secret to writing a novel

The Secret to Writing a Novel Is . . .

by Ron Vitale

My wife and I like to agree to disagree on this topic. The secret to writing a novel is fairly straightforward, but many don't like the answer. In order to write and complete a novel, it's necessary to sit one's butt in a chair (or stand if that's a position you prefer) and write. It's that simple. Say you're going to write a book and then do it. This is where my wife and I get into hot water. Obviously, there are a lot of other steps to get from "Hey, I'd like to write a book" to "Would you like to buy the book I wrote?"

I would like to share my writing process with you and define simple and easy steps to help you get from concept to completion. Will it be easy? No. Is it possible? Yes, yes, yes! Okay, let's get started.

Define Your Goal

After reading some bedtime stories to my daughter a few years ago, an idea for my first book in the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series popped into my head. I made a commitment to myself and then told my close friends and family that I was going to write a novel. Coming clean with one's goal and sharing it with trusted friends is the first critical step. There's a reason why this step is so essential. We can all have a safe little magical world in our heads in which we write a book and never do. It's a lot easier to think of the goal in that abstract way. One day we'll have more time and write a book. One day we'll get back into writing and we're going to be great. But right now, there's the kids, the full-time job, bills and so much to do. We all know the story, but it's the lie that we tell ourselves.

How we break out of the lie is all that matters. I wrote my first novel at 16, rewrote it several times and then nearly gave up on writing in my 30s. I had written one book that I had tried to get published any way I could, a bunch of short stories and then nothing. I wasted a lot of time putting all my eggs in one basket, hoping that a super magical publishing deal would descend upon me from on high and that my muse would rise up and inspire me to write more books.

I didn't write my next novel until I was 34 and that was only a first draft (a sequel to my first book) and it's still sitting on my hard drive waiting to see the light of day. Why do I share all of this with you? Because the whole story is important and not just what people want to see. Since then I have written two more books and had them published, released a collection of sci-fi short stories and am currently working on book 3 of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series. It took me 17 years to write two books and then within the last three years I have written two books and am working on a third. So, what changed?

I defined my goal. I believed that I had an amazing idea for a book, I made a commitment to myself to write it and I told my friends and family about what I wanted to do. By telling people my dream and goal, I made it become real. I realized that in order to make my goal that I had to commit to it and put in the hard work. Was it easy? No, sometimes it sucked (I'm not going to lie to you).

A Schedule Is Your Friend

Here is the nitty-gritty of writing a book. Again, there is no magic here. It's all straightforward and something we all know: In order to complete a book, we need to write it and that takes time. The first book in the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series, Lost, is 71,000 words and the sequel, Stolen, is 86,000 words. Lost took me 18 months to write, edit, rewrite and then have published. Stolen took me 13 months. How did I cut down the time of writing books from 17 years for two, to 18 months, then to 13 months? I created a schedule and followed it.

Now before you hit the back button and say that this is too hard and you're not up for all this crazy insanity, hear me out. Please. Your creative future relies on it. Here is my schedule:

Sunday: Long run (more on exercise in a bit).
Monday: Write before work, work all day and come home to spend time with family.
Tuesday: Short run before work, work all day and come home and spend time with family.
Wednesday: Write before work, work all day and come home to spend time with family.
Thursday: Short run before work, work all day and come home and spend time with family.
Friday: Write before work, work all day and come home to spend time with family.
Saturday: Write early in the morning, chores, spend time with family.

Did I follow that schedule every day? No, but I stick to it pretty religiously now. I have trained myself to get into a pattern that works for my busy life. I have also left room in the schedule for flexibility. If I had to work late or the kids were sick or my wife was away, I could run at night on the treadmill or write after I put the kids to bed. I could skip a day of running or writing if I felt sick. I could do all sorts of things because I had a general plan, but it wasn't so restrictive that I felt trapped by trying to do so many jobs at once.

And I think that's the key: Being tenacious but also admitting that you're human and need breaks and time off. Sometimes my scheduled morning of writing wasn't for my book but a blog post and sometimes I went longer than I expected to write. I allow myself the freedom to adjust to how I feel each day. One day this past week I only wrote 453 words for my book and yesterday I wrote 1,857 words. Each day of writing adds to my total and, over time, I have a novel.

Exercise Is the Key

I started running about 4 years ago and I can say that there is a correlation between my creative output and writing. I choose to run without music and just let my thoughts fly free. By running this way, I'm able to let my imagination run wild, I get into my groove, think of my problems, life, story ideas, solving plot problems that's how I start plotting my books. I like the organic feel of how I can be free to just be and let my mind wander. Getting more oxygen in my lungs and through my body helps me feel more connected to the world and sometimes I don't even know that there is a thread in the back of my mind on how to get past a difficult part in the book.

Exercising helps with motivating me. Four years ago I did not go to a gym or have any regular exercise routine. Now I've a full marathon in the books (pun intended) along with several half marathons. Does this make me special or better? No, it doesn't. I simply wish to share that a few years ago I was struck in a loop and couldn't find out how to break out of my shell to actually do the work to make my books come to be. Start small. Walk around the block a couple of times during the week, try jogging or take a yoga class. Add regular exercises to your weekly schedule and not only will you be more creative, but it'll be healthy for you.

You Can Do It

My story is not unique. If you dream that you can write a book, then you can. By following these tips, you can achieve your goal. But beware of the traps:

  • Television (cut a few shows out and there's your extra time!)
  • Dreaded alarm clock (find what works for you: Getting up early or staying up late).
  • It's too hard and you give up (give yourself three weeks to stick at your schedule. Habits take 3-4 weeks to form.)
  • "I'm a nobody. Who will want to hear what I have to say?" (Get up, right now! Look at yourself in the mirror and say outloud: "I know I can write this book. I believe in myself. I love myself." Sound dumb? You'll be surprised with how this mantra works. Don't give up.)

There will be all sorts of reasons why you will want to give up. I took a month off while writing Lost but I got back to it. What I realized in writing Stolen is that I simply needed to push through and stick to my writing goals. The work is hard, sacrifices will need to be made, but, in the end, you will have achieved your goal. If you truly want to be a novelist, I believe my suggestions will help you make it to the finish line. Remember, there is no secret formula because it's a lot of hard work. When you start the book you're one way, but when you've finished, well, you will have blossomed into someone new and different. Don't believe me? Then why don't you try? Come on, if I can do it, so can you!