How not to write your first novel

I started my first novel my senior year of college. I never finished it. I don’t even know where those first few chapters I ever wrote went.

Why didn’t I finish? I had a writing professor who gave me encouraging feedback. Her words of “you have a strong voice – you make me care about your characters – it’s believable” I had named the novel Net of Lies. It centered on an older sister raising her brother, a brother with amazing athletic ability who gets pulled into a gambling scheme. The title seems corny now. The idea has fizzled in my brain.

It took me 11 years before I started another novel. Those first pages are lost somewhere on our old PC. But the idea stuck with me. All stemming from a fear I had as a young mother. And the pain I suffered from postpartum depression. My experience had a happy ending, but it doesn’t mean the pain wasn’t real. My fears and imagination created the beginning of  a suspenseful story that probes marriage and how well we know each other.

But that novel didn’t get written because I got busy having babies, starting a teaching career, serving alongside my husband in ministry. And fighting depression. My life was busy.

And then in 2009 I was entranced by the Mary Winkler trial for murdering her preacher husband. The news uncovered secrets about what this family’s life was really like. That story gave me an idea, but I didn’t act on it until three years ago. And now, I’ve finally finished it.  It didn’t take three years. I just wrote 3 chapters 3 years ago, dreamed about it, talked about it, but never actually wrote. I planned to work on it on my summers “off” but I let life get in the way. I made excuses.

Something clicked in November of 2015. Something woke up in my brain. Maybe it’s the sense of desperation that in my early 40’s, I’m running out of time. Maybe it was I finally internalized the idea of looking at my life backwards. On my deathbed, what will I regret not doing? Writing every day, pouring out my soul in writing, enjoying the crafting of words and stories, gives me such pleasure. When I do it, I feel my life’s purpose. Why had I been running away from that purpose for most of my life? Fear? Fear of failure. Fear of success.

Maybe it was become my oldest daughter started college. The cost of sending her to a private Christian college, with two of her siblings not far behind, I felt desperate. We would never get out of debt.

Maybe it was because I felt growing older. I felt all the promises of her future. I wanted my future. I wasn’t just a mom. I was still a woman with dreams.

I decided to leave the fear back. With every step forward, I was killing the fear in my soul. Burning it up with a passion I had found.

I finally got real. I was never going to have several months of time to devote to writing. I would probably never write for hours at a time.

I felt desperate. I couldn’t not do it.

I made a decision to write for 30 minutes a day. In the morning. I made a date for myself at 5:15 AM Monday-Friday. And forced myself to tell the story. Get it down on paper. See what I could do.

But to make myself keep my commitment, I needed accountability, so to my Facebook friends I went. I poured out my dream and my plan. I was met with such encouragement that I couldn’t NOT do it.

Almost 3 months later, around 60 days of getting up at 4:30 with writing longer on the weekends, the rough draft was complete. I went from euphoria to a serious letdown in about 60 seconds. I had accomplished my goal – writing a novel. But I was really just at the beginning. I knew it was just a rough, rough draft. The story was there and the story was good, but oh, did it need revising, polishing, details added, deeper character descriptions, holes filled.

I trusted my husband to read it and he was hooked. He has always been my biggest fan, and with this book he kept telling me to push forward. Not give up. It was a story the world needed to hear.

I went back to my Facebook friends and their congratulations and positive feedback have kept me going.

And my girlfriends. Life isn’t complete without those women who know the real you, love you anyway, laugh with you (even at you at times) cry with you, encourage you. They all couldn’t wait to read it. But I’m not ready yet.

Time for revision. Time to set another goal. 30 minutes a day revising and polishing.

I will accomplish this. My spirit is strong. My will fierce.

I will accomplish this. I’m doing it. The results are left up to my creator who knows what he made me for, made me to do. He’s the one who put this dream in my heart. He’s the one who knows where this dream will lead. I can work. I can trust. I can let go.

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2 thoughts on “How not to write your first novel

  1. How cool! The editing process is the most challenging. Then figuring if you’ll self publish or find a publisher!

    And I’m not sure there’s a wrong way to write your 1st novel. If you have a complete 1st draft that is a major hurdle to accomplishment!
    Blessings,
    – Kenzel

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