you’ve posted here is what I’ve already been doing, by that I mean, I’ve re-read these poems numerous times and wrote my SD intro after being inspired by your work.

    Also, I too, prefer the meta conversations. The characters in my story are basically all my personalities, scattered, compartmentalized into other people.

    I’m so thrilled for you! I’m not going to wish you success cause you won’t need it. we both know that real art can only be judged by time.

    P.S. I am the reification of procrastination.

    1. That’s so weird for me to hear (that someone reads mine for that purpose) and very flattering. I have a tendency to write shit and think it kinda goes to an abyss. Thanks for showing me it doesn’t.

      I do the SAME THING. Especially if I need to make ‘joking’ dialogue, because in my mind all day I’m making sarcastic jokes about my life.

      Success to me would be if one person reads it and says “I cried when _____.”

    1. Thank you! I’m sure I’ll get many rejections. It’s just the nature of this work. I’ll attempt to make self publishing my last resort, just to really see how the business works anyway, you know?

      1. I’ve been rejected so much (various other types of writings), actually, that I have nothing else to carve out, lol, so guess that’s a good thing!

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