In the past week I’ve had two different writers tell me the same thing. They started out with a great idea for a story and then, coincidentally, that night ended up watching a movie with a plot that almost exactly matched their idea. Both writers told me they were discouraged and thought about scrapping their idea. After all, they now had confirmation it had already been done, right?
finishing your novel
How long have you been working on your masterpiece? Are you in the beginning stages, when all you want to do is lie around and stare into your characters’ eyes and learn all about every detail of their past? Or are you in the middle stages, when you’re getting to the really good stuff and the plot is thickening up like gooey cake batter?
Writing a novel is a big undertaking. All those words! My friends and family have said to me. How do you have it in you to write all those pages? But the word count is the least of a writer’s concerns. There’s also plot structure, character development, pacing and language to worry about, among other things.
And it takes so much energy, enthusiasm, and old-fashioned hard work, that most writers can think about nothing else but the finish line until they achieve that glorious goal.
But what happens after the euphoria has worn off? What happens when you’re finished editing and revising and now you want to do something with your book, like put it out there into the world for other people to actually read?
It’s time to take the next step.
The challenge is that, in this modern world, it seems like there are about a bazillion next steps a writer could choose to take.
To make the most effective Next Step, consider the following 3 areas:
Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to go the traditional route with a literary agent?
What social media platform(s) do you want to use and what kind of image do you want new readers to have of you?
What is the next book you’re going write? What’s your next creative project?
When you decide on anything in each of these three areas your choice is going to lead you to more questions, more decisions to be made, and more learning and research to do. But you have to start with the big choices first in order to start building the roadmap of where you want your career to take you.
If you make thoughtful choices in the realms of Publishing, Presence, and Creativity, the three areas will integrate into a dynamic, effective whole that serves you and gives you back tenfold of what you put into it.
Think of it this way: If your writing career is a highly successful human being, this is how it would break down:
Publishing – Body
This is the physical product of your labors. The paper manuscript, or digital Kindle edition, of your book.
And even if it is digital, it’s still a physical manifestation of you as a writer out there in writing space. While you’re writing your first novel, you might tell yourself no one will ever see it but there comes a time when offering it to readers (no matter what form you choose) is the healthiest thing you can do. Just like you wouldn’t keep your body locked up in the house your entire life, your book needs to get out there for a little fresh air and sunshine too.
Choose how you want to publish and then go after it full force. Google “how-to” guides and “how do I?” questions. Research how to write a query letter. Take notes. Then research some more options. Throw everything you have at it until you figure out what it is you need to do to get published.
Presence – Mind
Your presence is going to be the primary way you connect with new readers. People who have never heard of you before will see your Facebook fan page, or your blog, or reader reviews on Amazon, and based on those brief accounts they’ll decide if your writing is a match for their tastes. It’s very similar to when you meet someone new in real life and connect through conversation. If you hold similar views, or even just opinions the other person finds interesting, the likelihood of connection is much greater. If you make thoughtful choices about cultivating your Author Presence, those other great minds that think alike will be drawn to your flame.
You may end up doing a book tour or speaking engagements to build your Presence, but in the meantime, our world is an online world. Research social media for writers and then get out there and play! Choose one or two ways to connect online that you feel comfortable with and start building your Facebook fan page, blog, or whatever it is you want to use to connect with your readers.
Creativity – Soul
It is really awesome that you finished your book…but you can’t take a break from writing. Not for more than a week. The fountain of your creativity has to be exercised on a regular basis to keep up a good, strong flow. Your creativity really is the soul of you. That’s why you’re a writer, an artist. Yes, it’s important to tend to your career and get your ducks lined up in a row, but you must never sacrifice the actual writing. You’re not going to be able to do much of anything without your soul.
It’s okay if you don’t have an idea for your next book yet, write a short story in the meantime. Or some poems. Or try your hand at songwriting. ANYTHING. Just keep writing.
When you finish writing that first book, the next step can seem daunting. That’s because it is. Being a writer isn’t like showing up for a regular job every day. It requires extraordinary amounts of courage, patience, faith, and guts. But at the same time it’s like anything else in life, one step at a time. The key is to make the big decisions first—decide where you want to go and how you want to travel—and then take start taking your journey step by step.
