Writing a novel is a process. According to my college writing teacher, Ron Hansen, it’s “a ramshackle process.”
That means it takes brainstorming, spitballing, dreaming up characters, dreaming up plots, throwing your characters into a tornado (emotional or actual), pounding out their story, revising that story, cutting some of those characters and plot strands, killing thousands of needless words, and rewriting until your fingers and brain ache.
It’s work, and I never want to hide that. Because it can be glorious work. It’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.
But a friend recently asked whether hearing that the process can be tough, and that first drafts are usually bad, discourages people from getting serious about writing.
I damn well hope not.
I’m telling you this to let you know that if you’re struggling with any of these aspects of the writing process, you’re normal. And you’re doing it right. Putting in the work is the way great books get written.
If you’re a new or aspiring writer, this should inspire you.
If your first draft seems awful: That’s the way writing works.
If your rough draft’s dialogue sounds dull or stilted: Yeah, almost everybody’s does.
If the early version of your plot has a hole big enough to wreck a Mack truck: Welcome to the club.
If you have to stick your first novel in a file cabinet because it doesn’t hold together: Been there. Learned a hell of a lot. Started the next novel at a much higher level because of it.
I tell people that writing is work because it is. And because I wish that when I got up the nerve to write CHAPTER 1, somebody had told me I was going to stumble, and run into walls, and want to beat my head against the desk… and that this would be okay. That everybody did these things. And that wonderful books were born of this process.
I was desperate to write. I was never not going to write. From the time I was a kid, the desire to write was a fire in my bones. Hearing that learning to write well takes real time and effort would have eased my doubts and fears. It would have bolstered me for the journey.
So dig in. When you see your debut novel on bookshelves, the work will all be worth it.