When people learn that I’ve written a novel, I tend to get wide-eyed “whoa” responses which often lead into “I could never do that.”
The truth is, yes, most people probably never could do that. They never could because they don’t ever really want to. Just like I say, “Wow, I could never ride my bike from Alaska to Argentina” it’s not because I physically can’t, it’s really because I don’t actually want to- not enough to train, to gear up, to get up every day and get my ass on a bike. This is what most people mean when they say “Wow, I could never write a whole book.” They mean, “Jesus, I have so many other things I’d rather be doing than spending hours staring at a laptop, wondering what to name the syphilitic gardener who shows up in Act 2 for some exposition that I should have covered fifty pages earlier.” And you know what? That’s just fine. Many people have a novel inside of them that will never get written. I have a teenage boy inside of me that will never hook up with Angelina Jolie. We make our choices in life, and we do our best to live with the results.
But, some people do ask “How did you do it?” And this is when it’s easy to feel like a fraud. Because we measure success in our culture by money. Since no one has bought the book yet, I’m not really a “pro” so offering advice seems weird. Yet, I did finish the damn thing (or at least now I’m at the sandpaper and scalpel phase, which I do consider a great success) so I do have a bit of perspective.
If I have any advice at all, if I’ve learned anything of mass appeal from this weird journey, it’s find the right story. I’m not kidding. I could (and likely will) talk forever about style and technique and developing habits and blah blah blah, but the single thing that got me from point A in 2008 when I thought “lesbian werewolves, OMG totally!” to today when I’m combing my prose and switching out unnecessary n-dashes, getting ready to submit to a formal proposal, complete with market research and publicity plans, was to find that story. It carried me through times when my plot was labyrinthal and my characters just. wouldn’t. do anything. It encouraged me to write when I was on vacation or my eyes hurt from too much laptop time. It made me excited to wake up early to move through to the next passage. It made me elated when I felt like I nailed something whether a description, a choice, or a plot point.
I got invested in the story of Lunatic Fringe, emotionally and ideologically. I cared about the choices Lexie made and Archer’s successes and failures. I worried about Renee’s alliances and whether they would serve her. Everyday, I spent mining these women’s lives, because I wanted them to succeed, just as I wanted Lunatic Fringe to take readers on a journey.
Now, I wave the flag that there isn’t enough fantasy or paranormal romance out there for women who don’t crave vampire peen. I care about my market and my story, because I think I did a good job and want to share it with the hundreds of friends and family to whom I feel accountable AND the thousands of women who have no idea that there are books like mine out there for them. It’s called enthusiasm, and it feels so good.
So, sure, do NaNoWriMo, and buy books on craft. Set yourself a goal of 20 minutes a day or book yourself a writer’s retreat. But, first, find yourself a story that you care about. Create characters you want to be your mental roommates for a year or two. Put them in situations that make you squirm or laugh and excite you enough to want to hang out with them even before you’ve had your morning coffee. That alone, more than free time, more than passion, more than ego, will get you to the finish line.