I'm a pretty young writer, so I have very little experience in this field. I enjoy writing, but I have a lot of trouble putting all my ideas on paper... It's a bit frustrating... XD So... How do you get a novel going? What steps do you take to put those first words onto paper? Thanks!! –KATY
It sounds simple-minded, but if you're feeling really intimidated, you start with lists. Character names. Events. Places. Over a period of many years, I've learned that I have to work from an outline; not all writers do, but I do. It's not an elaborate outline, and it changes along the way, but it lays out a sequence of events for my characters, lists character names, includes some details I want to incorporate, etc.
The biggest challenge for any beginning novelist is simply the time it takes, which intimidates most people. But no one sits down and cranks out 90,000 words at once; you do it 1,000 words at a time, or even 500 words at a time. If you can write a page a day, you can finish a book in a year.
For me, the first words of any new book come from a "What if?" question. What if a mid-level marketing guy started taking those "business is war" books a little too seriously? What if a group of criminals took a company's whole leadership structure hostage? How might an ex-Special Forces operative put his devious talents to use in the business world?
Keep a notebook or one of those small digital recorders close by, and write things down as they occur to you. Not every idea will pay off, but you'll always have a reserve to go back to.
And finally, the most important weapon you can have to combat the fear of the blank computer screen is what I call the crappy draft. (Well, I use stronger language than that….) You have to allow yourself to just write something, anything, to write a draft that’s bad in a lot of ways. Tell yourself this is the crappy draft and don’t worry about it. You’ll fix it later. Otherwise, if you’re too much of a perfectionist, you’ll never get a word down.
Could you tell us a little bit about how your first novel got published? Was it a struggle to find an agent? Did you do a lot of rewrites and revisions? –MATT
I had written a nonfiction book about Dr. Armand Hammer that drew a great deal of attention — mainly from Dr. Hammer, who wanted to make sure that no one ever read it. But what I really wanted to do was to write a novel. I was intimidated by fiction, though, and it took me years to decide to try it. I gave myself a deadline of three years to write it and find an agent, and I sold the book just weeks before that self-imposed deadline expired.
Finding an agent was a challenge. It's tough for everyone, and although I knew some people in the business, it was tough for me as well. Especially for fiction it’s hard to find the right agent, because so many of them aren’t willing to actually read past the flaws and figure out how to fix a beginner’s manuscript. That takes an agent who’s both skilled and motivated. The agent who finally did take me on told me that the first 55 pages of my manuscript needed to go; he was only willing to represent the book because he'd managed to make it past the book's long, needlessly expository opening section. I looked at the manuscript again, and realized he was right
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Joseph Finder is a bestselling thriller author and hailed as the “CEO of Suspense,” has published nine novels including the bestselling High Crimes which was turned into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. He has recently sold two more bestselling novels to Hollywood and his latest thriller, Vanished, landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Vanished, published in August 2009, is the first book in a continuing series featuring corporate security specialist Nick Heller.