I have often wished there was some way I could plug my computer directly into my brain and simply think a novel into being. The story is in there, along with many others, all of them waiting to be written. It would be so nice to just have that specific information extracted and put into a file without any effort.
We may not be that far off from technology like that. Just last night on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed Miguel Nicolelis, a scientist who is working on an electronic vest that works on brainwaves and will enable paraplegics to walk by just thinking about it. He said this technology would be available in about four or five years.
In the meantime, we still have to rely on ourselves to manually produce our greatest works of art. And how do we do that? Well, there is no magic formula that’s going to make your novel a winner. There is no ultimate secret or short cut. What it takes is a carefully laid out plan and fostering good habits, rituals and discipline to bring you into the winner’s circle.
Vince Lombardi was a very famous football coach for the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1967. In that time, he brought Green Bay to the Superbowl five times (including Superbowls I and II). Lombardi was a winner and so were the men on his team. He wouldn’t tolerate second place. Nothing less than first was good enough.
Lombardi believed that no one won through sheer luck. Success was born from hard work and discipline. As he said “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
A habit. That’s what winning is. Go ahead, think about it for a minute or two. I’m sure that if you take a look at the most successful authors out there you’ll see that they didn’t get that way by sitting around worrying if they were good enough to write anything at all. They took action and started with that first word on the page.
Your Game Plan
I’ve seen so many budding authors kill their novels before they’ve even started. They’ll say they’ve got this great story, but it’s not good enough…or they have no time…or they don’t have the technical skills…or any other number of the usual “buts” we use to justify mediocrity.
The truth is you’re scared. Admit it. It’s okay. I get scared too. I’m always thinking is this story as good as I think it is? Does the plot make sense? Is this character too over the top? Not believable enough? Will my audience care?
I’m sure writers like Stephen King and Rowling have their fears too.
The difference is, these people set aside the fear and developed habits to keep moving forward. Now, while there may not be any single magic bullet to catapult you to the top of the Bestseller lists, I do have four very effective writing habits you can use to get you started and keep you going.
1. Exercise Your Brain. You’ve often heard writers need to write from experience. As a writer it’s good to get out into the world and experience other cultures, occupations, foods, activities and so on to lend credibility to your story. Experience also sparks creativity. Stepping outside your own world into another helps you see things in a different light and keeps your mind fresh with ideas.
2. Stop the Comparisons. Face it, you will never be Stephen King, or JK Rowling, or Mario Puzo. There is only one of them. And only one of you. You will have your own style and that style will speak to your audience in the same way it does for other, more established writers. When they started, they had their comparisons too. But instead of comparing or trying to be like your favorite author, why not study from them instead? What is it they do that makes one of their books so successful? What tricks and tools to they use to draw the reader in?
3. Just Tell The Story. A couple weekends ago I had the pleasure of spending the day with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in over ten years. She was absolutely thrilled to hear that Loyalties had made it to hardcover. As we talked, she told me how much she wanted to write a book, but didn’t think she had the technical skills to complete one.
We hear this a lot.
Here’s the deal: Don’t worry about the technical aspects of it all on the first round. Just tell the story. You already have an idea how you want it to start, and you probably have a very good idea how you want it to end. And there’s a good chance you have an idea what the big climax scene will be, right? So, tell the story. Sit down and start writing it and let it flow. The first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect and if you just tell the story, you’ll get it all out of your head and out on paper where you can start to refine it.
4. Fiction Fridays, Manuscript Mondays, Tale-Telling Tuesdays… You get the idea. Pick a day to use as your writing day and stick to it. This is probably the most effective habit for writing a novel. We used it effectively for writing Loyalties. Fridays were the day of choice and held sacred. It was another working day, but work for ourselves.
Take your writing day to lock yourself away from the world, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. Let your family know ahead of time, arrange your work schedule so you don’t have any clients booked on that day, do whatever it is you have to do to have that time to focus on your novel with as few distractions as possible.
…And a Bonus
Winning, or in this case, completing your novel, is more than a set of actions. It’s a mindset. And on that note, I leave you with one more quote from the great Vince Lombardi:
“Winning is a habit. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.”
Or in this case, they become your novel.
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