Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Single-Mindedness of the Novel Writer

Working out if you’re meant to be a writer is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do.

Talent doesn’t come into it. The truth is, if you are a moderately intelligent, imaginative person, chances are you have the ability (at your best) to write something someone somewhere will want to read.

Of course, connecting with those ideal readers isn’t quite so easy, but that’s another post entirely.

No, the way you can determine whether you are a novel writer is quite straightforward. You have to write a book.  See, it’s easy. And also very hard.


First you need an idea. Doesn’t have to be the greatest idea ever. There’s no point going into this with perfection as your goal. It could turn out that way, certainly. Maybe you’re the next Harper Lee. But for mere mortals craft takes graft, and also time.

Once you have an idea, something that you think is interesting, the next thing is to write it. How you approach this is up to you. Planning it out, winging it, whatever. What you write isn’t all that important. Finishing it is.

There are some people who really want to lose weight, but never do anything about it. Others get going on the diet and the exercise, but it only lasts a few days, if that. Then there are those who approach it with the eye of the tiger, lose the weight, take the photo standing in one leg of their fat pants, and then six months later the belly’s back. And obviously some people keep the weight off.

It’s pretty much the same with writerly aspirations.

It’s impossible to know how you’re going to feel once you reach your goal (assuming you do), but that self-realisation can be the making of you, and not just as a writer. Some people don’t really want to know. Hope tastes better than reality. Which is fair enough.

But if you want to be a writer, you have to write complete stories. You have to reach the finishing line and to do that you have to know where the finishing line is.

 When you get to that last page, that ISN’T the end. That’s just the halfway point (not even that for some writers—me included).

Your approach to rewrites and revisions is up to you. There are various methods and techniques. But if you rush to the end of your first draft, thinking it’s all over bar a little polish and spellcheck, you aren’t going to be in the right frame of mind for the next leg of the journey. You have to be realistic and you have to be prepared to put in the effort.

You might be the kind of writer who produces work that’s 90% done, I guess, but if the first thing that pops into your head is the best you can come up with, then either you’re a genius (possible) or you’re kidding yourself (probable).

Harsh as it may sound, if you are the type of person who loses interest after the first draft, you probably aren’t cut out to be a writer. Because going over the same thing again and again is a big part of how you get a story to work.

That process of getting from start to finish and then going back to the start, for as many times as it takes, can get very tedious. You have to approach it with gritted teeth and a determination that you will only entertain self-doubt and critical assessment AFTER you reach the end. Doing so at any other time is pointless.

Doesn’t matter if it feels like everything you’ve written so far is an utter waste of time. When you’re old and experienced and have plenty of insight into your own process, sure, go ahead and abandon your latest effort halfway through. Until then, a writer is the one who writes the whole story. 

It won’t be easy.

You need focus, motivation, energy and single-mindedness.

Can you succeed without pouring your whole life into one thing? Sure. Many do. The wealthy, the connected, the lucky—they all do fine. I’m sure their success is no less enjoyable. We could all fall into good fortune. I don’t even have to buy a ticket to win the lottery, one could fall out of someone’s pocket and blow into my hand on a helpful breeze.

But by and large the people who make it, do so because of their focus and dogged refusal to give up. What looks like an overnight success is often the hundredth attempt, it’s just the first one to hit. You think Kim Kardashian just happened to get lucky with a sex tape? No, from the moment she wakes up to the moment she falls asleep, there’s only one thing on her mind: penis, penis, penis, penis...

It worked for her and it could work for you. Single-mindedness, that is, not penises.
 If you found this post mildly diverting, please give it a retweet. Cheers.

19 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You ended that one with quite a laugh!
Start to finish - did it twice. Once more...

mooderino said...

@Alex-just keeping myself amused :)

Elise Fallson said...

LOL! I guess we can learn a lot from Kim K... :P

In my case it's just plain ole stubbornness. I started this damn wip and I'm going to finish it because I have stubbornness issues...

Rachel said...

I agree. I've written two novels. Each one, I had to revise about six times. When I'm writing a novel, I get a little too single-minded! LOL! My husband calls it obsessive. :)

@Ruby_Barnes said...

Works for me ;-) Singlemindedness, I mean.

mshatch said...

Oh how true. I was just reading something similar in Writer's Digest about Practice and Revisions. I'll say no more.

Tammy J. Palmer said...

Great post---especially the surprise ending. Of course we romance writers do have something in common with Kim.

mooderino said...

@Elise-stuborness, the oft maligned ginger step-child of emotions.


@Rachel-tell hubby it's passion, not obsession.

@Ruby Barnes-glad to hear it.

@mshatch-'nuff said.

@Tammy-I wonder what that could be...

Rachna Chhabria said...

Mooderino..hmm..wondering what brought on this post, I mean the ending.

mooderino said...

@Rachna-just being silly.

LD Masterson said...

Kim and her penises not withstanding, you sort of missed a group. Those of us you finish, decide it isn't good enough, re-do the whole thing, decide it isn't good enough, re-write it again, etc. Sometimes the test isn't whether you will keep going but whether you'll know when to stop.

Rick Bylina said...

Persistence has no substitute. My first novel took 20 years with 42 different opening chapters to get to publishable format. A real writer is not afraid of criticism that strengthens the final product. All hail the power of critiquing, editing, and first readers to make your book the best it can be.

Nancy Thompson said...

Ah, you hit it perfectly, which is why my mantra is Winston Churchill's most famous quote: "Never quit." I can't truthfully say, my success is purely from my single-mindedness to produce the best book I could and see it through to publication. And now I have. Now I just have to see if I can do it again. Gonna tweet this one, Moody!

mooderino said...

@LD-that's not really a test of whether you're a writer, but whether you can take the next step into being judged by others, which is very scary for some people.

@Rick-I don't know about a real writer, but certainly a serious one will take criticism and even welcome it.

@Nancy-Cheers. I'm sure you'll be just as successful second time round.

Lydia Kang said...

So true. I think I've read and reread my manuscript over twelve times. Revisions on my own, revisions with my editor, copyedits, first pass pages...you can't give up after that first draft. You just can't.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Agree. I have to stifle a giggle every time someone asks me, 'so, how do you publish a book?' like they're asking how do you make a chocolate cake. Like there's a three step plan. I spend most of my week days working on writing (smallest part of my time), blogs, editing, contacting publishers, organising writing events, etc, etc, etc. And I have to admit there is a certain amount of guilt, as if my time should be more for others and not myself. Somehow, I think I've missed my window of opportunity to use a sex-tape to promote myself (although Halloween is coming up?).

mooderino said...

@Lydia-would be nice if it all came out perfect first time though.

@Charmaine-lol. I suppose it can work the other way too, give me what I want and I promise I won't release my sex tape. I think I just figured out how to make myself rich!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I think my brain cannot handle the unexpected appearance of Kim Kardashian on your blog and the word "penis." AT least Kim K has done something positive: she has made plus sized women attractive again. I like that. I think the magazines were getting too polarized with super skinny models and Kim K is very curvy.

mooderino said...

@Michael-but like the women who win an Oscar for playing a prostitute (more than you would think), the victory is bittersweet.

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