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Sometimes we get sidetracked from our current writing project. A life crisis occurs, we get a promotion at our day job that includes more hours to be worked, or we get an idea for a new project that’s just begging to be written right now. These are all valid reasons for putting your novel on the shelf and planning to come back to it later. And these are not the reasons I’m addressing in this post. Instead, I’m talking about the situation where you’re halfway through, or three quarters, almost there…but you just can’t seem to pull through it. You feel blocked, congested, and hopeless when you think about your chances of ever having a completed manuscript to show anyone.
Why is this happening? You got this far, so why can’t you keep going? What’s stopping you?
It’s called Fear. Also known in some circles as Resistance.
Fear is a sneaky, snaky kind of operator, and it specializes in using your own voice to trick you. It wears dozens of different masks. But once you spot Fear at work and you know what you’re dealing with, your odds of dissolving it go up astronomically. When it comes to finishing your novel, you can recognize Fear in a few different costumes:
In this guise Fear tells you that your writing isn’t good enough…yet. It promises that if you just revise a couple more times, and comb through every word again, you can make your novel perfect. What is Fear’s definition of “perfect”? Well, it never gets specific on that. It implies that it will be everything you ever dreamed, and no one in the entire world will have cause to criticize it, ever. Of course, reading this now you can see how irrational that is. But when Fear starts whispering the promises of the perfect in your ear, it’s much harder to resist.
Solution: Get to know the difference between “polished” and “perfect.” Polished is when you’ve given it your best effort and the end result is that you show it to someone—anyone. Perfect is like chasing the horizon. Polished is you moving forward. Perfect does nothing but hold you back.
We all have idols, and as writers our idols tend to be other writers. And when we first start writing, we tend to imitate those writer-idols we love the most. So when we read back over our work, it’s very easy to think, “This doesn’t sound half as funny as David Sedaris. I’m so lame.” Or, “Charles Bukowski managed to sound like an alcoholic and a profound poet, I just sound like an alcoholic.” The truth is, you are not David Sedaris or Charles Bukowski. You are not anyone else but YOU. And that’s actually totally cool. Because the world doesn’t need another David Sedaris or Charles Bukowski. It needs you.
Solution: Self-acceptance. You are what you are. That means you look like you, you act like you, and yup, you guessed it—you write like you. Write like yourself, and then set the goal to learn to like your own writing.
The Myth of Never-Been-Done-Before
Because our culture is filled with adoration for those who broke through those barriers of the never-been-done-before—Picasso, Beckett, Steve Jobs—we get obsessed with this notion that if something has been seen or done before, then it’s not worth creating something similar now. This is absolutely not true. Think about the character of Merlin. How may wizards have been based on him? For instance, Richard Harris played Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter and Ian McKellan played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings. Can you picture either of those actors saying, “What?! Another wizard character? It’s so overdone! I won’t do it!” Of course not. Because no matter how many wizards show up in our stories, there is always room for one more. It’s the person behind the wizard—the writer or actor—who makes all the difference.
Solution: Google “archetypes” and see what comes up. Look into it. Seriously. You’ll see that everything has been done before. Just like the human body comes with two hands and ten fingers, it also comes with a human brain. We don’t think that differently from anyone else on earth. After you’ve studied up on archetypes, revisit your previous task of self-acceptance. Learn to love your own ideas simply because they came from you.
You’re Just Plain Scared
This one is the hardest, I think. There is no solution that makes you magically not scared anymore. I was so terrified of finishing my first novel that I kept writing, and writing, and writing…for months after I should have been done with it. When I finally wrapped it up, I’d written over 900 pages.
Do you know how difficult it is to find someone willing to read your 900-page attempt at a first novel?
I don’t regret doing things that way because I learned a lot. But later I saw that I let my fear hold me back. I was so scared that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer that I didn’t even give anyone the chance of being my first reader. And I still get scared. But the difference now is that I keep moving through the fear. I write that last chapter anyway and then hope for the best.
Solution: That saying really is true, you know. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
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