A Novel Approach

There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are

                                                                                  W. Somerset Maugham

I’ve been working on writing a novel off and on for over a year now, more on than off in the past several months.    After several fitful starts and stops, I seemed to hit my stride about three months ago and things started taking shape.  Somewhere around January I decided to go in a significantly different direction and threw out much of what I had previously written, and then, as I started down this second path, I changed direction again and took off down a third path.  So far, I remain on this latest path, and have managed to retain my enthusiasm for it.  It helps that I think I’m writing better than I ever have (which admittedly isn’t saying much) and that I’m actually learning some craft and developing some new skills.  I’m hoping to finish the first draft by the end of summer – I’m about 80% there – at which point I’ll try to get some editing help.

Whether I’m going about the writing in the correct way is doubtful.  For example, I have rough outlines that I try to follow, but I frequently deviate from them when a whim hits me.  I still have major plot holes to fill, and some plot elements that still feel a little shaky.  I’ve written what I have so far wildly out of sequence.

On the plus side, I think I’ve created some really strong and interesting characters, and I’ve learned a great deal on how to keep the narrative moving.   Several themes, some planned, some not, are revealing themselves.

I think I have the foundation for what could be a good book, and my dream remains to find a publisher.  I recognize, though, that the odds of it ever being published are very slim.  There are many reasons for this, not the least is my status as an unskilled and anonymous amateur, in addition to some basic gaps I haven’t addressed:

–  I have no idea what genre my book would be categorized in..   I only know that it isn’t young adult, or romance, or suspense, or erotica, or science fiction, or whatever.  I don’t intend any disrespect to these genres or the people who write and read them – it’s just that the story I’m telling doesn’t fit into any of these categories.

–  I really haven’t given any thought to who the target audience would be, other than I think it’ll be a book that I might enjoy reading.

I’m probably coming across as one of those oversized egos who say “I write only for myself.”  My ego is healthy enough, thank you, but I’m not that naïve or pompous.  I don’t think anyone writes for themselves, I think anyone who puts words down on a page or a screen is doing so because they want to be read, they want to be noticed, they want other people to respond, they want to be validated on some level.

That I haven’t thought these marketing things through would seem to be cardinal sins for any writer who has, for as long as he can remember, secretly harbored dreams of one day writing and publishing a book

I am 53 years old, an advanced enough age for anyone to embark on a literary career.  Take into consideration that I am almost eight years into a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, and the realization that it is even later than it seems hits you pretty quick.  Time seems to be of the essence.  I can’t help but wonder how long my fingers will be able to work a keyboard.

That being that, here are some things I’ve learned about time and writing:

–  Having wasted too much time for too long, you can’t make up for it by short cutting through the learning process.  I know now that whatever skills or talent I may have been born with pale in comparison to what I need to learn.  In the past couple of years I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined about writing, from my fellow members of the Kenosha Writers Guild but mainly by putting my head down and working.  And as much as I’ve learned, I recognize that there is so much more learning still to be done, and as much as I’d like to learn it all by tomorrow, I know I can’t and I won’t.

–  Much as I’d like to, I can’t rush the process.  I can work hard, but the book will be finished when it’s finished, and not when I want it to be.  I can curse the detours I’ve already taken, but really they were necessary – the first couple of paths I was taking were simply wrong, and it took some time for that to be revealed.   I’m sure there are more twists and turns and surprises in the road ahead; I’ll just have to navigate those as best I can.

– As for genres and audiences – maybe I’ll figure this out, maybe not, maybe the end product will never be published, maybe I’ll self publish, maybe I won’t – I can’t worry about those things now because I have to focus on finishing the damn thing first.  With time being what it is, I want to write the book I want to write, in case I don’t get another shot.

I could wax philosophical about how writing my novel has mirrored my life, how both have been filled with unexpected twists and turns, but it’s getting late, and I have work to do.