Monday, 30 September 2013

One word after another

For me these days the most difficult part of writing a novel is getting going on the first page. I don't recall having this problem with my first two novels, when I was still in the drunken woohoo isn't writing amazing stage. Now just deciding which novel to write can take me months.

With the WIP, I finally cracked it by taking the excellent advice of Jerry Cleaver in his book, Immediate Fiction. You commit five minutes a day to your novel; you also think about it before you go to sleep. And if you don't know what to write, that's fine, you just sit and do nothing for five minutes. If you want to work for longer, that's fine too. You do this religiously for thirty days without evaluating the plan's effectiveness. 

I think this method works so well because it gets the subconscious working on the book - and it's totally unthreatening. Anyone, no matter how busy, can find five minutes a day and do nothing. After thirty days I'd got a pile of notes and the novel was under way. My average word count is 480 per day, and the end is in view.

When you get right down to it, writing a novel is as simple as taking the White King's advice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please, your Majesty?" he asked.
"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."


  1. What a great idea! Next time I'm stuck, I'll remember this.

    Do you recommend the book as a whole, Lexi - and why?

  2. I'd say it's more of a book for dipping into for the parts you need at the time. Just the long section on the 5 minute scheme is worth the price of the book, but there are lots of other inspirational ideas. And no rules saying you have to do it this way. I don't like rules.

  3. I needed your post today (really, for the past month or so and the upcoming one of October)! I just put out novel #4 which seemed so much harder to write than novel #3. And while, novel #2 was easy; novel #1 was changed at least fifteen times before I decided to be my own boss and do it my way anyway.

    And yet.

    The idea of working on novel #5 has seemed particularly daunting and I've been floundering around for weeks and purposefully immersing myself in the marketing of my newest release to avoid the writing of the WIP. Somehow, I naively thought it would get easier, but it doesn't.

    Yet, the idea of spending five minutes just thinking about it seems manageable. So, thank you for this bit of wisdom. You're a treasure!

  4. Katherine, I think perhaps later books are easier in a way, in that one becomes so much better at craft issues, they just doesn't seem easier. And I dread readers saying the latest book isn't as good as its predecessors - though this happens to all authors at some time.

    When people tell Jerry Cleaver they never have any problems writing, he says, "You will do."

  5. That's it, Lexi, the dread that it won't be as good as the last. The first one was easy because no one knew me and I could do what I wanted (at least that's what I figured out). Now? Feeling beholden to the base and the silent editor on the shoulder provides the self-doubt in abundant spoonfuls! ha! Thanks for the message back. x KO

  6. That's a great piece of advice. I'm on the third book of a trilogy and it's rather heavy going. That's just the kind of tip I need.

    Frankly, I reckon if I only manage two words in a day, I'm still two words closer to finishing than I was the day before.



  7. Authors are only slightly better off than comedians, who are as good as their last joke. But we are our own worst critics; we must spit in the eye of fear and shoulder past doubt. Onwards and upwards, fellow scribes!

    (MTM, totally agree, any progress is to celebrate.)

  8. I'm baffled as to why we have to keep relearning the same lessons. I've been agonizing over a tricky chapter for weeks, doing everything but (to your point, Lexi) sitting down at the page and taking a crack at it. I just couldn't get my head around the scene.

    Then yesterday with time on my hands and nowhere else to be, I sat down with my laptop at a coffee shop and decided to at least sketch a few ideas. Lo and behold, solutions presented themselves unbidden, delightful answers that refused to appear in all my non-written ruminations.

    The kicker is that I've experienced this many times before, almost without fail. And yet I still tend to wring my hands and pace in circles when some writing challenge looms before me. Still learning to trust the muse, who requires you to write before she deigns to appear.

  9. I couldn't agree more with your first sentence writenow.

  10. Writenow, isn't it nice when that happens? One of the reasons we keep writing.

    Must trust the muse...

  11. I think that there is something inspiring and pure about a blank sheet of paper (or screen) on a clear table, waiting for you to begin. You come face to face with your maker and for a while your soul is exposed to the universe as latent creativity struggles to manifest itself!

    Absolutely right about allowing the subconscious time to work it's magic. I read somewhere that around 95% of brain power operates subconsciously so it makes good sense to exploit that.

    I also think that the act of writing down your ideas somehow crystallises those fleeting thoughts, drawing characters and plot up from the womb of the subconscious, away from dreams and wispy visions, into hard reality where a feedback process can initiate further activity in the subconscious.

    I sometimes think we should just leave it all to the subconscious and go to sleep more! LOL

  12. Q, you are in poetic mood today.

    And I definitely need more sleep. Trouble is, I wake in the small hours to brood and fret about the WIP. I believe my conscious and unconscious minds are arguing with each other, while my muse has wandered off and gone shopping.