There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.
(so said Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
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Ah, the first novel. This is a subject that gets a lot of attention. For many, that novel that hasn’t been written is a dream that will remain unrealized. I made halfhearted attempts to write a novel for about fifteen years. I thought that, hey, if I could only manage to write “my novel,” it would be killer. I was just like Lady Catherine in that way. I took something that I had never done (writing a novel), and assumed both that a) I’d be great at it and b) it would probably never happen. Then, one day, I did manage to write a first novel. Somehow. And even though it was not easy to write, and it certainly isn’t The Great American Novel, getting off my tuchus and writing the darn thing had a lot of surprising benefits. Here’s how it happened.
Quarter-life crisis much?
The more time I spend an entrepreneur mode, the more I realize how essential failure is. Before I started writing this post I hadn’t even remembered that I had actually made a whole plan for a series of novels that I wanted to finish in the next few years. Anyway, my twenties were coming to a close, and I still hadn’t ever written a book. After I started writing short stories, I realized that I could just do more of what I was already doing, writing, and end up with a novel. It was an exciting thought, so I decided to write a series of twenty books. Ha! I was both ambitious and naive.
Plotting it out
I wasn’t really sure how to go about writing a novel. What I had done in the past was just start writing and see where the story went. Since I had already written a few short stories, and I was already convinced that I needed an outline. In fact, I read one author’s account saying that she always made an 80 page outline every time she wrote a novel (!). My outline was probably about two pages. It had about one sentence describing each scene. For me, that was enough. I also benefited from a mystery plot template and the invaluable “And, But, Therefore” plot tool. Mr. RN heard about that plotting tool from the creators of South Park. Basically, it’s a way to connect all of your scenes with one of those two concepts. Susie decided to go to the park, but it rained. Susie decided to go to the park, therefore she went outside to get her dog, therefore she saw the car chase down the street, therefore she was witness to a crime. You got the idea.
The actual writing really varied. I times, I felt like the words were flowing easily. At times, I even felt like I was writing a really exciting and vivid scene. But for all of those experiences, there were also lots of other times when I felt like I was slogging through something that I didn’t really like or understand. Early on, I just didn’t believe that I was ever going to finish the novel. Writing 50,000 words seemed impossible. It was really hard to stay motivated. The fact that it was summer and I was on a work assignment far away from home, and thus far away from all my friends and family, meant that I had to keep working on the novel. After all, when I wasn’t at work there really wasn’t much for me to do. And somehow, a small part of me did realize that the first novel is probably the hardest.
After I finally finished my novel, I put it up for sale on amazon.com. Why not, right? I don’t think I did a very good job formatting or editing the book, but I actually like the characters and the plot. Perhaps my lack of experience showed, though. The book didn’t sell very well. I think in the past few years it’s only ever learned about $60 total. So as far as money goes, writing this novel was not a very lucrative endeavor. Still, it paid off in a lot of other ways.
14 more novels (not 30 yet, but hey)
One of the best things about writing that first novel was that it set me up to write a bunch of other novels. As I mentioned, I ditched the project that I was working on and I never finished the series. I didn’t even write anything else in the same genre until a couple of years later. But I did write a lot more novels. In fact, in the past few years I’ve written 15 novels. It’s not as many as I’d like, and one thing I hope this blog will do is help me write many more, but it’s a sight better than zero. Thanks to those novels, I’ve earned over $6,000 selling eBooks on amazon.com. Again, I’m hoping to earn much more, but this has helped me contribute even more toward my FIRE goals.
That “Can Do” spirit
I try to be a positive person. But I also consider myself a pragmatic person. Sometimes it feels like it’s a little hard for me to absorb the Reach for the Stars mentality that could be so very helpful. The best thing about writing my first novel was that it paved the way for lots of other novels. Now, when I have a book plotted out and I have to sit down and write it, I know that I can do it. I don’t even waste time thinking about whether finishing the book will be possible. I don’t know if I’ll end up liking what I’ve written, and I don’t know if what I’ve written will sell, but I do know that I can finish the project. And that’s a skill that I know I will continue to use well into the future.
I wrote my first novel in Microsoft Word. There are a lot of other tools that I use now, but I don’t necessarily recommend buying a lot of fancy programs for a first novel. Sometimes it can help to use something simple, then upgrade once you know that you want to continue working. Now that I write more novels, I have found Canva to be very helpful for the covers. I also use a professional cover designer. I write all of the novels in Vellum, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s nice enough for the initial formatting, but what I really love is how it makes it super easy to go back and make changes later, then upload those changes quickly.
Also, I have yet to fully participate in National Novel Writing Month, but maybe this year will be the year! I’ll keep everyone posted.