For the Next Time I Start Writing a New Novel

Dear Jackie,

By the time you start writing your next novel, you will have forgotten a few things, and in those moments, I hope you’ll come back to this post and be reminded.

* Writing a novel is hard.  The beginning stages kind of suck.  You barely know your characters until you’ve written the whole first draft, and so for a couple months, you’re essentially writing blind.  You forget that.  In those difficult days of editing, you think longingly of the “carefree” days of freewriting, having forgotten that you felt completely lost and simultaneously terrified that you were wasting your time.

* This is just what it is like at the start of a new novel.  You feel lost and lonely, and every scene feels stilted and confused.  You haven’t yet figured out your character’s deep-seated desires, let alone their surface ones, and you certainly aren’t aware of their secrets and many of their motivations.  You will.  You just need to spend time with them.  That’s how you get to know any new friend.

* It all seems so touch-and-go at the start.  You feel sort of committed to your idea, kind of committed to the characters.  Everything seems masterful in your head, and then the moment you start to type it out, it feels thin and aimless.  That’s because it is thin and aimless– for now— but that is just what it’s like at the start of a new novel.  At least for you.

* One thousand words each day will get you one thousand words a day closer to a completed first draft.  And when you force yourself to show up and sit down, your characters will show up too, and that’s essentially the only way you’re going to get them to spill their guts to you.  So keep showing up.

* First drafts are meant to be terrible.

* You don’t see most writers’ first drafts, just like most people won’t see yours.  So calm down.

* Remember that E.L. Doctorow quote?  “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  Those are someone else’s words explaining your experience, because, really, it’s quite universal.  Remember that.

* Sometimes you’ll go down rabbit holes that lead nowhere.  Even if there aren’t novels down there, there are still lessons.

* Pumps need to be primed.

* Quit complaining to everyone and go write one thousand more words.


Jackie Lea, who is fumbling in the darkness of the beginnings of a first draft and wanted to remind future Jackie Lea of what it is like