As the more than gazillion National Novel Writing Month writers prepare to knock out another 40,000 novels next month, here are some words of advice: follow your muse, but don’t worry if you decide you don’t get along after all.
My debut novel, Washed Up, was produced in the 2009 NaNoWriMo. I revised it over the next year, and it was published in 2011 by North Star Press, receiving a “smashing debut” review by the esteemed Library Journal.
It was not, however, the first novel I ever wrote. And, since publishing Washed Up, I’ve written four more novels. So far, two of those are complete — they are follow-ups in the mystery series and they have been published. Two are in progress.
Then there are the other novels I don’t talk about, both completed and uncompleted works. For all of these, my muse and I started out inspired and with high hopes, but the books languished, I lost interest, and I expect never to return to them. These are novels where my muse and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye. And frankly Muse got a bit pissed off that I paid no attention to his ideas (my Muse is a he), and called me a lazy hack more than once.
Since then we’ve reached an understanding and are on speaking terms, most of the time. Here’s the understanding: some novels die an early death, and many will never to see the light of day on a book shelf or in an eReader. Others get finished, but author lacks the interest or ability to go back and do the necessary revision that will get them where they need to be.
It’s hard, at first, for a new novelist to understand the difference between a first draft that can grow up to be a real novel, and one that has nothing but high hopes of greatness. New novelists may develop wonderful characters, but have them do nothing. Some may come up with a great plot idea, but develop flat, boring characters that can do nothing with the great story they are given. My problem is generally a great love of place and poetry, that shines through, but interesting people and stories live elsewhere and no one comes to visit.
I learned a lot from writing my novels, especially the ones that never got finished or will never be published. The real lesson was that sometimes I just needed to let the unfinished project remain unfinished. There’s no point in beating yourself up over a book that refuses to be a book, and basically letting that stagnation keep you from writing anything. Take what you’ve learned from it and move on to the next one. Trust me, the next book will be better. The next one after will be even better. And maybe you’ll publish the fourth one, like I did and it may even happen to be a NaNoWriMo novel.
The important thing is to do the work. If NaNoWriMo helps that work happen for you, wonderful. I’m wishing all gazillion 2013 novelists the best of luck.