Monday, March 5, 2012

Things I Learned While Writing My First Novel

Guest Post - Shannon Sinclair 

Since I embarked on the adventure of writing my first novel, I have learned many things. I wanted to write them down, so I could remember them when I start writing my second, and third novels! Here are my top ten:

1. Write first thing when you get up. FIRST THING. If I get started on housework, or my mom calls, or the cat meows, I’m a goner. As soon as my mind is going 1,000 mph in the direction of life, stepping into my fiction becomes nearly impossible. When I try, it takes an hour of writing before I find a flow. If I am at the laptop after my first cup of coffee, I can get right into it.

2. Never underestimate the power of a pen and a notebook. Inspiration strikes at the weirdest times! On the toilet, in the shower, at the grocery store, and especially in my car during my commute. Jotting epiphanies in a spiral bound notebook has lead to great paragraphs.

I think writing long hand, accesses a different part of your brain. It is sometimes easier to channel the muse through my left hand, than through my fingers on a keyboard.

3. Take naps. When I hit a block, it feels like a smashed my skull into a brick wall. I get an overwhelming urge to go completely unconscious. When I start feeling that sensation, I lay down for 30 minutes and take a nap. Giving myself permission to nap has been a breakthrough.

4. Create a Playlist for your novel. I have a playlist created just for this novel. It includes songs for the whole story, for specific scenes within the story, and for specific characters. When I am stuck, or uninspired, or in a funk, putting on a song creates a mood, reminds me of a character and puts me right into the story.

5. Eat. Pray. Write. Vocabulary, grammar, structure and plot need nourishment. My synapses do not fire when my stomach growls. I must eat!

I also like to set the mood for writing by lighting a candle or a stick of incense. I touch base with my little "writing" totems I have on my desk; a large rainbow onyx stone, a jade turtle and mother of pearl butterfly that belonged to my grandmothers, who both inspired me to read, and a couple of found objects that inspired Dream Walker in some way.

I say a prayer...asking to be open to hearing the muse. I feel I am in cooperation with the Universe in creating this tome, so it is vital to my process to say hello and then listen to that voice.

Then I write. Sometimes if I am frustrated about work or family issues, I get out a pen and vent on a sheet of paper. It gets the muck out. When I feel my story again, I write my story.

6. Don't Hate. I did not realize how much I could hate myself until I started writing a book. Oh, I get down on myself for looking old, or having a big butt, or for being too rude to someone, but these are nothing compared to the loathing and belittling my left brain has lashed upon my right brain about my writing. If you find yourself in a "You suck" diatribe toward yourself, stop. Be gentle with yourself.

Don't hate...just write. Don't judge the first crap you put on the page. It's like moving to a new house. You get all the boxes of your stuff open and everything is a horrible, disjointed mess. It’s the same with a book. At first the sequence may be may sound flat and colorless. But when you go back through it a second time, clean, spruce and rearrange a bit, it starts to have flavor. Just think what it will be like when you do the second draft. It'll be AWESOME!

7. Find friends that will remind you that what you are doing is worthwhile and valid. Having good, supportive friends who are totally looking forward to reading my sucky, first FINISHED novel kept me writing.

Join a writer's group. I was really intimidated by this at first. The idea of sitting down with writers more experienced than I, then having them read and critique my chapters, scared the crap out of me. If it does you, too, feel the fear and do it anyway! The feedback, networking and support is invaluable!

8. Find some published authors and pick their brains! Other people have walked the writer's way, traveling from unknown hack to published author. I found myself a few of them, met them for coffee and chicken dinners, listened to their horror stories and followed their advice.

9. Establish a web presence. Uuuuugh! Right? Who wants to spend all their time facebooking, blogging and twittering? I know. I get it.

BUT! I have been amazed by how many contacts I have made in such a short time and the information I have found via social media. Especially from Twitter, which really surprised me. I was never a tweep before and now I am hooked.

10. Reading about other writers' processes does not help. Although I have wanted to pick up the phone and call Steven King, Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oats and ask a million questions about how they do it and what their challenges are, I am sure I would find that what works for them ~ would not work for me.

They may not outline first and just start writing away...I found I had to do an outline first. They don't hold down full time jobs AND write...they just write. So they couldn’t tell me anything about fitting the craft into a 50+ hour work schedule. I had to bear that cross on my own and figure it out.

They may have hard, fast rules that didn’t fit my personality at all. So my rules, and processes were unique just to me. I got to discover those quirks as I write along.

In other words, everything I just said above, toss! In writing, you are going to create and break your own rules! Enjoy that process.


  1. Do you know Shannon, that's just what I do when I'm writing: Create a play list. Sometimes, the playlist creates itself; moulding itself as if to create an idea in my mind before I've thought of the actual story itself.

    My characters don't live until they've picked their own playlists. They "give" me the song that most connects with them & it pops into my head. Only then do these characters become real. It's as if they've been switch-on by their Play-button.

    Thanks for this piece of inspiration.


    1. It is soooo true. I think music really helps us tune in to so many things in life. Events...road trips...eras. It has the ability to transport us.