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11 Insights I Gained from Writing My First Novel

Posted on:April 4, 2014 at 11:28 AM
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Lando Cruz and the Coup Conspiracy I wrote my first novel. It’s called Lando Cruz and the Coup Conspiracy.

This is a journey that started in Northeast Philadelphia in 1980 when my dad got me an adult library card. I got into authors like Asimov, Heinlein, Dick and McCaffrey.

But it really kicked off in 1992 when I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. That’s also when I devoured everything I could find by Hemingway, Kafka, Garcia Marquez and Bukowski.

In 1994, I crafted a series of angry poems, allegorical micro-fiction and one short story about two guys and a mattress on the South Side of Chicago. I still laugh at it today.

In 1999, I made my first serious attempt at writing a novel. The bad guy was Virgilio, a Colombian guerrilla leader. The good guy was the first incarnation of Lando Cruz, the hero in the novel I just finished. I read a couple of craft books and planned the novel but I did not muster the strength to actually write it. I gave up.

In 2007, I tried again. I read a lot more craft books this time, including Techniques of the Selling Writer by Swain and Immediate Fiction by Cleaver. I planned a time travel story with Lando as my hero. I squeezed out 1,500 words at Nanowrimo that year. The next year, I got out 5,000 words before quitting.

In 2012, it was my time. I bought more craft books. I studied every day. I made breakthroughs in my understanding of character and structure.

In 2013 I planned a new novel with a good friend. It became my procrastination. I also got 15,000 words into yet another Lando Cruz story before stopping. I set both projects aside for a few months and then came up with my best Lando Cruz story idea yet. I promised myself that I would start writing it no later than January 1, 2014.

The Red Marks

And so I did! During the first three months of this year, I have 41 red marks on my calendar. That’s disgusting. I should have written at least 80 days during the first quarter of the year. But it was enough to create 96,000 words for Lando Cruz and the Coup Conspiracy.

Along the way, I learned a few things.

  1. Study first. Buy books on fiction-writing craft and study them. Take notes. Review those notes. Analyze the films you watch and the novels you read.
  2. Planning is important, but too much kills the best parts of your story. Planning saves time but you must put a time limit on it. Otherwise, it becomes procrastination.
  3. Be prepared to amend your plan or just throw it out.
  4. Believe. Visualize yourself with a finished novel. A good one. Is your vision credible to you? No? Then you’re not ready. Build confidence first by taking on tasks that are a reach but seem more credible. Study craft. Write short stuff. When you believe, then you can do.
  5. Read, read and read more. Just read works in the same genre that you want to write in. And a few outside it. Read the classics but read new stuff, too.
  6. Accept that the first draft will be atrocious. Revel in this fact. Don’t care about it. The anxiety you feel about its quality or lack thereof is ruining it.
  7. Listen to what that inner voice is telling you about your story. Is it time to break through a wall? Blow somebody up? Just do it. Don’t worry about how it will fit in or if it will be credible. Jeopardy doesn’t have to be credible. Only the resolution of your characters’ troubles must be credible.
  8. It is possible to produce quality stories on instinct alone. Just as Chomsky said that we have a specific area of the brain dedicated to language, I believe we also have one dedicated to story. But studying craft can help. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, then you may not have the gift or, more likely, your anxiety is getting in the way.
  9. Even if you think it is shit, you must keep writing. Just keep writing. Dear God, whatever you do, just keep writing!
  10. Modafinil and L-theanine just get in the way. I tried both of them. L-theanine reduced my anxiety but then it sent me into a tailspin of fatigue. Modafinil just dulled my sharp edge. Fuck that. I work best on black tea or coffee, lots of ice water, plenty of rest and a quiet space that is comfortable but not too cozy.
  11. Establish a writing habit. Select at least one two-hour block and dedicate it to writing. During these two hours, the outside world dies. Let it die. Work a full-time job? Got kids? Then get up at 5 AM. That’s what I do. Tried to wake up at 5 AM and failed for 6 months straight? Fuck it, get up at 4 AM instead.

Right now I am working on the second draft of Lando Cruz and the Coup Conspiracy. I expect to release it for bitcoin-only sales on May 1 and then for bitcoin and fiat currency on May 15. I feel good about this story and so does my editor.

In the meantime, I’m writing a serial called Gran Pacifica. Give me your email to get the 24 episodes for free, one per week.