Novel Ideas: #1 “Start Writing”

Those first words are critical, aren’t they? (Hell, I tried and tossed a dozen different sentences to start this post!}

Writing is a JourneyThe writing is easy enough. Describe a character. Outline the plot. Picture a setting with vivid details. Blow up a building.

Simple, huh?

There’s a difference, though, between driving around the neighborhood admiring the scenery — and setting out upon a Journey.

Have you ever taken one of those great drives? The kind where you lock up the house, pack a change of clothes, grab your Visa card or some cash, and GO.

North? Southwest? Down East? Doesn’t matter: It’s a Journey, capital J. Destination indefinite. Here’s your car, there’s a road, and everything else is “out there.” My mom loved those kinds of drives. Head out Saturday and come home Sunday.

Starting a novel is a lot like that, only scarier, mostly because of the distance.

How many novels have you started, but never finished? (“I refuse to answer on the grounds…”)

“I’ll write about 8 pages a day. That should do it.”

Want to know a secret?

Any successful novelist will tell you: “Set smaller goals.

Here’s what my mom used to say: “Let’s find a nice diner for breakfast.” A small goal for the start of an all-day trip to … hmm, where? Well, to lunch after that, of course! “Keep going west. No, not on the Thruway, silly. Take the back roads.” Dinner and a motel would eventually follow.

Man, I loved those trips. Still do; still take ’em, even though Mom’s been gone for more than fifteen years.

Want to churn out a 100,000-word novel? Start small, with a sense of adventure.

“I’ll finish Page One, and live with it until I finish Chapter One.” And so on.

The late, great author Robert B. Parker (1932-2010: the Spenser for Hire series and much more), started out each workday with a goal. It was a simple goal: 6, 7, or 8 pages — depending. Never less than 6, nor more than 8. Once he’d met that goal, he was free to go back and edit/revise/slash/proofread, or mow the lawn. Whatever.

Parker wrote SEVENTY novels, no less than four series, spawned television shows and movies, and created a legacy so powerful that his work continues today under license by writers Brandman and Coleman.

“I’ll write about 8 pages a day. That should do it.” Yes, indeed.

Start writing. Set smaller goals.

And let The Journey begin. (And if your mom is still alive, give her a hug while you still can, okay?)


questionDo you have advice for getting started? This is the first in a series. I’d love to hear from you on this and related Novel Ideas.  Share your ideas in Comments, just below.

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Comments

  1. Well done, Jim, GREAT article. GREAT advice. It only takes a small step to get in motion. I’d be delighted with 6 or 8 pages a day. Sometimes I may write only a sentence or two. Now if I can keep on moving down farther and faster along that blueprint set up here…. “:)

    • I know from experience that you don’t have a bit of trouble “starting,” Raymond. You might, however, need a push to get some of those works-in-progress to the finish line. Knowing how well “Fires of Waterland” turned out, I can’t wait to read your next full novel.

  2. It’s mostly that pesky “making a living thing” that gets in the way of writing whatever goal you set. 4-5 pages is easy if you have the time–something I rarely have– and inspiration–something I rarely lack. One day…one day…

    • YOU are an inspiration, Glory!
      I love the example you set for the rest of us. How many chapters in “Violet” now, 200? But yes, Time is the critical element for all of us. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. The “how many novels” question:
    One. Only one have I begun in earnest, and have several chapters completed, but really concentrate on my non-fiction writing most of the time.
    However, I am also writing a book called: 500 First Pages, for which I’ve written many, about 20, so far, I could write first pages all day long. Ha.
    Love this series and love finding it here!

    • I love your “first pages” idea, Katharine — even if you’re not serious. IMHO, first pages can be extremely tricky, depending upon your approach.
      Tell us a bit about your lone novel?

      • It’s about a guy I only heard about, through friends. He was not extremely literate so could never tell his own story of living with a husband abuser. However, he’s passed on, now, so I could never really tell it factually, either,as in interviewing him or anything, so I’m making it up. 😉
        (I’ll change his name!)
        He was a nobody, but he lived a life and I hope to make it interesting someday. I do have a few of the bare facts, and a pretty good imagination… haha…

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