About two years ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself to be a country music fan. I still don’t today, although I do find myself singing along to popular country or country-crossover songs.
But two years ago, that wasn’t the case. Then over the course of a about a week, I kept hearing a couple of country songs that I couldn’t get out of my head.
And I got to thinking: what would happen if parts of those songs collided and a few details changed? That’s when the idea for a novel came to me.
I’ve been a writer for many years, even if a majority of that time I was terrible at it (in some respects, I still don’t consider myself a great writer). I was looking back at the slew of essays and stories I wrote during college as a writing major and cringed. The professors were feeling generous when they handed out grades, that’s for sure.
So when this idea for a story came into mind and wouldn’t leave—in fact, the plot was growing by the day—I decided I’d try making it into a novel. Writing a novel couldn’t be that hard, right?
I came across the snowflake writing method and decided to use it to craft the novel. Things were going well until it time to actually start the heavy lifting.
While these are personal to me and not applicable to everyone, I hope they resonate with some of you so I don’t feel like I’m doing this horribly wrong. Here’s what I’ve found to be hard about writing a novel:
Finding the place to write
Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a beautiful desk by a window overlooking a pond or a park. Perhaps that’s why rent is so high in New York. While I used to write from a desk that overlooked the apartment swimming pool (hey, it was Iowa), today I’m writing my novel from an iPad outfitted with a full-size keyboard. I quickly found that writing in my current apartment does not do anything from me—I feel uncomfortable and I’m not inspired.
So I ventured out to the world of coffeeshops and Panera Bread. (These days, I’m loving Quixotic Coffee.) And this is great—until I’m feeling a little lazy on the weekends or when I get home from work and don’t want to head out. And sitting in those spaces ain’t free.
The details come at weird times
Even though the snowflake method required me to get the entire story mapped out scene by scene in an Excel spreadsheet, there are still plenty of details to fill in. And for me, those details often come to me when I’m preoccupied. Like, you know, at work. Or hopping into bed. Or driving.
Luckily, I’m finding ways to capture those details when they hit and save them for later. My iPhone is filled with voice and text notes, and the journal I carry with me everywhere contains scribbles and random thoughts.
Trying to write so many words
The plan is to write a UFD—that’s an Ugly First Draft—of about 150,000 words. For some perspective, we don’t usually read more than 500–800-word blog posts. So that’s about 300 blog posts.
Then I’ll go into editing and cut about a third of them. But getting 150,000 words on the screen is a hard fucking task, especially when it can take three hours to get 500 good ones out of the system. Do the math and you’ll see that’s a long time.
The pressure to produce great work
Yeah, this project is more for me to say I can write a novel and to complete it. Most likely, the manuscript will sit in a drawer somewhere. But the hope is that, by some miracle, an agent will like it enough to help me get it published. And to get all the way to the end, the novel has to be nothing short of amazing.
But it’s getting done.
Even though this is one of the hardest projects I’ve worked on, it’s been one of the best experiences so far. I have this crazy story constantly swirling around in my head and it’s using all its effort to get out and onto the screen.
And one of these days—roughly 100,000 words from now—it’s going to be there. Until then, look for me tapping away in a java house listening to Stevie Nicks.