The folks at writer’s website Now Novel recently polled their readers about the biggest roadblocks to completing a novel. The most common responses included motivation, starting, persevering, keeping focus and finding time to write.
“I’d have to agree that these are important, as well as having structure to guide you along the way,” says site co-founder Bridget Anne McNulty.
The published author, magazine editor, features editor and blogger (hey, most writers wear a few hats) recently checked in with us to share her insight on how to write a novel. Here’s what she had to say:
What’s your background in writing and publishing?
I’m a published author and have worked extensively in print and digital media as a writer and editor. Upon finishing my schooling, I won a scholarship to study creative writing at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My first novel, Strange Nervous Laughter, was published in South Africa and the USA in 2007. In addition to co-founding Now Novel with my brother Brendan and also mentoring writers, I founded a local health and lifestyle magazine for diabetics in 2011 called Sweet Life.
What writers/authors do you most look up to? How do they inspire you?
I think Nick Hornby has an amazing style that seems so natural and easy but is actually profound. I love Donna Tartt’s multi-layered storytelling, and Bryce Courtenay has always impressed me with his prolific and heartfelt characters.
Why should we just write that novel in our heads already?
Writing is so many things: a means for sharing with others on an intimate, potentially life-changing level, an often cathartic source of self-discovery, a free ticket to destinations you might never have the opportunity to visit in real life, a chance to create the people and situations you’d love to meet and experience … I could go on. Writing a novel is a big undertaking, but persevering and telling your story brings the reward of a great sense of achievement – and the joy of seeing others respond to and engage with your creative work.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I love the first draft – the pure creation and spilling out of ideas and characters onto the page.
Where should we start when writing a novel?
Outlining your novel is something not all writers do, but it’s really helpful in my experience to have a clear but flexible shape for your story before you begin. Knowing what you want to say and having a sense of how you might say it beforehand helps avoid reaching a point where you feel stuck and are left asking “now what?”
What are the biggest killers to creativity or momentum in this process?
Perfectionism is a creativity- and motivation-killer. If you are constantly tearing down your own work and holding yourself to impossibly high standards, writing becomes more and more of a frustrating process. That’s why I advise writers to write the worst possible first draft they can, purposefully. Often there are patches of brilliance that come out of this, and you can always edit a bad page.
Another killer is distraction. As creative people, we often have multiple ideas simultaneously, and the temptation to abandon one story idea for another when things get tough is tempting. Don’t do it!
What have you found that helps you stay motivated during the writing process?
Having contact with other writers whose perspectives are fresh is important. That’s why I love writing groups. I also find scheduling my writing time strictly and breaking the task into manageable chunks (such as writing one scene or even one page per session) makes the task less daunting.
What are your favorite books, articles, blogs, etc. about writing and the writing process?
There are so many. Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott is my favorite. On Writing by Stephen King has some sage words. I won’t plug my own book on the subject, but I think it holds its own alongside several other useful manuals.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring novel writers?
Make time and create structure that will allow you to finish writing your book. Read as widely and as attentively as possible, and try to assimilate the best parts of your favorite writers (it might be a verve for description or sentence structure) into your own writing. If you need help from a writing coach or the support structure of a writing group, do it.
Finish that novel? Start creating your book.