So you’ve decided to write your first novel. You’ve sat on that idea long enough, and now it’s time to finally make things happen.
You’re done with scrolling through how-to articles on ways to plot a novel or what separates a good hook from a bad one. From today onwards, you’re on a one-way journey to authordom.
Kicking it off
You’re off on a quick start, whipping out your first couple of chapters within a day. Then you realise how much better the idea sounded in your head, and you can’t help but feel you’re botching everything once the words hit paper.
So you skip a day of writing to rethink your plot, and pretty soon that turns into two days, then three months. Three years will pass before you find the courage to reopen your manuscript, and that will be when you’ll look back in longing to a time when you dared to dream.
But hey, things could be worse. Maybe you haven’t even started, and you’re still here flitting from one article to another (don’t close this tab just yet, though).
Well, then we’re going to have to change that, don’t we? Listed below are the typical doubts you’ll face when writing your first novel. And once you realise how common your situation is, perhaps you’ll find it in you to forge ahead until you get to the very end of your first draft.
And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my own forays into fiction, it’s that sometimes it takes just one finished novel to set you on a path of lifelong writing. So let’s get right into it!
1. This idea stinks and you just had a better one
Ah, the ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome. The siren’s call in the seas of novel writing.
I don’t blame authors who ditch their current draft just so they can start on that swanky new plot. After all, they’ve been staring at the same story for months, slogging away at dead ends and inconsistent characters.
How do you expect someone to resist a new project?
But no matter how tempting it may be, you’ll have to take the word of endless writers before you when they say not to entertain any new ideas until you’re done with your current one. Instead, try keeping a writing journal where you store all these ideas for future use.
You’re writing your first novel, after all, and learning to finish is way more important than getting the perfect story.
Take it as literary endurance training. The cardio you’ll gain from finishing is going to serve you much better than that shiny new premise. So stick to it, and as Chuck Wendig would say, “Finish your shit.”
2. This will never end
Whoever said writing is like a marathon pretty much nailed the metaphor game, because as someone who runs recreationally, I can confirm that the dread from both activities feel pretty damn similar.
For one, you’ll constantly feel as though you’re in mile two out of twenty-six. You’ll look at your word count at the end of every writing session wondering if you’ll ever meet the fabled 80,000 mark.
Spoiler alert: you’ll feel this way throughout the entire journey, and your only respite will come when you finally tack on the words ‘The End’ at the bottom of your manuscript.
Expect to constantly feel like you’re standing still with no light at the end of the tunnel.
It can be disconcerting to the first-time author, but as long as you head into your novel with this in mind, you’ll be able to do what’s most important, and that’s to put one word after another.
In the words of Neil Gaiman himself: “It’s that easy, and that hard.”
3. Nobody’s going to like this drivel
You make a good point here, because honestly, I don’t know you, and I can’t tell you for sure that your work isn’t drivel.
But you know what? That’s just a chance you’re going to have to take, like the countless other authors who’d also shared this same doubt.
Hell, even Stephen King threw Carrie into the trash—the very novel that would kickstart his career—because he thought it was something that, and I quote, “didn’t move him emotionally.”
So if you’re halfway through your first novel wondering who in their right mind would ever read it, just know that you’re not alone.
In fact, I’d be more worried if you didn’t feel that way. Because that’d remind me of the people who go up on American Idol telling Simon Cowell they belong on a stage beside Madonna before proceeding to scrape everybody’s eardrums off with their lawnmower voice.
4. You’re not good enough to write a novel
Now this one will most likely hit you halfway through the novel. You might end up writing yourself into a corner. Or you might learn that you suck at dialogue. Either way, the more you do it, the less you’ll feel like you can actually finish the damn thing.
The only way you’ll justify having written 40,000 words is by telling yourself it’s 40,000 words of cat poo. And even if you buckle down and see things through, you’ll still end up with a novel’s worth of cow piss.
Animal excrements aside, this is exactly why you have to force yourself to finish what you started. Because the only way to mastering something is to first suck at it.
Remember the first time you learned to drive? Or if you don’t drive, remember when you first rode a bike? Swam? Walk? Okay, you probably don’t remember the last one. But that doesn’t change the fact that you had to fail—a lot—before you ever got good at something. It’s the same with writing.
Ann Patchett said this best when she put forth this question: “Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?”
5. You don’t have the time to finish
So maybe you started your novel-writing journey in the #4amclub. One week in, you’re starting to realise that waking up earlier to write a novel isn’t really your thing, and that you can’t possibly see yourself being up at this ungodly hour just to fit some writing time into your day.
Well, here’s the bad news: the harder it is to do something, the prouder you’re going to feel once it’s all over and done with. Now that we’ve gotten the unsexy reality out of the way, we can move on to the less-painful solutions.
Number one, you can try micro-writing. And by that, I mean tackling your project minutes at a time.
Got some time on the toilet? Try typing out a scene instead of browsing Reddit. Waiting in line? Crank out a couple sentences. Nothing to do on the bus? Ditto.
Building on the above, try the pomodoro method, and use super short intervals, like five minutes. Oftentimes, that’ll help you settle down into longer periods of writing.
Still think that you don’t have enough time in the day? Then try dictating into your phone’s voice recorder.
And, if after all that, you still feel like you don’t have enough time in the day to finish your novel, then that’s probably a good thing, because what you’re essentially doing is allowing another hopeful writer to take your place.
In the words of Neil Gaiman: “You’re letting someone else who wants to do the work get published. Surely, that’s a good thing?”
Don’t let doubt stop you
In the end, writing your first novel is all about powering through the doubt, because how else would you justify spending months crafting a make-believe story?
I myself took eight years to bring my first novel to fruition because I didn’t think it was something so… doable. And all it took was completing that first novel to learn just how possible my once-unattainable goals were.
So what are you waiting for? Get back on that horse and see your manuscript through till the end.
Besides, if you’re planning to take the Stephen King route, you’re going to need something to throw in the trash, and disposing of an empty manuscript just doesn’t have the same feel to it.