Friday, October 26, 2012

On Writing Your First Novel: Part 2

So how did I write The Yellow Bar?

Just like everybody else– I sat down and stared anxiously at a blank screen for a few hours. Had a beer. Put it off until the next day. The next week. The next few years...

Until I had a great opening line: “I was sitting naked on my carabao.” That got me started.

I think the hardest thing for any would-be author is the commitment you have to make. After a few hours of writing, you realize that your novel isn’t going to write itself and you are not Lois Lane. It takes a lot of brain power, a lot of hours, and a lot of false starts.

I outlined the plot with pencil and paper. This was mentioned in part one. Although I didn’t know exactly where I was going in the writing process, I had a general idea of the beginning, the middle and the end.

Get into the mood. Writing a novel involves a lot of day dreaming. If the idea for your book is strong, the dreaming will come naturally. I started to envision my characters as real people. (What would Pinky do?) However, I must warn you that if you day dream in public, and stare into space like I do, people will think you’re on drugs or about to go postal.

I made a place and a schedule to write in. I work hard as a teacher. Sometimes those kids knock the stuffings out of me. I would use this as a excuse not to write. What I did was put it into my daily activity. Instead of going directly home from work, I would stop at an obscure, quiet coffee shop next to a supermarket. Something clicked, because page after page started to flow for that magic hour or two of caffeine bliss. It became something to look forward to at the end of my day.

I made myself comfortable. The Yellow Bar started on my desktop. It felt like an office assignment. My laptop was long gone. All I had was an iPad, so that’s what I used for most of the original writing in the book. I can’t recommend this to perfectionists (or touch typists) because the virtual keys can be a bitch sometimes. However, it flowed for me. What I learned to ignore all the typos and type, type, type away. It was an easy matter to transfer to my desktop and correct later.

I didn't read any popular novels during this time. I was afraid of being intimidated, or worse– copying someone else's technique. I DID read Mark Twain stories. His stuff seemed safe enough since it's 150 years old.

The book I referred to the most: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I'm an English teacher and even I get confused with grammar rules at times. It is the author's Bible and best friend. I highly recommend all first time authors keep this small book at hand, at all times.

Music helps. I found an obscure radio channel on-line that specializes in 1940s swing tunes. ( Big Band Cantina) It gave me a great feel for the era that I was writing in. I also listened to just about everything: from Classical Mozart to Eminem hip hop. Again, music helps you get into the mood.

Be prepared to be lonely. I cannot write with other people interrupting or looking over my shoulder. Hence the coffee shop. I also occasionally lied to friends about not joining them on the weekends, so I could keep on writing. Most of them have forgiven me by now.

Ignore your deadline. I originally thought I’d have The Yellow Bar done in six months. Ha! It took me a year and a half. Again, schedule your writing times, not your ending.

Enjoy it, and ignore your page count. I started The Yellow Bar as a scared, trembling, little flower. At about page 50, I knew I had something. By page 100 I was so excited that page 200 flew by without me knowing it. Let the story come out the way it should; don’t force it, don’t time it, don’t count it. It’ll work.

NEXT: In Part 3 You will learn about all the stupid mistakes I made PLUS the long and strange road called the editing process.

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