Writing a novel is like… (Encore)

63447767_ml-txt…eating an elephant. You have to do it one bite at a time. No one seems to care how the elephant feels about this. The point, obviously, is that writing a novel is a big job, and you won’t finish it overnight.

Many would-be novelists give up when they think about how big a project it is. The good news is, you don’t have to be one of ’em. All you need to do is adopt the elephant-eating mindset. Just take it one bite at a time. You’ll have the whole critter digested before you know it.

Not convinced? Okay, here’s another way to look at it. Think about the last time you went shopping at a mall. Easy enough, right? All you had to do was hop in your car and go. Easy-peasy. No big deal. But consider for a moment all the steps you had to accomplish in order to do that:

  • You got dressed and ready to go.
  • You climbed into your car, adjusted the seat and mirrors, maybe turned on the radio.
  • You opened the garage door and carefully backed down the drive.
  • You navigated several miles of road and more than a few traffic lights.
  • You may have had to change your route because of traffic or road repair.
  • You finally got to yolur destination and spent some time looking for a parking spot.
  • At long last, you bebopped into the mall and decided where you wanted to shop first.

bongAre you beginning to get the idea? Even something as simple as buying a hair ribbon at Hermione’s Haberdashery (& Head Shoppe) requires quite a number of distinct steps. And with just a little imagination, each of those steps could involve some sort of conflict or complication. (All stories require conflict or complication of some kind, be it large or small. No conflict? No story. Trust me on this for now; we’ll cover it in detail very soon.) Herewith, some potential complications:

  • While getting dressed, your hair refuses to cooperate, or you find a rip in your favorite blouse. Maybe you can’t find your car keys.
  • When you get in your car, it won’t start, or you discover someone spilled something on the seat (beer, milkshake, fertilizer, who knows what).
  • You get the garage door open and realize a garbage truck has broken down at the end of your driveway, or the neighbor’s house is on fire, or a child has had a bike accident, and you’re the only adult in sight.

Any or all of these things might have happened, and you haven’t even left home yet! This set of compilations may not make for a compelling read, but it should demonstrate how one might break down a complicated process into more easily addressable chunks. Just remember to add some spice–conflict or complication, remember? For today, you don’t have to write an entire chapter; you only have to work on the scene where your protagonist discovers the hole in her blouse.

Are there clues to suggest how it might have happened? Is there someone in her household who hates that garment? Did she somehow forget the wild night on the town when she met bikersthat “bad boy”-type at the bar who talked her into going for a ride on his motorcycle, and she ended up spending the night at his place? [Note: Yeah, it’s easy for me to get crazy with ideas like this, because I’m not working from a premise. If I had one, say something like: illicit drugs lead to immorality, this scenario would be perfectly fine. On the other hand, if the premise were something like: strong will leads to success, the scene above would be much harder to squeeze in. See my discussion about the P-word.]

So, kiddies, today’s lesson is simply this: don’t be overwhelmed by the enormity of writing an entire novel. Rome wasn’t built in a day, or a weekend, although, according to Mental Floss, John Boyne claims to have written The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in two and a half days. That makes my head hurt. The best I’ve done is a modest 70,000-word novel in six weeks (a mere 1,667 words per day).

This definitely isn’t a race, but if it were, it’d be a marathon, not a sprint. Worry about your book, and write it, one scene at a time. Getting it done is far more important than getting it done fast.


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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4 Responses to Writing a novel is like… (Encore)

  1. Gerald W. Flinchum says:

    If you feel the need to rush your writing, try driving around I-285 once, (Braves pitcher did it three times in 1982 looking for the Fulton Co. stadium.) Then come home, pour a stiff one, sit down and write. Take time to ponder what you want to put together, or just take that epic drive and break Perez’s record!

  2. Lloyd Blackwell says:

    Life will always be complicated but few things outlast purpose and persistency.

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