Only those people who have made the attempt truly know the challenges of writing a novel, especially since so many doubts and frustrations can come along to derail a person’s creative drive. Yet the utter joy and satisfaction of completing a book is beyond compare, so for anyone who aspires to become an author, I want to inspire you by sharing my own experiences and advice. Because it always helps to know you’re not alone with the struggles and uncertainty you might be facing.
When I began to write my debut novel, Below, I was actually a professional accountant who could boast over three hundred keystrokes a minute on my adding machine. I spoke a specialized language of debits and credits as I spent my days preparing budgets, journal entries, account reconciliations and bank reports.
While these were definitely great skills to have—all supported by the left side of my brain—it was my mind’s right hemisphere that eventually demanded attention. It was bursting with a book idea that had been brewing in my head for a very long time.
As soon as I strung those first few words together for the opening sentence of Below, I knew I had found the artistic outlet I’d been craving. My love of literature from childhood became a passion for expressing myself through writing, and my enthusiasm spurred my every effort, whether it was nurturing my imagination, learning everything I could about the structure of a novel, or spending the necessary time editing my manuscript.
I had only my evenings and weekends free to do all this, and after long workdays as an accountant, it sometimes proved difficult to come home from the office and return to the keyboard. But it never failed that I would quickly pick up the story where I had left off the day before, my thoughts drifting away to other realms as I soared through the clouds to Above or plummeted to the barren wasteland of Below.
After two years, I finally finished my manuscript. I was proud of what I had written and was sure others would enjoy reading it too. So I set the goal of getting published. Yet I realized almost immediately that the odds were against me of ever finding an agent, let alone a publisher. Submissions to a literary agency require a query letter, and I had read enough how-to books about the publishing world to know that the content of my letter absolutely had to include a bio listing my writing credentials; otherwise, I risked not being taken seriously. It was a dispiriting requirement and I was sure I was doomed. What could I possibly say about myself?
Well, I decided to keep the bio short—very short!—and to carefully construct my query letter to showcase my writing skills. Equally important, though, I focused on my story’s concept. I wanted to hook a prospective agent’s interest with the first paragraph of my letter, to get them so excited they’d leap from their desk and not even bother to read to the bottom of the page where they would discover what I lacked in experience.
My letter succeeded. In less than half an hour of sending the email, I received a response from my agent, Daniel Lazar at Writers House, asking to see the manuscript. After taking the time he needed to read through it, we soon signed a contract, and I was thrilled beyond belief. I cancelled all of my appointments for the next three weeks, certain that I’d be whisked off to New York at a moment’s notice for a whirlwind book tour. But that assumption was premature. Instead, the time had come for the real work to begin.
By this point, I had written so much about the worlds of Hokk and Elia that I had a manuscript of approximately 150,000 words. A book of this length was much too long for publication, so I had to force myself to make ruthless editing decisions in order to cut the word count in half. Of course, this was extremely difficult and very disheartening, yet the exercise proved to be a fantastic learning experience. Although I could’ve given up by being too protective of my original work, or too overwhelmed by all the extra editing, my steadfast resolve to stick with the project allowed me to hone my skills and craft a story that was the best it could be.
But how, you ask, can any of this help as you contemplate starting a novel, or debate finishing one that you’ve already begun?
Here are my Six C’s of advice which I credit for my success as an author.
#1 – Conceive
Come up with a winning idea. Admittedly, this is easy to say, yet difficult to achieve. However, take as much time as necessary to create a concept that is innovative, stimulating, relevant, and most importantly, something that you feel passionate about. You’ll know you’ve found it when it gets you jumping up from your desk with excitement. Consider topics that make you feel anger, joy, or sadness, and play these against exceptional characters or settings. Take a subject and consider it from various angles, then push the notion as far as possible to make it compelling and unique.
#2 – Commence
Putting pen to paper for the first time can be a daunting prospect. It’s easy to procrastinate or to wait for inspiration to strike. But don’t wait. Just start. Place one word after the other, no matter how painful, awkward, or uninspired it might feel. If you don’t take the first step to actually write something down or to get your thoughts into your computer, you’ll never achieve any results. And continue working once you start because I promise you the momentum will build. You’ll make progress and this, in turn, will encourage you to keep going.
#3 – Commit
For many people, free time is a luxury. But stealing an hour or two, whenever the opportunity presents itself, really adds up over the months. You’ll also find that you will carve out time in your schedule if you have a story idea that consumes your thoughts. Make a realistic plan to write regularly, and stick to that plan, regardless of your level of inspiration that particular day.
#4 – Correct
Edit, edit, edit. And when you think you are done, set your writing aside and come back to it later. And edit again. Essentially, your goal is to tell the biggest story with the fewest words. Also, be open to critiques. You don’t have to listen to everything you are told—because some of the comments will be nonsense or you’ll know they don’t apply to you—but feedback from others who you trust can really help your writing to flourish.
#5 – Connect
For all the isolated hours of deep thought and concentration required to write and edit a book, it can be challenging to always stay motivated or to feel connected with the larger literary world that’s out there. Take opportunities to join writers’ groups, workshops, book clubs and local literary events. Consider reaching out to like-minded people through social media or other online forums. You can benefit greatly by expanding your writing community.
#6 – Confidence
Above all, believe in yourself, your skills, and your concept. Believe even after those rough days when you feel too tired and frustrated to continue, or you hate everything you’ve just written. Not only will your faith in yourself inherently cause you to take the necessary steps to create a successful story, but people around you will become caught up by your confidence and enthusiasm.
Ultimately, ideas transform this world, and with so many life experiences to draw from, the possibilities are endless. I don’t doubt people who say they have a great story to tell, yet so few are able to invest the time and effort to see their visions realized. But having a concept that gives you inspiration will pull you through the rough patches, will make you commit to hard work, and allow others to see the value of your idea. Because great ideas are always worthy of being published.
Make it happen!
Jason Chabot is the author of three books in The Broken Sky Chronicles: Below, Above, and Beyond (Turner Publishing Company). He graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce with Honours degree from the University of British Columbia and became a Chartered Professional Accountant in Vancouver in 2000. He’s a tall one, reaching a height of six feet, seven inches, and besides creative writing, he enjoys playing classical piano, as well as ballroom and Latin American dancing. To learn more about Jason, please visit his website (www.JasonChabot.com) or follow him on Twitter (@JChabotAuthor).