Writing a Novel is a Marathon - Not a Sprint
Let me tell you about writing a novel. It is long, arduous, and full of pain-staking decisions and lip-biting. And if that weren't daunting enough, let us not forget that novels are written and rewritten and rewritten.
There are those who write the first sentence, first paragraph, or maybe get as far as the end of the first chapter, then quit. I would encourage anyone interested in undertaking such a supreme challenge to move forward. ALWAYS move forward. It’s a show of progress. There is something psychologically satisfying about saying I did something. There are countless writers out there who have written full manuscripts that will never see the light of day. That's alright because they accomplished something that is extremely difficult to do. They ran the marathon, and that's all that matters.
When we train, we perform repetitive actions, or reps, to get the most out of the workout. It involves the same monotonous motion until we complete a set. We do this over and over and over again. Workouts add muscle mass, which is the antithesis of a marathoner. Marathoners are lithe, sleek, quick cardio machines. They are always moving forward, changing course, then sprinting ahead in a new direction. Writers, too often, take the Schwarzenegger approach. They fall back on editing, rewriting, and, tragically, scrapping their project. All this serves to do is inject the soul with poison. There is no feeling of accomplishment.
The “workout” approach might be best suited if you were educating yourself or others, testing techniques, or visually working out some problem. However, once you hit the pavement and that first word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter are written, you need to keep moving forward and finish the race.
Me, personally, I have written 2.5 novels. During the first novel, I made the mistake of rewriting it 11 times while I was writing it. It’s around 360 pages of craptastic. It isn’t even close to completion, but it was my first real lesson in writing, something I picked up later from other masters of the craft. Whilst it is a good story with bad writing and worse technique, it deserves a second chance at some point.
My second novel, which introduces my 11:34 series, is finished and undergoing its 3rd major edit. It is polished – “lithe, sleek, and quick cardio” – and almost ready to be peddled for publication. I wrote this novel with the mindset of getting the first draft written and out of the way – regardless of the state of the prose. Afterwards, I stepped away for a few weeks to work on another project before evaluating it. This allowed me to detach myself from the work, to free my mind. After you run a marathon, you want to walk it off and rest up for the next race. This enabled me to look at the first draft in a surreal sense, like having a different set of eyes reviewing, editing, and rewriting. This was a time I became critical of my work. Never did I criticize my effort while writing the first draft.
You can say what you want about us all finding success through a variety of tools and techniques, being unique in our production. The one thing that seems to resonate among all successful writers is that they remain disciplined to their craft. They don’t ever quit. Even on the dark and gloomy days, they lean into the storm and drive forward. Always forward.
Thus, my advice to you, aspiring author, is to forget chapter 1 after you've written it. Begin writing chapter 2. Then chapter 3. After completing your first draft, look upon it wearing a critic’s mask. You may find you were right all along, that the first chapter was perfect. Or, you may find you need to improve it to help set up the rest of the story. But you won’t know that until you finish it.