Thursday, 2 March 2017

WRITING A NOVEL IS IMPOSSIBLE! (BUT HERE’S MY ADVICE ON HOW TO DO IT, ANYWAY)

After reading two of Douglas E. Richards' amazing techno-thrillers, I invited him to be a  guest on my blog today.  I'm delighted he agreed and has some  words of encouragement for those of us tackling writing a novel, whether it's  our first or next one.

If you are a fan of near-future science fiction thrillers as I am, I highly recommend adding, "Game Changer" to your reading list.

Donna J. Warner


Richards Game Changer on Amazon 

Writing a Novel is Impossible! (But Here's my Advice on How to do it, anyway.)

I realize that many of those reading the above title might question if writing a novel is truly impossible, since millions and millions of novels have, in fact, been written. 

I understand the logical conundrum. I’ve written fifteen of them myself.

And yet I stand behind this statement. Because every time I write one, every single time, I come to a point in the process where I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs (much to my wife’s chagrin) “This is impossible! It can’t be done!”
 
So far I’ve managed not to throw my computer through the window while I’m screaming, but it’s been a very close call on several occasions. And the fact that I’ve actually finished a number of novels makes me no less certain that I can’t possibly do it again. 

It was actually easier in the beginning. I didn’t know what a daunting task it was to come up with characters, and settings, and action, and plot, and prose enough to fill hundreds and hundreds of pages. Writing was an experiment. An adventure. When I wrote my first-ever chapter, I wasn’t thinking, “Now what?” I wasn’t panicking because I had sixty more chapters to go, and no idea how I might fill these sixty chapters, how I might sustain a narrative and the proper pacing for another hundred thousand words. In fact, I was reading the chapter and thinking, “Wow, this isn’t as bad as I thought. It almost sounds professional.” 

Since then I’ve learned a lot. So I thought I’d offer just a few words of advice for anyone contemplating this monumental undertaking for the first time, which I hope will resonate with seasoned writers as well.

The first advice I’d give you is to go back and reread your all-time favorite books, but this time with a writer’s eye. What about these books is most appealing to you? How much of their greatness is due to their characters, action, suspense, mystery, pacing, plot, or prose? I think the most important thing you can do as an aspiring author is to write a book that you, yourself, would love to read. The more you understand exactly what most appeals to you, and why, the better. 

Second, you need to understand that you can’t map out your entire novel before you dive in—not even close. If you’re waiting until you have everything buttoned up, you’ll never begin.

When I set out to write my first novel, I thought I could map out the entire route, at least in broad brush strokes. Why not? Get out some filing cards and sketch out what happens in each chapter, until you have a perfect outline for an entire book. The problem is that your novel needs to evolve. And when you begin to transform your outline into a novel, you often discover that scenes and ideas you thought would work contain fatal flaws. Or you fall in love with incidental characters you didn’t even know would exist from a mere outline, and realize you can use them elsewhere. The more you flesh out your outline, the more pieces you have to play with, and the more inspiration you get that you couldn’t have predicted beforehand.

The fact that you have to figure out significant portions of your work as you go is also quite terrifying, and the principle reason I’m convinced that novels are impossible. I’m never able to figure out the twists and turns of my novels, and their startling conclusions, until I’m more than halfway through them. And then only after weeks of being certain that I’ve written myself into a corner, and there is no satisfactory way to complete the work. 

This is when the screaming begins. And the hair-pulling. And the more screaming. And my wife reminding me that I go through this every time, and I always somehow manage to find my way back out of the maze. Except each time I’m convinced that I was lucky all of the other times, and that I’ve finally met my match. 

The saving grace is that your novel is your universe, which means you can go back in time and fix things to suit your needs. You don’t have to know in chapter one that a character in chapter sixty will be handcuffed and in need of a paperclip to pick the lock. You don’t need to see that far into the future, to prepare for all eventualities. When you reach chapter sixty, you can simply go back and rewrite chapter one, adding a paragraph describing the character shoving a paperclip in his pocket for some justifiable reason, a paperclip the reader will dutifully forget about until the character needs it in chapter sixty. No matter what roadblock you encounter, you always have the option of reworking earlier scenes to find a way around it. 

While I could write an entire novel about writing entire novels, in the interest of brevity, I will conclude with this: have fun, and don’t second guess yourself. Fight the demon within telling you that your writing sucks, making you doubt each scene and each choice. Self-consciousness kills good writing every time. And don’t get hung up with perfection on your first pass through a scene. Write it as fast and furiously as you possibly can, not worrying about details or character names or grammar or punctuation. Vomit the scene onto the page in one long heave. When I proceed like a tortoise, agonizing over every word choice, every sentence, I don’t do my best work. It’s too rigid, too constrained. Inspiration, flow, comes from letting the writer within have free rein, without pauses and second guessing and self-consciousness. There will be plenty of time to clean it up later, plenty of time to flesh it out and agonize over word choices once the underlying foundation has been laid.

Remember, writing an entire novel is an arduous process that requires stamina, perseverance, and stubbornness. It is an absolutely impossible task. But don’t let that stop you. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s words regarding the Moon initiative, “We don’t choose to do this because it’s easy. We choose to do this because it’s hard.” 

To all of you who reach the finish line and complete a novel, no matter how good or bad, commercially successful or unsuccessful, and no matter how many others have done so in the past, you have great reason to be enormously proud of yourself. This is truly an awesome accomplishment. 

But then again, doing the impossible always is.

Author, Douglas E. Richards
Bio


Douglas E. Richards is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of WIRED and numerous other near-future science fiction thrillers. A former biotechnology executive and Director of Biotechnology Licensing at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Richards earned a BS in microbiology from the Ohio State University, a master's degree in genetic engineering from the University of Wisconsin (where he engineered mutant viruses now named after him), and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

In recognition of his work, Richards was selected to be a "special guest" at San Diego Comic-Con International, along with such icons as Stan Lee and Ray Bradbury. His essays have been featured in National Geographic, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Earth & Sky, Today's Parent, and many others.

The author currently lives in San Diego, California, with his wife and two dogs.
You can friend Richards on Facebook at Douglas E. Richards Author, visit his website at douglaserichards.com, and write to him at doug@san.rr.com



1 comment:

Gloria Ferris said...

Some useful and interesting words from a guy who's lived them! Thanks, Douglas.