What I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My First Novel
Sitting here at this computer, listening to classical radio and staring out the window at the birds and sunshine. I can hear them chirping. Nothing left to do but to write about my experience of writing my first novel. This is the same computer I used to complete it. It’s strange to continue writing. After finally finishing the project I’m left wondering: “What next?”
Going back in time, I remember what first struck me about writing the book. My initial attempt is still fresh in my mind. I was worried about the future; I didn’t know if my words would ever matter. In fact, after a few months of writing “blind” chapters, I abandoned my efforts altogether and I got myself a part-time job in a small warehouse around the corner from my parents’ home.
As a musician and writer, I quickly realized that my creative projects did not entirely mean that I was saving myself from the outside world. In fact, the job I had been cornered into taking deflated me — to the point of finding it hopeless to keep writing chapter after chapter. I discovered that writing a book just to write a book was the equivalent of tying a fifty-pound rock to my ankle and then jumping into the Atlantic. How could I learn to defeat the alternating tides and currents constantly sweeping through my life – for good?
I kept reading. Before and after my eight-hour workdays I would bury my nose in a book. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t ready, that I needed more time to study the work of other authors. That I needed more life experience in order for others to find the story I wanted to write interesting.
So, the holidays passed and tax time came around, and I waited for a tax-return to catapult myself out into the world. I rode thirty hours west the very day that the money had cleared my bank account. My car I filled with all my belongings, which hadn’t amounted to very much. I wasn’t focused on the acquisition of things, only to enlighten myself to new experiences and to dream and wonder what it would mean to be a successful writer.
By no means was I prepared for what I was getting myself into. But that was the point, as far as I was concerned. In essence I was giving everything up so that I could become a better writer. Up to that point I had been writing poems and short stories, but I’d explored the idea of writing a book that could be turned into a screenplay before. I figured I would just get the thing finished and watch the money come rolling in. At the time of my departure from New Jersey I was twenty-five years old. I was naïve, reckless, unbound, and ready to explore the depths of this country and of my own self.
Once in Colorado, my eyes were just beginning to open to the possibilities of all that I could document and record in written form. The country was so vast! There were so many people to meet and they brought out aspirations that had been dormat before. When I was stuck in New Jersey, working a mundane job, I struggled to find the discipline necessary to become successful at anything – whether making pancakes or changing diapers.
I wanted my life to become my art. I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences. In my mind, it seemed that the only way to become the writer I wanted to be was to just live my life in the way I thought I should.
After exploring much of Colorado, and working for a few weeks on a painting crew, I kept practicing my writing on my personal blog. I was slowly gathering material, and I was cultivating an audience for what I had to say. (It was also a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family from back home, because I had left so abruptly.) Still, there was more I wanted to witness and discover for myself.
I took off again for Austin, Texas. I rented an over-priced room for a week and I restricted myself to sitting at a desk or a computer, alone with my thoughts, my past, and myself. I ranted on my blog about the shape of the world and how we were all doomed if we couldn’t “wake up” to the fact that our society was dismantling itself. I’ll admit I was starting to go a little daffy. Sometimes that is the case with trying to write, in solitude, absent any social interaction besides the radio and television. But the important thing to me about my time spent in that Austin motel room was that I was finally doing the kind of writing that exemplified my voice. In short, I needed to get it out of my system – whatever it was.
The time came for me to leave of Austin. My motel room was cluttered with my books, records, and the rest of my belongings. I’d attempted to sell my 2001 Honda Accord to a few friendly Mexicans, figuring I could take the money, get an apartment somewhere on the outskirts of Austin, and I could write there while searching for another job.
(I’d like to note here that if you are unwilling to try and to fail, then maybe writing isn’t for you. There is no way to become a better writer without failure in some facet of your life – even if it’s failing to sell your car. You could sit around writing all day, if you should desire to do so. But when you take the next step and put yourself out there, you will always manifest a dose of reality: the sudden realization that not everybody is going to enjoy your work as much as you do… And that you also have to eat and find a way to pay the electric bill.)
I took off on another thousand-mile drive up north to Colorado Springs. There I stayed with a friend, got financial donations from a younger brother back in New Jersey – one of the very few people that still believed in me – and I made my way up to Denver so that I could settle my outstanding tickets with the municipal court. In Colorado Springs I took to the habit of keeping notes on a daily basis, which was easy since I was accidentally dedicating myself to writing. I was developing a sort of adventure to be written about, shaping it on a daily basis with my words and my decisions. Sort of like what we all do, and how we create our own lives.
Finally, I decided to go home. In Early April 2012 I had left for Colorado; I returned to my home state of New Jersey just as the summer was arriving in full swing. I spent the nation’s holiday in Baltimore with some of my closest friends. They were glad that I had returned, and they had been interested in the shape and size of my journey throughout the heartland of these United States.
I wrote and I wrote. I met all kinds of people on my trip, including a Muslim woman that was very intelligent and artsy who told me that I “didn’t have to live like some kind of a starving artist.” She, and some of the other people that knew me, had missed the point entirely.
It certainly wasn’t masochism that kept me from writing and completing my first novel. I had bigger dreams! I wanted to write more than just a novel. I even considered writing something that would be capable of changing the way we think about each other and ourselves. It wasn’t a party that I was after – it was a celebration of life and self-discovery that I was contemplating, figuring the right words to express all the unique experiences I had wanted to share and write about.
The summer in Jersey closed in around me. I needed to make money and I found a job at a restaurant. Just like so very many people my age. In my “free” time I wrote without consideration of flow and plot, and it just came. It was natural, and I needed to do it. I wrote from personal experience, which is the kind of writing I had been interested in studying. Writing from July and on into September I constructed my first novel. Clearly in my mind I was setting up the next book, which I wrote by hand after finding a second job. I didn’t think about it anymore. I just wrote.
Through this whole journey, I learned one very important fact: if you have to force yourself to write then you are not ready. That’s all I really needed to know about writing a novel. If you open yourself completely to the pull of words, then you will find the definition required to become a writer, to finish a book. Your story will fill the void. Let’s hope it’s an interesting one!
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- What I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My First Novel - July 12, 2013