Ties that Bind: How friends challenged me to write a (better) novel

knot on fingerBless their hearts. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

My dear friend, Joan, challenged me to write a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  While Joan was a NaNoWriMo veteran, I was a virgin. Why not? I was retired now and I’d had this story of love and friendship (inspired by a few real events) rolling around in my head for years. So I rolled up my sleeves, stocked up on coffee and chocolate, and spent the month of November tapping out 70K words. Sure, it was a little rough in spots and probably had a few gaps in the plot. Nevertheless, I believed I could get it into shape during the following year. 

That was in 2008.

Cue the deep, resonant voice of an omniscient narrator: “Little did she know…”

Soon afterward, I ran into another friend, the legendary Western Nevada College writing teacher, Marilee Swirzcek. She was enthusiastic about my accomplishment and invited me to join the local critique group that she had founded. Advice from Marilee and other writers? Sure. Sign me up!

The founder of Lone Mountain Writers, Marilee Swirzcek

I attended a few meetings of the Lone Mountain Writers and critiqued pieces in a surprising variety of genres. Romance. Horror. Memoir. Fantasy. Christian Fiction. Sci-Fi. They all had one thing in common, though: excellent writing. I knew I needed to up my game.

Months went by as I continued to polish my first fifteen pages. I was sure the group would be awed by my as yet untapped literary genius.

Here’s what I heard instead:

  • Beautiful writing, but where’s the story?”
  • “What does your protagonist want and what are the stakes?”
  • “Where is the conflict, the drama?
  • “Who is the POV character? And why does it seem to switch in the middle of this paragraph?

Gulp. While I had read a literal ton of books and had written opinion pieces for the local newspaper for a decade, it appeared I knew nothing about writing fiction. Nothing. I could certainly recognize a compelling story, but did not know how to create it. Yet.

Fortunately, the group included several English professors who could offer both criticism and encouragement in equal measure. The group has been discerning and honest and, more importantly, patient.

They have now read most of my 111K manuscript—twice. Last week, I printed a hard copy of it (300+ pages, double-sided, spiral-bound, $40 at the UPS Store, BTW) with the intent of doing a whole read-through and edit while on a long ocean voyage (18 days, Sydney to Honolulu) this month. Yes, my highlighters, sticky notes, and flash drive are already packed.

What I hope to do here is to document the next few stages of the process. You know, recruiting a few beta readers and doing a final edit—if there is such a thing. I’ll also be choosing how to publish. Shall I try to find a traditional agent and publisher or self-publish? Only e-books or hard copies too? And with whom? If this is to be a DIY project, then the issues of learning to—or paying someone to—format it and design a cover arise. Then there is promotion and, well, you get the idea. There is still a long way to go.

In addition, I’ll finally have a place to point my dear non-writer friends who keep asking when it will be done. I try to reassure them (and myself) that I don’t want to be embarrassed by something that was put out into the world before it was ready. Unfortunately, the wait has also served to raise their expectations. It seems I can’t win.

So watch this space for news of my progress. And please, if you have personal experience with any part of this, I’d appreciate you leaving a comment or link.

Now, where’s my sunscreen?

14 thoughts on “Ties that Bind: How friends challenged me to write a (better) novel

  1. You don’t realize the long process of writing and editing and rewriting and editing some more and more and more – until you write your first draft!
    I selfpublished on createspace for my paperback and Amazon for kindle. The first time I was tearing my hair out and I prolonged the second because of it. The second time was so much easier and I have found I actually like the process of formatting though I still have lots to learn. I recently formatted and published a devotional for my daughter she had written. Practice makes perfect! Good luck to you! I can’t wait to read it! ~Elle

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some of my friends think that editing and revising is only about correcting grammar and punctuation. Ha! If only…
      I’m leaning toward createspace at the moment. Thanks for responding with your experience. It’s good to know that it gets easier.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Snarky answer: because they just want to publish a book, not necessarily a good book. They don’t worry about the tedious business of getting feedback and then revising. But seriously, I think that established authors probably know what they are doing and spend job-like hours every day doing their job. I don’t. There were literally months when I didn’t look a my draft.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey Lorie–Congratulations on getting to the final stages!!! I know what you mean about that first novel’s being a tremendous learning experience! Having taught expository writing for a thousand years, I, of course, “knew it all” about writing. Then I tried writing fiction! Whole ‘nother ball of wax! As for publishing–I’d try for an agent first, then an established publishing house, and self-publishing only as a last resort. That is, if you are interested in selling. If you just want to see it in print and maybe selling a few copies, then self-publish is a good route–they help you with covers, formatting, etc–and some limited marketing techniques. Good luck–and good writing!–wilma

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh goodness, it does seem daunting doesn’t it?
    I’ve written a draft for a novel, sorta, kinda, I think? It’s written in pieces and fragments, here, there and everywhere. Some of it typed, some in longhand. The idea of putting it together in a coherent tale sounds overwhelming, but I’m not willing to give up on it. I’ll be interested in following your process! Good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know the feeling. Mine existed in bits and pieces for years and has changed a great deal in the process of becoming something readable. At least I hope it’s readable. I called it Draft 2.n for the last few years. Now it’s Draft 3.0. Never say die!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on your progress and courage, Lorie. It was timely for me to read this because I have been thinking about trying fiction, a new world for me.Just last week I decided to take a week off in May and do nothing but formalize the ideas I have been considering and give fiction-writing a rudimentary go, trying to accomplish a few pages. So I will follow your progress closely as I begin to struggle, because reading this has motivated me and informed me. I know you worked at being an excellent teacher and succeeded brilliantly, so I’ve no doubt you can write a novel people will want to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I was lucky to have had some excellent role models, including you! I hope you’re right about people wanting to read my book. You are so planful in the way you approach things, I’m sure you’ll do the same with writing fiction. Some people are successful outliners. I wrote by the seat of my pants, collecting little sticky notes with scenes I wanted to write and ended up with a bunch of really good scenes that simply don’t fit the narrative I’ve finally been able to discern. I’ve killed many of my darlings. Take care.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Well, as I have issues with my own editing process (i.e., sometimes I’m not very good at it, as you very graciously and correctly hinted at when you reviewed my first book), perhaps I am not the best person to offer advice on the final stages of writing a book. However, I keep trying to better myself, and the one exercise that seems to help the most is this: As you review each scene or transition, think of a random reader opening your book to this very scene, not having read anything else. Does the scene itself tell a story, one that would keep the reader going even without the benefit of “knowing” what has transpired before that? The reader doesn’t have to comprehend the overall arc, but they should be able to understand the specific plot element that is being shared despite not being aware of how that element fits in the big picture.

    Now, shoving aside my fumbling attempt at offering insight on the revision process, I can say with much more confidence that I’ve gotten fairly savvy with the self-publishing process on Amazon. If at some point you are contemplating using Amazon as one of your publishing options, I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Please feel free to reach out…

    Liked by 1 person

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