If you’ve never written a novel before, you have no idea what to expect. And really, you have no idea if you can do it. It might seem like a mountain of work, or like something only geniuses can do. Never mind the fact that you are—already—a genius. When you’re starting your first novel it certainly doesn’t seem that way. You’re plagued by doubts and fears, and your story is still only a small creative flame. That flame can grow, and it will grow if you nourish and protect it. The place it’s going to grow is your mind. But in order to make the very best creative soil available to it, you have to watch what you’re putting in the soil.
If you want your creative mind to be nutrient-rich, totally organic, and flooded with sunshine and clean water so that your little flame of a novel can grow, here are the pesticides you need to watch out for:
I have a friend who shall remain nameless. She’s a person who I really love, and who is intelligent, funny, and loves me back like a sister. But she’s got a horrible attitude. She always sees the bad side of things, and when an obstacle crops up in her life she always says, “I have the worst luck.” We don’t live very near each other so I do have limited contact with her, but when I call to catch up on things there is one topic I never bring up: My writing.
You don’t have to snub the negative people in your life, and you don’t have to write them off. You might come to a place where you want to do that anyway, just for the sake of your overall mental health. But there’s no need to never talk to someone again just because they’re not someone you can talk about your novel with. However, if you’re going to keep someone negative in your life then that IS the rule: You cannot talk about your book around them, especially not if you’re in the very early stages of writing it.
If your mother has always been critical of you, your coworkers hate their lives, or like me, you have a negative friend who you also happen to love like a sister, you’re going to put those people on a blacklist. Talk about everything under the sun with them—except your book.
Unlike negative people, writing guides can actually be helpful. If you’ve finished your first manuscript and you want to get some ideas on how to extensively revise, or you’ve written a book or two and you’re looking now to really hone your craft, these are situations in which writing guides can come in very handy. But when you’ve just started your very first book, it’s like being plunked down in a foreign country. Looking at 50 different maps is only going to confuse the hell out of you. Start with the basics, find the North Star or track the sun going down and begin traveling from there.
The same goes for critique groups. They can be very helpful once you’ve finished a significant amount of pages and need objective feedback. But in the beginning, when you’re struggling to finish those first two chapters, having a circle of people giving you criticism (even if it’s constructive) will only serve to confuse you and plant doubts.
Anything Online About Agents and Publishing
Again, this is an area that can be helpful—LATER. Websites focused around agents and publishing tend to revolve around a couple of basic themes: What sells, and what’s selling right now. If you have a finished, revised, polished manuscript that you’re ready to send out to agents and publishers, information about the current marketplace is really valuable. If you’re halfway through your first draft and feeling depressed that you might never finish, this information is only going to steer you into comparing yourself to others.
I’ve fallen into this trap myself. I write weird, dark literary fiction that deals with alcoholism and sociopaths. And I’m still looking for an agent. Some days I get sucked into an online vortex of “What Agents Want.” By the time I come out on the other side I’m convinced I need to start writing an edgy, urban fantasy/ paranormal romance for Young Adult readers. The content you consume on the internet soaks into your brain faster than you can put on the brakes. In the early stages of writing your book, steer clear of online advice on how to market it.
These are some of the pesticides to avoid putting into your creative soil. As time goes on, I’ll go over the vitamins and organic fertilizer you want to pour into your brain to grow your healthiest creative flame.
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