Walk down the “Writing” section of Barnes & Noble, you’ll find at least a dozen how-to books on writing fiction. I recommend three: The Art of Fiction by John Gardner; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler. I’ve used all three in class. Gardner’s book is seen by many as the bible. Lamott’s a delight to read, funny, more of a “get you in the mood” book. Butler works on our psyche, from where our stories are conceived—the dream world where the narrative first sparks.
This time alone is the only way I’m going to get anything done. I learned early on that novel writing depends fundamentally on self-discipline. No one’s asked you to write a novel; you’re not on consignment. No one’s pushing you. When it comes to writing a book, the only one who’s going to push you is yourself. Every day. For months, even years.
Now, five hours is a long time; it took me years to build up to that. It’s a gymnasium of the mind; on my first novel, I wrote for half an hour and was exhausted. But I kept returning to the typewriter gym, every day, and before long I was writing one, two, three hours a day. I missed classes. My manuscript thickened. My grades dropped. I couldn’t have cared less.
If you’re just starting, I’d suggest carving out just a half hour a day—at the same time of the day—to sit down, ignore technology, be alone, and put your fingers on the keyboard. And sit. And sit. And sit some more. Nothing comes along, no image, no character; or maybe a character comes, but you have no idea what she’s going to do, how she’s going to kick-start the story. Ten minutes in you might start to doubt; get used to it; you’ll doubt yourself your entire career. That’s part of the deal. You’ll think about the
In following posts, I’ll consider character development, plot, setting, time, theme, flow, etc. For now, just sit down and be alone, every day, the same time of day, and write down the words, for the rest of your life.