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I have decided to write a novel. The decision was taken almost two years back but if you ask me to show anything for it, I might not have much. In fact, I’m being discreet, I have nothing to show you. Initially, I thought it was my laziness that was stopping me from penning down my novel, but with time I realized that this is not the case. This is not to say that I’m not lazy, well of course, I’m lazier than you might imagine but not so much as to postpone a dream that has been cherished for two years, without any progress to show for, whatsoever.
Over the course of this time, I’ve written numerous short stories and essays (like this one) but what happened with my novel is still a mystery to me.
Nanowrimo Might Help If you have an outline or a work in progress
I tried Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) to write my novel from scratch but the problem was I had no outline and so a few days later, I switched on to my comfort zone of short stories and essays. I did win Nanowrimo in November last year but without any novel to show for.
Next, I started buying books and taking courses on Novel writing
I have lost count of the number of books I’d accumulated over the period to help me write. Some good ones are listed below:
- No Plot No Problem by Chris Baty (founder of Nanowrimo)
- Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland
- Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland
- Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure by Janice Hardy
I also follow numerous blogs such as:
- Helping Writers Become Authors (This is again K.M. Weiland’s Blog. Yes, she’s that good. Follow her, if you still don’t.)
- Well Storied
- The Write Practice
Along with this, I have enrolled for a few courses:
- The craft of creative writing from Coursera
- I’d participated in several online courses from Creative Writing Now.
- Currently, I’m taking a free online course from The University of IOWA called The Power of the Pen.
I agree that I haven’t finished all the books, or all the courses in entirety but even while listing down a few, I felt that whatever it is I’m NOT LAZY. No Way!
All the books, blogs, or courses I mentioned above helped me immensely in maturing as a writer. I’d definitely recommend these to you.
I fixed a deadline once more after partial outlining
This January, I decided to finish my book by the end of 2017. Hence, I started making an outline for a story idea that I felt could be sketched out as a novel. After a couple of months of outlining where I knew some parts about the book, in March, I ventured into writing 1,000 words per day for my novel. Since I would be traveling in April, I wanted to finish a part of my novel before that. I did finish 30,000 words in March, but then I stopped. My outline guided me to some extent but after that I was lost.
My story revolved around four friends from school who had met for a reunion trip after almost two decades.
- All of my characters started sounding similar in my head.
- I couldn’t find a suitable climax to the novel.
- I had discussed about the characters at length with a good (non-writer) friend. He asked me to make some major changes in the characters. I listened to him. And then, I was stuck.
Those 30,000 words had been haunting me ever since.
- I was once again back to square one.
- I hated my previous idea for letting me down.
- I started reading some of the aforementioned books.
- I even thought of writing a memoir.
After returning from my trip in mid-April, I went back to writing more and more short stories and articles. I realized that if I don’t do that I would simply languish in the depression of not creating anything.
I started jotting down ideas.
Lo and behold! I was struck with yet another idea. The irony was, this time I know the climax but the rest of the story still looks hazy. ☹
So, I started outlining, but now, since I’m also writing other short pieces, I tend to get distracted. The sketching went on for the last month in bits and pieces.
Till last night.
Last night I dreamt of a lion-sized black dog chasing me at full speed. I suspect that my guilt has taken up gigantic proportions now. While tossing and turning in bed, I made a resolve to myself. I will write a bit of my novel everyday (be it outlining or the actual writing). And I wish to share this journey with all of you.
I know many of you are fellow travelers in this hard to reach, rough-terrained destination called ‘the finished novel’. So, hop in, let me know your experiences, as well. Together let’s row our boat to the finishing line for once. The novel I want to write this time is a family drama and I’m borrowing a lot of it from my own life so that I don’t run out of ideas. However, I’m trying to heighten the dramatic elements and create bigger stakes because fortunately or unfortunately, I do not have that many turmoils to write about.
Currently, I’m partly outlining, partly writing chapter summaries, and partly intensifying the stakes and the climax.
I’m so scared about everything that I wake up in a cold sweat and then I need to calm myself down with guided meditation recordings so that I can go back to sleep.
I keep telling myself there’s nothing to be scared of, so many people are doing it.
But another part of me, fears what if I die before that.
Yesterday, I watched this TED Talk by a once famous Bollywood actress and a cancer survivor, Manisha Koirala.
Though this inspired me, it also reminded me how, whatever we have can be snatched away in a moment’s notice. How am I so sure about the future, then? Don’t I have to act Now and act Fast?
Thankfully, I also watched this 2-minute BBC video by a person whom I consider to be my spiritual guide. The French Buddhist Monk, also known as the ‘happiest man on Earth’, Matthieu Ricard.
He talks about the five keys to a happy life and since right now, I feel that writing novel is what will make me truly happy, I’m trying to apply his principles to my creative writing life:
- Start by defining happiness
Happiness is a way of being, a healthy state of mind that gives you the inner resources to deal with life’s ups and downs.
(Loosely translated for myself: More meditation and more writing= less anxiety.)
- Be Patient
‘It takes time to cultivate all those fundamental human qualities that create well being,’ he says.
(Lesson to self: Whatever you’re learning and those 30,000 words of a shelved novel are all part of your growth as a writer. Nothing great happens without failing at first.)
- Know that you can train your mind
Lesson to self: Just like he talks about training the mind to be more compassionate or altruistic, I can also train the mind to be more creative? How?
Simply by creating and even if my novel seems to be not going anywhere good, just sitting with it and thinking about the plot and characters. Say, at least half an hour everyday?
- Practice little and often
‘Just like watering plants where you need to put some water everyday, you also need to do the same for meditation,’ he says. Thankfully, since the time I adopted the Insight Timer meditation app on my phone (for around 1 year now), I have been striving to meditate everyday. And I have so far been successful in ding it everyday since December 25th, 2016.
So, if I can do a little bit of meditation everyday, why can’t we a little bit of novel writing everyday?
- Don’t let boredom discourage you
We should persevere. Doing anything in the long run will inevitably give way to ennui or boredom. Procrastinators like me, love working on deadlines. There’s no set deadline or accountability for my novel and hence I tend to fall back upon boredom and forget it for a while. But that’s when we need to persist, as Matthieu says, ‘…sometimes when it seems boring that’s when some actual change occurs’.
You see, daily progress is imperceptible. Anyone who trains for a marathon, or starts learning a language, or taking music lessons, will tell you that. What matters is the spirit of persistence.
Like that monkey trying to climb a well oiled bamboo pole, I’ve kept on slipping down because of my lack of patience and persistence. In order to change this, I need to write about this. Because when I come and check this post after a few days, I will realize how I am trying to slip back to my comfort zone because I’m bored.
So yes, this is how I start my journey of writing a novel once again. I will keep sharing my journey of ups and down from time to time and I’d love to hear from you, too.
I feel that creative progress doesn’t happen along a straight line and so the more bumps and roadblocks, the more we learn about how to overcome those in order to keep running for our goals.
Maybe, my lessons will help you. Or maybe they won’t. But I’ll be happy if it at least assured you that ‘You’re not alone. We are in this journey together.’
Finally, I want to say that it is important to have a group of like minded people surrounding you.
I have been sulking at the idea of not knowing any fellow writer friends. But thanks to Women’s Web, a community where I frequently contribute articles and thanks to social media, I got to know a lot of like-minded writer buddies. The sheer drive with which they regularly write has been an inspiration for me, as well. And I cannot thank these friends enough to keep pushing me with their creative drives. Support and encouragement are essential elements for boosting most of us in our growth path.