Sometimes, it’s important to put your blog aside and everything else, including email, and make some serious time for your novel. That’s exactly what I did, and in less than four months, from mid-January to end of April, I edited, revised and rewrote 1,140 pages of three novels, while teaching full time and marking papers for 155 students. Okay, it was a bit insane, but I did prove to myself that it can be done, and it doesn’t require abandoning my family or going without food or sleep. Even if I only got through one of those novels, I would have felt great, a step closer to my goal!
It all begins with desire. I was tired of making excuses for not writing my novel. I started to sound too much like every other writer I’ve ever met who has a novel somewhere in progress or on the backburner or plan to write when they have more time. So instead of waiting for some black hole of time to magically appear, I decided to carve out a little time, at least one hour a day during the week on nothing but the novel, which I quickly upped to two hours.
An hour a day can go a long way, but if you think you can make up for a lost hour by writing two hours the next day, what happens instead, those missed hours start to snowball and before you know it, you’re so far behind in hours that first week you give up!
To be honest, I didn’t know if I could rewrite all three novels or not, since two of those novels I hadn’t really touched in five or six years and had tried to do so on several occasions. One of those novels, set in Penang, also would require a major rewriting since I was contemplating changing it from third person past to first person present.
But it’s that everyday consistency, the momentum of working your way through a book that gets the book written. Yeah, it can be slow going at first, but soon you get caught up in the story, and you start squeezing in extra minutes here and there, an occasionally staying up (or getting up early) to add an extra hour. Once that momentum kicks in, you become unstoppable. And then when you close to a deadline, I was amazed by how disciplined I could become! I would wake up in the middle of the night to squeeze in a couple more hours, and then get up at five in the morning.
Again it’s hard to call yourself a novelist without a published novel, and that won’t happen unless you’re willing to work on it, day in and day out. I know this. It was a matter of doing! Tired of making excuses, I decided in January to made 2009 my year of the novel. For an extra incentive, I added a contest deadline, April 30th to ensure that it does happen. I was determined to enter all three novels into Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Competition. Last year one of them, The Lonely Affair of Jonathan Brady, was in the “almost finalist” category.
To get the momentum going, I once again set my sights on the James Jones First Novel Fellowship on March 1st since it only required the first 50 pages (plus the next 50 if you make it to the finals). And I knew I could manage that. So I entered all three, plus a fourth that’s I’ve been working, also set in Penang, which I also entered in the Faulkner novel-in-progress category last year and again this year, after another thorough edit.
Those small increments of time during the week, an extra half hour here and there added up. More importantly it gave me momentum heading into the weekends, when I really poured in the hours!
I was truly amazed with the results. It can be done! The key is to get started! Then don’t focus your attention on the whole book (or on all three books in my case), just on the beginning and take it a paragraph, a page, a chapter at a time, and slowly though surely, you’ll have it completed. It’s like trying to lose weight. If you focus on the 50 kilos you want to lose, it’s seems overwhelming, but if you focus on losing two kilos, now that seems manageable. Then once you lose two kilos, you focus on losing another two kilos. Keep that up and those fifty kilos will be gone. This also applies to big projects, whereby you break it down to manageable parts.
Before you do anything though, make a commitment to yourself that you will in fact do this. I did! No commitment, you’ll back off at the first sign of trouble. (I had plenty of unplanned interruptions, including two hijacked weekends that I couldn’t get out of and a conference in Penang, but still managed to work in plenty of editing.) Then once you make that commitment, you must follow through with action every day. Soon, writing or rewriting the novel becomes a habit and that’s exactly where you want to be.
I wrote in the morning and in the evening before I checked email, and even those emails I wanted to reply, I had to remind myself, where are my priorities? If I can keep it short and get back to the novel, do so, but if time didn’t permit both, I wrote.
Remember, authors write books all the time, so why can’t you? Why can’t I? It’s a matter of choice, how we choose to spend our time. Emailing or writing? Watching TV or writing? Reading the newspaper or, you guessed it. Writing.
“In the beginning was the Word…” it states in the Bible. So let’s make them your words that you plan to write in your own books. It all begins with you. So what are you waiting for? Got twenty minutes before that start of your favorite TV program or after you put the kids asleep, turn on your computer, bypass Facebook and Email, and start writing! You’ll be glad you did, especially if it’s that much-talked about novel you’ve always wanted to write!
Besides, haven’t you been talking about this for how many years? Well here’s your chance. “Saying is one thing and doing is another,” Montaigne wrote a couple of hundred years ago. Things haven’t changed all that much. People are also talking about writing their novels. Well, stop talking, and start writing. That’s exactly what I did and looks at the results of this year so far. In the first four months, I rewrote not one, but three novels and entered them into at least two novel contests, and my reward? Other than the satisfaction that I pulled off my goal which takes me even closer to my bigger goal of being a novelist, I also managed to sell a short story to Descant (Canada) as a bonus.
--Borneo Expat Writer
* Here's an update, showing that all this has begun to pay off, after rewriting those novels again in 2011.
*Update: The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady just advanced to the Quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012! In 2010, an earlier version of The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady made it to Round Two (another novel made it in 2011).
**Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.