My Guest this week has some serious advice (and a challenge) for those starting out as writers. This just may be the push you all need to finish that first novel. Ladies and Gentlemen...
Nathan A. Goodman
I don’t believe in luck
You still haven’t started writing that novel, have you? Surveys tell us that 80% of people just like you and I state that they want to write a book, yet only 1% ever do so. Why is that? If you are reading this article, my bet is that you haven’t started writing that novel yet. For each of us, the journey is a little different. Let me tell you about my own journey. Perhaps it doesn’t sound so different from your own.
In 1992, I sat down and wrote a page of text. It was something that just spilled out of me, as if someone had begun to pour a glass of milk that overflowed the rim. I didn’t have control over the words spilling out, they just came. It was only a single page of text, but to this day, it is the single best thing I’ve ever written. Some of you reading this are scoffing right now. I can hear you. You’re saying, “Yeah, that’s great for him. He’s got words pouring onto the page, and I can’t think of how I’d even start to write.” And that may be true. With those first words, I was lucky. But those of us who believe we are lucky are actually the same people who make their own luck. I don’t believe in luck. I believe we are given a set of circumstances which surround us, and the “lucky” ones are the ones who take those circumstances and make something out of them. We forge our own way. In short, we decide. We decide to write. We decide to take action. We make our own luck.
But how do you start? I didn’t know how to write a novel back then. I did know that I had enough creativity inside me to write, but I had no idea what to do next. To me, it felt like wanting to build a house with no help, and I didn’t even know how to create a set of blueprints. Fortunately, others have gone before us and written novels, and you can too. Enter a book written by the author Stephen King. This book was not another novel, this book was written for budding authors. In it King revealed the way he writes. He’s written books for decades, and his method of writing does not change. Once I learned how he does it, I was hooked. It was like I had suddenly found the key to what was locked inside me. I knew how to get it out. And, I felt so much freedom in what King was telling me to do, I felt unencumbered from any need to delay.
'On Writing' (Amazon Link) revealed the most simplistic of approaches to writing a novel. No outlines, no character studies, no research. In fact, no organization at all. So how does King do it? First, he sits down and thinks up a question. The question you think up will end up being the basis of your entire novel.
Here’s an example. ”I wonder what would happen if a struggling, alcoholic writer (both these things described King at the time), were to take his family and become the winter caretakers of an old hotel during the isolated winter months. Oh, by the way, the hotel is haunted.” That question became the entire novel, 'The Shining'. Here’s an example question I created for my bestselling thriller, 'The Fourteenth Protocol'. “What if the CIA, in an effort to break a terror cell, followed the playbook that the Drug Enforcement Administration uses when breaking up a huge drug ring?” You see, the way the DEA conducts investigations is that they first make drug purchases from low level dealers. Then they make larger and larger purchases as they climb higher into the drug organization, until finally, they arrest everyone involved. So what would happen if the CIA started actually funding a terrorist organization with the same goal in mind?
When I asked myself this question, I didn’t know the answer. But following Stephen
lead, I just began to write. I created a character and put him into the midst
of this situation. Once I understood, I was free to just start writing. I
didn’t have to plan everything. I didn’t have to map the story out. I didn’t
have to think up each character and create a full personality profile and
background on them. In fact, by creating a story this way (unplanned), I came
out with a much better novel. Why did this method produce a much better novel?
Because planning a story before you write it hamstrings the story. It boxes it
into a set of parameters. If instead, you let it be unscripted, you have no
idea where the story will go, and you’ll uncover amazing new thoughts and
twists along the way.
Whatever became of the one page of text I wrote back in 1992? It became the novel 'Twinkle', which was probably the most satisfying thing I’ve ever written. Now it’s your turn. I want you to take this one action item, right now, before you get back to email, raising kids, cooking dinner, or getting into traffic during your commute home from work. Go buy a copy of 'On Writing' by Stephen King. You never know just where it will lead you.
There is a novel inside you. It’s your job to get it out.
This could be the beginning of something amazing.
Nathan A. Goodman is the bestselling author of 'The Fourteenth Protocol', a runaway thriller with over 150 reviews. For a limited time, receive a free copy at bit.ly/1QI4sMv.
When Nathan is not writing action-packed thrillers he can be found here:
Thanks, Nathan, for sharing this invaluable advice. I've read 'The Fourteenth Protocol' and recommend it; it's a masterful page-turner!
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com