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How to Write a Novel

Oh woe, is me. To be shackled to a story until either the story beats you, or you beat it. It’s a pitiful state to be in. The choice; self-imposed as it is, from freedom, to write a novel. Tis but gloomy prospects for the witless. Nothing more than a holy war for the masochist. An endless cycle of pleasure and pain.

Sir Winston Churchill, whom you may be surprised to know wrote a number of books, had this to say about the process:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”

Dare I sir to have a hope?  I, who seems to hover in the neither regions of being reconciled to my servitude more often than not? Reconciled to your servitude…this is also known as beating your head against the wall. Ow. Stop. Ow. Stop. Ow. Stop. Are we there yet? Ow. Stop. Because it feels so good.

I’m in the cold, dark slog of the hunt. It’s raining. I’m alone. My boots are leaking and I’m far, far from my home. Withering uncertainties, debilitating insecurities are jackals of the mind waiting to devour me. Woe, is me. Why dear god is THIS my hobby? Why couldn’t I have stuck with building model WWII aircraft? Or something less…how do I put it? Enslaving. Isolating. Maybe S&M would have been a better hobby. Who is to say?

It’s all consuming. It’s annoying to my friends and family. For trust me. It’s annoying as hell to my friends and family. Even my girlfriend winces every time I open my mouth to shake out what’s rattling around in the chambers between my ears. Dear god. Have mercy. This is the worst possible time for a writer. I’m in a leaky boat betwixt the shores of oblivion and hope. Instead of oars I have threads; a veritable gordian knot of threads.

The threads are the filaments of the story, its mesh, its rigging, its spine, its characters, its point, its climax, its essence, that I hold dear like a parched man to a canteen, a sailor to his Mae West, a dog to his paddle. Then in the murky waters below my rickety skiff the timeline slithers by. It wants to devour me. That evil little worm that tosses obstacle upon obstacle at me, must be caught. It must be tamed or it will dash me to bits upon oblivion’s unhappy shores.

However. Hope is not just a small town in Idaho. Hope is that one glimmer of possibility that keeps you on the march. It’s that moment when, filled with thirst and fatigue, you hear water rushing on the other side of a stone wall. It’s there. You can hear it! You can almost taste it. You just have to get to it.

Then there is inspiration. If hope is hearing the water on the other side of the wall, inspiration is reaching and drinking that water. This is where Jack London’s quote about inspiration is recalled to mind. He said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” A fitting motif. Whatever it takes for you to land the inspiration, do it. But do it you will. Go after it. Inspiration that comes while you’re brushing your teeth is not enough. How can you hope to feast on such meager scraps? You have to slog. You have to be the aggressor. You have to fight. You have to hunt inspiration with a club, or a crowbar, or a bazooka, or a 24 pack of Red Bull.

I have a blank page before me. Not a jot. Not a tittle. Not a noun. I have a blank page, the next page of my latest manuscript that is pushing 150 pages now and a self-imposed deadline. Where is my club now?

How, when all seems for nought, when the trail is just too steep, the canteens long emptied, the blisters too great, how do we get up and keep going?  The road is so littered with pilgrims what can we possibly do to survive? There is but only one thing to do. To fight. To finish. The blank page is my friend. The blank page is my enemy. The blank page is my friend. I’m not good enough to succeed. I’m good enough to succeed. She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me. She loves me not.

I carry with me a few items: A dry erase board, eel-skin notebook, Kindle, Google, a host of magazines, my Save the Cat books. But here too don’t I also have my club? I do. For my club is a computer program known as: Scrivener.

Scrivener. Without this program I would be more adrift than I am. So many writing programs to choose from. God knows how inadequate a standard word processor is when you’re hundreds of pages deep and no hope in the making. Scrivener is like air being pumped into the subterranean tunnel you’re carving out of the living rock. It lets me be my disjointed, forgetful, confused, lost, happy, lonely, self-loathing, ugly, beautiful, hopeful, drunken self. It let’s me dream of the day when I can point to the story and say, “She’s done. Here you go. Read in good health. I’m flinging her to the public. Goodnight.”

I thought about showing you a screenshot of my current Scrivener, but then I held back. Just a single look and you’d see all my chapter headers, you’d see the notes for the particular section that I’m currently revising. You’d peer into the inner workings of my story; the messy place that is my inspiration. But that’s not fair. It’s not time. I’ve not yet killed the monster. The slog continues. I have my club.

Good luck finding yours…

“Et quacunque viam dederit fortuna sequamur.”

 (“And whichsoever way thou goest, may fortune follow!) from Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Centre of the Earth.”


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