Thursday, April 17, 2014

I want to write a novel

Once before, I jokingly wrote a list of my "life goals", one of which was to write a novel.  I am actually serious about that particular goal, but I've been taking my time about it.  I figured I'd start after this blog died, but for some reason that's not happening.  So I'll do it while the blog's still alive.

Here's where I'm at.  I have not written anything.  I do not have any plot ideas.  I do not know what genre I want--either sci-fi or "literary" fiction.  I have some character ideas and structure ideas, but they're pretty vague and haven't been written down.

I do not have any particular end in mind.  Traditional publishing?  Self-publishing?  Keep it all to myself?  I have no idea.  Maybe I'll only make it part way through and decide that writing books is unenjoyable.  I'm not terribly optimistic, because I figure most people who set out to write books have higher hopes than outcomes.

It's hard to tell how good my writing is.  I've had this blog for many years, but being well-practiced doesn't necessarily make me any good.  To really improve my writing I'd need some sort of feedback, but all the feedback I get as a blogger is thoroughly biased.  Furthermore, it's far from clear that writing skill in short-form nonfiction transfers over to long-form fiction.  Basically the only thing I do know is that I am not afraid of a keyboard or a blank page, for whatever that's worth.

Step one: Write this post as a pre-commitment strategy.
Step two: Start collecting any character ideas I have, and try to think of plot ideas.
Step three: Report back in a month
Step four: ???
Any thoughts?


miller said...

I've got a friend or two who have successfully done this (e.g., Rob Kroese) and have toyed around with the idea myself, albeit to no end. I think writing fiction is vastly different than writing, e.g., blog posts. The skills transfer only in the sense that being able to write well (in a blog/non-fiction sense) is a necessary, but far from sufficient, criteria for writing fiction. There is a whole art/craft to fiction writing that, I'm told, takes a significant amount of practice to master. But, not to discourage you. Others have done it. Self-publishing would also seem the way to go these days.

miller said...

I have a friend who is currently breaking into traditional publishing... she has a webcomic! Most stuff I know about publishing I learned from this webcomic. Looks like there's a a long ways up--better to think about my immediate goals.

miller said...

Do you just want to write a novel? Or do you want to write a good novel?

If I told you I wanted to write a (good) dissertation in physics, I know exactly what you would tell me: it takes about 10 years of concentrated effort to do so. The same is true of novel writing. It's not quite as difficult as physics, but it is difficult, and requires skills, and a commitment to acquiring those skills. Like Jeffrey, I don't want to discourage you (yet). You're a young man, and you have time to develop the necessary skills.

Here's where I will try to discourage you: writing is not only difficult, it is by and large unrewarded by society. There is a school of thought, which I subscribe to, that says that you should write only because you have to, not just because you want to. You should write because there are things in your head, however inchoate, that cannot be contained. If you don't have to write, save yourself the trouble and anguish, and do something more immediately rewarding, like origami.

If you still want to write, I will give you five tips.

First, observe. Learn how people actually act, what they actually say. In our prosaic lives, we do not have to observe people carefully, so we don't. We get the gist of what they're saying and doing, but we don't pay attention to the details. Pay attention to the details. Keep a notebook in your pocket and record the details. You need to learn to see people as they are, not just how they fit into your mental model in your head.

Second, get into people's heads. What are they thinking? What do they want? Why do they think this or that behavior will get them what they want? Writing fiction is about finding universals of humanity that are so true they are still true in a completely fictional world.

Third, imitate. Read a lot of fiction you like (and a lot of fiction you only kinda like), and try to write something similar. Learn techniques by copying them.

Fourth, write. Every day. Write something. It won't be good at first, but everyone who's good started out by sucking at it, and learned and got better. Write short stories. Write character sketches. Write plot outlines.

Fifth and finally, when you're writing, make sure every sentence, every word, fleshes out the characters or moves the plot forward.

You don't have to quit your day job to be a writer. But you do have to be both a physicist and a writer every day if you want to write.

(If you just want to write a novel, and don't care if it's good, ignore the previous advice. Just write it. It probably won't be good, but so what?)

miller said...

My primary motivation for writing fiction is for myself, for the joy of creating art. As such, it only needs to be good enough for myself, and whether it's good enough for anyone else is secondary.

Yeah, it probably won't be any good. If I enjoy it enough, I'll improve and repeat.

miller said...

That's interesting post. Very informative. Thanks for sharing...,