Monday, December 12, 2005

BJH: Five Reasons Why Most People Will Never Write a Novel

What's stopping you from writing your novel?

It would take me forever to write a whole book. Maybe when the kids are grown. But right now I don't have that kind of time.

Who does? But could you perhaps write 350 words a day, five days a week? (This blog entry, by the way, is approximately 750 words–and it doesn't look all that lengthy, now does it?) 350 words is the equivalent of about a page and a half of double-spaced type. If you write 350 words a day, in a week you'll have 1750 words. In 52 weeks, you'll have 91,000 words. That's a novel.

Every time I think about the enormity of such a task, I freeze up–and then I give up.

Understandable. Many multi-published novelists still find the task daunting if they think of the whole. So they don't think of it that way. They develop one scene at a time. Soon they have a chapter, then a section ... and then the novel in its entirety.

Those who have gone through the process of breaking an addiction say they would never have made it had they not taken one step at a time, day by day, week by week, month by month. That's the same way you write a novel. One step at a time, day by day, week by week, month by month. A scene, a chapter, a section. A book.

I have a lot of ideas, but I can't settle on one that's big enough for a novel.

Keep in mind that your idea for a novel doesn't have to contain a cure for cancer or the answer to world peace. It can be an idea for a story about a man and an oversized fish. Or a story about a middle-aged pastor and the people he touches in his community. Or two teenagers who make a suicide pact. Or a Sicilian don who treats organized crime like a family business. Or a little girl who adopts a stray dog and brings a group of lonely people together in a circle of acceptance and companionship and love.

Out of your stash of ideas, which one is it that makes your heart race, your blood run a little faster? Which idea comes closest to what you love to read? Which idea fastens onto a character, a subject, an event that fascinates you, fills your thoughts with possibilities, tempts your imagination to run away and play "what if" every time it comes to mind?

What's your passion? That's what you write.

I've been tempted to write a novel, but there are already so many books out there. Why waste my time? I'd never get published–I don't know anyone in publishing, I'm just a beginner.

Stephen King was once a beginner. So was Nora Roberts. Tom Clancy. John Grisham. Dean Koontz. Jan Karon. Angela Hunt. Janette Oke. Hemingway. Steinbeck. Fitzgerald. Come to think of it, I was once a beginner also. Every novelist out there had to come out of the gate for the first time. And while a few of them might possibly have had contacts in the publishing industry, they were very few. (I assure you, I didn't, unless you count my newspaper carrier.) If you read the stories of their writing journeys, you'll find that most of them had no connection to the business whatsoever. They just–began. True, if you have an uncle who's the CEO at Random House, that won't hurt. But even he can't get you published if you don't have a manuscript.

That's where you start: at the beginning. You don't worry about not knowing anyone. You concentrate on writing a book that will make them–the publishers–want to know you.

I don't think I could bear to find out for certain that I can't write. This way, I can at least pretend that I'll eventually write a book. It keeps the dream alive. But what if I actually try–and fail?

And what if you don't fail? What if God has known all along that you can write a novel–and a good one–and planned for you to do just that?

You're going to spend the next year doing something. The weeks and months will pass, whether you attempt to write that novel or not. If you don't try, at the end of the year you'll have nothing to show for the passing of time. If you do try, you'll have a manuscript. Possibly a salable one.

Your choice.

BJ Hoff

-Author of An American Anthem series, An Emerald Ballad series, and A Distant Music, to be released in January.


At 6:34 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

BJ, I'm working on my 12th novel, and I STILL got so much from this column. It is so true that if I try to look at the whole of my assignment, it seems overwhelming and completely impossible. But when I just write a page at a time, the pages start adding up to chapters almost before I'm aware of it. When I finally print out my first draft, I'm always just a little bit amazed that my time at the computer has produced such a huge pile of pages. Thanks for the encouraging reminder.

Now...back to work on chapter 4. : )

At 10:23 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

"What if God has known all along that you can write a novel–and a good one–and planned for you to do just that?"

Thanks for these words of wisdom and encouragement. It's often easy to doubt God could call me to write. But when I hear words like these, I'm reminded that yes, He can. And it's my responsibility to answer that call.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Every day on Charis Connection, I am entertained, encouraged, and enlightened (The Three E's which I seek to produce in my writing), so I love coming here. Today's entry--B.J. Hoff's--is heavy on the ENCOURAGEMENT. Wow, wow, wow. You've made me renew my faith in myself as a writer--AND--my calling from God. God plus one is a majority, as the saying goes. Thanks, B.J., for reminding writers to "keep on keeping on." Appreciate your kindness to other writers, and your wisdom.
Kristy Dykes

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Gina Holmes said...

Great advice. What made me realize I might be able to write a whole novel was someone's advice to write one page a day and at the end of the year you've got 365 pages...a book's worth! I taped that to my computer and six weeks later, not a year actually had a rough (uhum very rough) draft.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

Great advice and encouragement, BJ. I especially needed the reminder that I can make time, a paragraph at a time. Thanks!

At 9:06 PM, Anonymous BJ said...

Thank you, ladies--I appreciate your input!


At 3:56 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Great post! I'm starting out, just finished my seventh novel, but this post is a great reminder to keep at it.

Rachel Hauck


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