9 Practical Tricks for Writing Your First Novel
by JAN ELLISON
1. Get to the end of the story
One of the biggest mistakes I made writing my first novel was spending too much time polishing the language before I understood the story’s arc. I didn’t know if the words and sentences I was massaging supported the story, because I had no idea how it ended. I finally made a huge poster that read: “GET TO THE END OF THE STORY” and taped it to the wall behind my computer. This simple trick helped me push forward to the end.
2. Put the manuscript away for awhile and write something else
After five and a half years of steady work on my novel, I inadvertently set it aside for eighteen months to write 600 pages of material for a second novel. I thought my first novel was dead. Then I opened the file one day and started reading it from the beginning. What I discovered was that the time away allowed me to experience the manuscript as a reader instead of a writer. Not only did I find I liked what I’d written, I saw where the holes were, and how it might end. Ten months after its rediscovery, it was sold overnight to Random House.
3. Set a timer for forty-five minutes, then take a fifteen minute break
This is a trick that emerged out of creativity research, and that I first heard about from another writer, Ellen Sussman. When you sit down to write, set a timer for forty-five minutes. Force yourself to begin putting words on the page immediately, and don’t stop until the timer goes off, even if you have to write about the weather. Then reset the timer for a fifteen minute break. During the break, don’t check email; do something mindless like dishes or jumping jacks or cartwheels. This trick frees your subconscious to tackle bigger issues in the manuscript. You’ll find that when you sit down again for another forty-five minute session, you’ll have made breakthroughs without even trying.
4. Only set writing goals that are completely within your control
Some writers set daily word count or page goals; I find it simpler to commit to the amount of time I spend writing every day. If I get interrupted by my kids, I can always make the hours up at night when they’re asleep. I set a goal of three writing hours (45 minutes on, 15 minutes off) per day, five days a week. I keep track of the hours on a log next to my desk, and when I reach fifteen, I’ve met my goal.
Other tips include:
5. Keep a poem in progress on your desktop
6. Organize a self-styled writing retreat
7. Read other novels, not short stories
8. Write 1,200 pages to get 300
9. Find three trusted readers, not just onejanellison.com, follow her here on Facebook and on Twitter @janellison.