There’s only one way, and that’s to begin. As my friend and mentor John Dufresne always says, “First rule of writing: sit your ass in the chair.”
Perhaps its the famous story of the writer Red Smith that tells it best:
Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. “Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
Something similar has been attributed to many great writers including Wolfe and Hemingway. In other words, there just ain’t an easy way to do it, but to do it. Put black ink on white paper. So now that that’s settled. Here’s how I did it.
It took me at least five years to complete my first novel, Lemon Blossoms, set in Sicily, and about seven years to write my second one, The Secret Language of Women, set in China. I did a great deal of revising. Then I switched the order of these two novels and decided to write a third one to craft them into the Wayfarer Trilogy.
The third book of the trilogy is In America. Guess where the setting is? This novel took me only one year.
How did I accomplish this? Easy.
I never thought I’d say that, let alone write it on paper for somebody to actually read. I always marveled at how some authors produce a book a year. Now I’ve learned that it’s possible, and requires not just skill, but sacrifice and persistence.
I was under contract with Turner Publishing and my editor expected the finished novel at the end of November 2015. I delivered! Determination plays a great part in getting the job done.
If you don’t have those requisites, invent them. Tell yourself you’re going to have a publisher, an agent, an editor, and set a date for yourself. Write it on paper and make it come true. If I can do it, so can you.
I began by talking about the story—not even. I started by thinking about what I could possibly write, and sent notes to the acquiring editor, who had already agreed to the first two books, but she wanted to see more of the development of Book # 3— more and more. Finally, I wrote a three and a half page “treatment,” which is what I called it for lack of a better word—it’s not an outline, because I don’t know how to write an outline, never wrote one and probably would feel like being locked in a prison cell if I ever had to write one.
I let this “treatment” sit overnight, and the next day, I refined it as much as I could, and it ended up being four pages. I sent it off, and lo and behold, she liked it. It was do or die. With this sketch or skeleton to enhance, I could add flesh to design and form a story into a novel.
I started with a collection of things I thought might be good additions for this novel.
I culled from the following: the Great Depression and the 1930s, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade; the Easter Parade; the year the first spruce went up in Rockefeller Plaza; notes on Camp Isida; a letter from my mother to my father in 1931; buildings being erected in the 1930s; names of bicycles; a list of popular words; dances, songs, movies of the era; etc. You get the picture. All of these things would play a part in the construction of this novel, aptly named In America, as it was a continuation of the story of Giacomo and Angelica coming over to the States from Sicily.
In October of 2014 I wrote fifty pages, and decided that would be my monthly goal. I considered three-hundred and fifty pages enough, and if I reached my quota every month, I could basically have a first draft in seven months: April 2015, and I could send the manuscript to my writing group for a thorough critique when we would meet in June.