Monday, March 29, 2010

On writing a first novel, and on the stages of writerdom

I am currently writing my first novel--and by that I mean that this is the first time that I've started an idea and forced myself to follow through with it to its full novel-length conclusion (as opposed to all the novels I've started and set aside). I started this novel during NaNoWriMo; please don't assume it's "just" a NaNo novel, though, because I'd been meaning to do it for a long time and just needed the extra push to really get started. (And anyway, NaNo is an incredible thing! If you've been thinking about doing it and want to know more about it, feel free to ask me anything. You can also visit their website at

I've been told by my writerly friends and former teachers for years that writing a novel is way more work than you would think. "Really," they've all stressed to me, "it is SO much work." Sure, I've always agreed, it must be. Uh huh.

But no, really. It is so much work. And this brings me to my realization of the four (that I've realized so far) stages of (novelist) writerdom:

(1) The first step is when you're a writer who wants to write a novel. That's it. Maybe it's a vague desire, maybe a more persistent urge, but you don't get past the first 50 or so pages. There's something alluring about the idea of writing a novel, but maybe you stick with short stories, novellas, or poems. You don't have the time for a novel; you don't have the ideas/plot/characters/motivation; you don't really think you "have a novel in you."

(2) The second step is when you've committed: you're writing your first novel, you're really doing it, you're committed to making it the best it can be, and you're EXCITED about it! You feel like: This is it! I'm writing a novel! Woohoo! Maybe I'll be famous someday! Go go go! Or maybe you're already querying agents, or you've got an agent and are waiting for an editor to discover you. You've embarked on the long journey toward holding a book of your own in your hands.

(3) The third step is when you've done it, you have written your novel and, not only that, it's been published! You are on your way to being famous--you're the real deal! Bravo, writer: you have become an author. (cue upbeat music) Note that this step can include those who have published more than one novel, maybe two or three, but who are still somewhat normal people, not quite at the Almighty Impressive Celebrity Author level (although they might have a number of loyal and devoted fans who would disagree with me!).

(4) The final step is when you've already "made it," when you're an established, famous author. Think Tamora Pierce or Stephen King, Phillip Pullman or Robert Jordan. These are names everyone in (and out of!) the 'biz knows. You're famous, you're gold, you can write anything you want and get it published because you've got that name recognition. And besides, you've been around now for 10, 20, 30 years. You're Old Money, baby.

So the thing about these four stages that I've identified is that they're all useful in different ways to the budding writer. Stage 3 and 4 writers have all kinds of accumulated wisdom, and it is really wonderful, useful, important knowledge that they're usually happy to share. Take it! Absorb it! Gobble up their knowledge and learn from it, use it to your advantage to help you get where you want to be as a writer.

If you're a stage 1 or 2 writer, like myself, you probably need the encouragement, want to make sure you're doing the right things and are on the right path. Seek out these wise authors and remember that even they still need advice and encouragement sometimes, so it's nothing to be hesitant or embarrassed about. Stage 1 and 2 writers are exactly the ones who the stage 3 and 4 authors are writing to, and it would be foolish (foolish I say!) to pass up this opportunity.

But there's a caveat. I've realized, and this may only apply to me, that the stage 4 writers just aren't working for me anymore. They're too established; they're too good; I don't feel like I can relate to them. So I've found myself, more and more, being drawn to the stage 3 writers. These are writers who have fresh memories and advice about the process, who were recently in my stage 2 shoes, and who understand and still remember what I'm going through. These are the writers I more closely identify with, and these are the ones whose blogs I'm gravitating toward lately. They are also the more immediately inspirational, because they make the jump from stage 3 to 4 seem almost (almost!) feasible for little old me.

I started this blog because it occurred to me, after many hours of quiet reflection time, how incredibly useful it has been to be able to read these stage 3 writer's blogs, now that I'm at stage 2. And, a kind soul recently pointed out to me, wouldn't it have been great to have been able to find a stage 2 writer's blog back when I was a stage 1? (Especially a stage 2 writer who is in the process of filtering/learning from a stage 3 writer's views?)

Yes: I would have loved that. (And hey, I can still learn from anyone in any of the stages--so if you're reading this, no matter which stage you're in, please let me know the URL for your blog so I can check it out!)

So here I am. I am a stage 2. Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I am writing my first novel. I am frequently filled with doubt and feel like I am floundering, and I hope that my learning process can be a useful tool for others, whether they are a stage 1 or a stage 2, like me. I know that this will be an evolving process (as will my "Stages of writerdom"), and I hope you'll stick around for the journey!

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