Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to write a novel

I spent the long weekend working on my novel. It was very productive. I did some editing and some writing.

My novel is about a federal agent searching for a missing porn star.

Here's what I learned:

1. Make It Funny. Every time I start feeling unsure about a certain part of the novel, I add details to make it funny in some way. Novel writing is not serious business. It's entertainment. If you aren't entertained, no one else will be.

2. Brick by Brick. Novels are hard to write because they are long endeavors. Unless you are smoking crack, in which case you are too busy seeking out boulder holders to write well. My novel is broken down into a great many smaller pieces. If I think of each piece as a work unto itself that can be polished to a high literary sheen, it makes the entire task seem more accomplishable.

3. Demand the Time. It helps if you can get uninterrupted time to focus solely on the other world in which your plot is taking place. This is difficult in today's world of small children, email, Twitter, Facebook, and BuzzFeed. I think it is the single most valuable thing you can do for yourself in this process. Part of getting there is feeling like you deserve to take it. (See #4.)

4. Get Help. For me, this involves various close friends, a shrink, an acupuncturist, and yoga. Someone recently told me that if you are flexible in yoga, you are flexible in all things. This is true. Sometimes it can seem like writing a novel is becoming skilled at banging your head against a wall. Having a flexible neck makes that less painful.

5. Eat Right. I have been sick with three different things in the last month that I'm sure you have no interest in hearing about, but a week or so ago, my acupuncturist put me on a diet. The diet involves no sugar, not even fruit, which I am pretty sure constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and no carbs of any sort, but you can eat a lot of cooked vegetables, legumes, and white meat and fish, which sounds fine, but after a week makes you want to eat 17 cupcakes as fast as you can. This diet isn't to lose weight, but one benefit is that it makes you feel less insane. (See #6.)

6. Don't Be Insane. A lot of people spend time lionizing the nutjobiness of literary writers. Well, it's all well and good when it's not you, but the sad fact is that being wack doesn't make you a better writer, not over the long haul. It just makes you crazy. It's better if you try and be sane, rather than insane. Take it from me.

7. Enjoy the Process. That's one of those stupid phrases that people say to you, and then you try and stab them. Or at least that's how I feel about it. But somewhere, I can't remember where now, I read something that was like, stop trying to finish X and start trying to enjoy X, and while I am embarrassed to even write "enjoy the process," it is probably true. Because I have found it to be true. Every time I forget about getting to the end and just wade into the quicksand, I'm like, "Hey, this isn't quicksand -- this is a giant vat of frosting!" And then things get better.