I’ve written two novels. Sometimes I have to say it out loud to believe it. They stand together as one full, epic gale of a story, the first story I’ve ever written in my life. I still remember in college getting term paper assignments and being like, what, THREE pages double-spaced?? Is she crazy?? My two books stand at almost 180,000 words. You don’t even want to know how many Word doc. pages that is, even single-spaced. But writing it never felt like work. As I near 100 reviews on Amazon, I think to myself, this is all gravy. There was a time when I was just hoping I’d be able to get more than my Mom and Dad to read my book. Getting it published, sharing it with readers around the world was all a pipe dream. Until it wasn’t.
Recently, I received an email from a friend of a friend asking for advice:
“All my life, I’ve dreamed of writing a novel. I’m constantly drafting ideas and scenes in my head but never really pulled them together into a full story. I put everything else in my life ahead of writing. I feel like I have no time, and deep down, I’m scared since a lot of my ideas stem from personal experiences. Plus, the thought organizing all my thoughts into a cohesive novel is so daunting I don’t know where to start. I’d love to hear how you began writing, how you get the courage to write, and how you get the time, especially having a family. I am ready to put pen to paper. Any tips would be great!”
I thought it would be helpful for her, and anyone thinking of— or in the process of— writing a novel if I put together my top ten tips. Whether you have kids, or a busy job, or just can’t pull yourself from the attention guzzlers of TV and Internet, time is always a reason NOT to write a novel. But where there’s a will there’s a way. You just need good tools and some inspiration. Hopefully some of these tips can inspire the writer inside you to come out, and help you to find time in a busy schedule.
1. Don’t clean the house
My mother always told me, a clean house is a sign of a dull mind, and I’ve gone with that. Now, of course, there are basics that must get done, and I do not recommend living in filth, but housework can really eat into creative time. Say you have 1-2 hours alone in your house (!!). You sit down to write. Your eye wanders to the dust bunnies in the corner, those dirty dishes by the sink, the cookie crumbs on the couch. Resist the temptation. You get up, the next thing you know you’ll have filled your time cleaning and your Word doc will be blank. When housework interferes with that precious window of time you can be using to write, skip it. You’ll get to it eventually. Plus, what would you rather say, My house is spotless or I wrote a novel?
This may sound strange, but the best writing ideas come to me when I’m exercising. I firmly believe that sitting down at your computer with a blank document in front of you and not knowing what to write but thinking it will come to you is detrimental. You need more than a general idea of the scene or the story. You need to see it clearly in your mind. Sure, build in a little flexibility for your characters and plot to develop as you write, but you must know where it is all going. When I take walks, run on the treadmill, lift weights at the gym, those endorphins flood my mind with ideas. Sometimes I have to step aside and make notes in my phone when the perfect line of dialogue strikes me. But you do have to steer your mind to your story. Purposefully begin thinking about it and then let your mind wander from there. You’ll be surprised what it comes up with. This can work with other things, like driving in the car too. Really, any idle time.
3. Be Your Own Producer
Speaking of seeing things clearly in your mind, you must have a plan. Some people like writing blindfolded, seeing where the adventure takes them, and that’s cool. But I think it’s a challenge and can lead to frustration. You need to know the arc of all your major characters. You need to know the main plot and the subplots. You need to set structural targets for the story arc. For example, you want X to happen in the first 25% of the book, Y to happen by no later than 50%, and Z to climax around 75-80%. All these things mean that you must have an ending in mind to work toward. Make an outline from beginning to end. You know all those shows where around the 3rd or 4th season you start to shake your head and think... do the writers actually know where they’re going? And they may not because their producer wants to ride out as many seasons as they can. But as a novelist, you are your own producer!
4. Write In Scenes
If it seems too daunting to write this whole epic novel you’ve mapped out, take baby steps. One scene at a time. And it doesn’t even have to be in order. I heard Stephenie Meyer began Twilight by writing one scene which had come to her in a dream. The one where Edward and Bella are in the clearing in the woods and she sees his skin sparkling. (I’m sure the next thing she did was make an outline!). SIRENS alternates POV with three main characters, each with their separately progressing arc. So for each chapter, I looked at it as a little vignette. What will happen to Lorel or Mello or Jake in this part? I tried to bring the action to a head at the end of each scene, hopefully leaving the reader wanting more. Not unlike the way a show’s episode has it’s own story that fits within the overarching plot. Writing a novel is more digestible this way.
