Big Steps, Little Steps

I just started jogging again after a six-month hiatus. It is hard — I’m starting from scratch all over again, with only the vague memory that I was once able to do this. As with everything, though, the more I do it, the easier it gets.

It’s like writing. I need to make some changes to my latest novel. I know if I commit to doing a little bit each day, it will get done pretty easily. However, sometimes just getting started is the biggest battle.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain

I read an interesting article on Oprah.com about the fastest way to make real change. One of the secrets is “to think smaller than small.” Don’t plan to jog around the block — just put your running shoes on every morning for five days straight. Don’t floss your teeth — just floss one tooth. The idea is that the one small step is not daunting, making it easier to take the next step.

I already floss my teeth, and I’ve already started jogging, so maybe I’ll try this approach with my novel. I’ll open a new Word document and just stare at the blank page….

I’ll let you know what happens.

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Competitors or Comrades?

I visited Maeve Binchy’s website the other day. I was looking to contact authors for an endorsement for my new book. I knew it was a shot in the dark with big-name authors like Binchy, but I thought, what the heck. I was surprised and dismayed to see this note on her Contact page:

Do remember, those of you who are writers too, that I’m in competition with you; so please don’t send me your manuscripts – send them to publishers instead.

While I completely understand that many authors may not have the time or interest to help other writers, I was surprised to see her note about being in competition with other writers. Am I the only one who thinks this is the wrong approach?

I have always viewed fellow writers as comrades – not competitors. When I meet a successful author, I don’t think, “You took my spot!” Or, when I meet children who love writing, I don’t think, “Hey kid, you might take my job one day!” 🙂

Writing is a lonely enough occupation – why view all those doing the same thing as competitors? Sure, there are a limited number of spots for authors in the renowned publishing houses, but there is room in this world for all writers.

 

 

 

How to Write a Novel

People have asked me, “Where do you get the ideas for a novel?”

I don’t know where the ideas come from, but they usually start with a bolt of inspiration. An idea will pop into my head, and I’m suddenly compelled to write – even if it happens to be 3:00 in the morning.

I know things are going well when I’m in “the zone.” This is the place where I lose track of time. I could sit down to write, with the intention of writing for half an hour, but the words just flow, and the next time I glance at the clock, several hours may have passed.

Being in the zone can happen to anyone who is doing what he or she loves – like my father who has a hobby refinishing antiques and renovating houses. He’ll work for hours on end, forgetting to eat. You know he’s working on one of his projects when he gets very thin.

The other question I often get is, “How do you find the discipline to finish a novel?”

Some people like starting things. I like finishing things. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

I’m not one of those disciplined writers who sits down every day at the same time for one hour, or whatever the specified timeframe, to work on my novel. Some authors recommend this approach, but it has never worked for me. I write when the inspiration strikes.

It helps that I love creative writing. I have been writing fiction since I could hold a pencil. By age nine, inspired by Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, I had written a whole series of mystery novels about a young female detective named Mary Birks.

As a kid, I’d spend my summers typing up my Mary Birks stories on my old manual typewriter. (You remember those typewriters where your fingers got stuck between the keys?) Then my mother bought an electric typewriter. Typing on that electric typewriter was a dream – my favourite feature the back-space white-out button.

While other kids were playing sports, attending camp, or doing whatever kids do during summer vacation, I was writing stories. No one told me to do it, and I never felt compelled to finish my books. In fact, there were a few stories that I never completed. The end result – finishing the novel – was never forefront in my mind.

I loved the process. I still do.

Maybe there is no greater secret to finishing a novel than that.