5. Find Your Story
I remember wanting to write a novel just after college. This was around the time I wanted to learn guitar, be a fashion designer, and many other out-of-focus goals. I remember opening my Dell and sitting down to write (back when I had all the time in the world), and frowning at a blank page. Where did I start? What did I write? I wanted to weave an amazing, epic story, but I didn’t know what about. I loved reading. I loved mysteries, science-fiction, romance, literary fiction, happy stories, sad stories. But what did I love to write? And more than just the genre. What was that story buried inside me that was begging to get out? What could I not wait to share with the world? This story never came to me until I was in my early thirties. An idea of an aquatic people. Believable, not mermaids. A race of people that have been hiding on an island filled with special treasures and ancient secrets (Yes, I had just finished LOST). A people that were finally ready to come out to the world. The more I thought about these people, the more excited I became. I marinated on it for almost a year before even vocalizing that I wanted to write a novel about it. But it became the story I wanted to write, the one I had to write. I honestly don’t think I could write any other way. Find your story.
6. Submerse Yourself
Write one thing at a time. I have seen advice saying the opposite, but for busy people that want to write a novel, I think it’s important to just write that one story you want to tell. Don’t worry about prompts and exercises, blog posts, a short story you aren’t that passionate about. In your free or dedicated writing time, write your novel. You need to fully submerse yourself, especially if the plot and characters are complicated. At times I remember getting lost in my own complex web of subplots and having to reread everything to make sure I was getting it right. Submersing yourself is the best way to stay in touch with what you are writing. And to finish it. Nothing feels better than writing “The End”. (Even though you know it’s not really the end and there are tons of revisions ahead of you.)
**I do think it is important to read frequently while writing though. Read before bed when you’re too tired to write!
7. Join A Writing Group
One of the best things I did for myself was join a local writing group. We meet every other week at a bar called The Pinch and share our writing with each other and provide feedback. Getting other people’s perspectives on your writing is invaluable, from line edits to structural comments. And providing this to others helps hone your skills too. It’s also great camaraderie as writing can be a lonely road. I’ve made wonderful friends through my group. One caveat: you’ll receive many opinions and a plethora of well-meaning advice, and you can take it or leave it. Some of it will be great, some of it won’t. Take it graciously, as it’s hard for people to share honest opinions, but trust your instincts too. And hire a freelance editor for professional advice.
8. Naval Gaze
Reread what you write. Writing is a cumulative process. I stay in touch with my story by rereading what I last wrote frequently. Sometimes there isn’t time for it, but if there is, or if you have a bout of writer’s block and just can’t come up with anything, rewind. Not to the beginning, although sometimes that is necessary, but just a few pages or a chapter back. There are many benefits to this. First, letting some time pass allows you to read your writing with a fresh eye. Second, you will automatically revise, find yourself wordsmithing sentences, deleting that cheezy phrase in the dialogue, etc. You essentially build in the revision process this way. And third, it sparks your brain to write. Your revisions will flow into writing the next portion of the story. What writer’s block??
9. Shut Off Social Media
Not much else to say here. Be Zen when you write. Put on the music that inspires you or listen to the birds. Or even write outside where you are forced to turn off your wireless. But there is no better formula for writer’s block than those sneaky little Facebook and Twitter dings and visual notifications. Just turn them off!
10. Be Selfish
It was hard for me to tell people I was writing a novel. To ask my husband for a few hours on a Saturday when we have two kids under the age of four. It was, and still is, hard for me to say I’m a writer. When someone asks what I do, I often just say I’m a stay-at-home-mom. But I’m a writer too! There are many reasons people feel hesitant about defining themselves as a writer: I’m not making money, I’m not that great, I’ve only been writing for a little bit, etc. If you are writing, you are a writer. Put that “pen to paper” with confidence. Take a writing retreat, for an hour or for a week. You deserve time to write. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, or pay for resources you may need. You are not an aspiring writer, you are a writer.
Now go write something!!
In 2098 human survival depends on genetic research to develop aquatic capabilities. It has never been more dangerous for the elusive sirens to be discovered. Until now they've remained eclipsed from human eyes, inhabiting a secret island. But when their youth rebel, the sirens decide to test the waters of open society by striking a deal with megacorp DiviniGen Inc. And they risk everything to do it. Will the risk be worth it or will the sirens be forced to face the darkness of eternal isolation?
Both books in this series are on sale at Amazon through April 15/16.
Drum Roll Please!
Enter to win in this fantastic in this fantastic giveaway for a signed paperback copy of both Rising Tide and Lost World (Sirens #1&2) by T.L. Zalecki.
Contest is open internationally, where applicable by law.
Entries close at 11:59pm Mar 25/16.
Winners will be drawn Mar 25/16.
Winners will be notified via email to the email provided to the giveaway and will have 72h to claim their prize or another winner will be drawn.