You are going to have doubts. Lots and lots of doubts. This comes with the territory. Writing a novel is such a complex undertaking that you can't help but pause now and then and wonder if you can pull it off, if you can sell it after you've finished it and if you have the depth to write several novels after that.
One of the unavoidable side-effects of studying novel writing is that you suddenly become aware of all the elements of a novel you hadn't really thought about before. Ironically, what happens is that knowledge tends to become a source of anxiety. It may even lead to writing paralysis.
But this is only a passing consequence of studying your craft and will quickly move from a source of concern to a welcomed sense of command of your craft. You will soon recognize your newfound ability to skillfully manipulate the elements and the techniques commonly used by novelists and catapult your writing to new heights.
First, know that every novelist has fears and plenty of self-doubts. You can't spend any time reading the diaries, journals, and biographies of great novelists, living and dead, without reading precisely the same anxieties. And it is worth your time to read some of these stories about writers you admire. They were all plagued by the very same worries that are bothering some of you right now. Reading about how they handled these worries and how they eventually realized they were unfounded should give you some confidence in your chances of writing and publishing several successful novels.
Next, know that the craft of writing is open-ended and terribly forgiving. Open-ended in that gone are the days when you had a date on a calendar when a term paper was due. Each of you will eventually discover the writing speed that is just perfect for you. And until you find this pace, you won't be comfortable. Writing a novel is not a test of speed. And speed is not a test of dedication to your craft. So know that there will be readers out there willing to buy and devour your well-crafted novel and will not give a thought to how long it took you to write it, only to how much they enjoy it.
Forgiving? Yes, novels are not like exams or term papers or business documents. They are graded, weighed, evaluated, or dismissed on delivery: one shot, one response. You will give your drafts to many people you trust, and they will provide you with feedback that is of one design: To help you make changes that will improve your novel's quality and marketability.
The best part about writing a novel is that anything that doesn't sing can be backed out and replaced with improved text, scenes, dialogue, or description, making a good novel much better. It's modular.
You will find that you can ease the early and misplaced anxieties you are now experiencing by recognizing that novel writing is a process, not a test of your performance on demand. And it is not a timed event. And novels evolve from the process of writing and revising, writing, and reviewing: seeing it from a different angle or perspective. Through the repeated revisiting of your own words, you find better ways of doing everything you did in an earlier draft, and each pass makes your work that much better.
As novelists, we all need to dismiss the nagging grade school urge to seek praise at every stage of writing. If you will experience this need at all, you will discover it at the worst possible time in your writing, the early drafts. There couldn't be a more inappropriate time to seek approval, praise, and adulation than in early drafts when your novel is at its worst state of completion and refinement. It is like asking someone to taste the batter for your cake with ingredients still missing and tell you if it will be a great tasting, great looking cake from the taste of the gooey goop in the bowl.
Also, recognize that praise for a new novelist's early work will almost certainly translate itself into frozen passages the moment the praise is received. It is unlikely that a new novelist will work on improving and changing anything they received praise for. So if you give a friend a scene to read and the friend tells you how much he loved it, be prepared for you to react normally and lockdown that passage and not touch it again.
What novelists need early in their writing and early in their careers is not praise but encouragement. And you can well have one without the other. The more productive and most useful of these two things is encouragement. So when you feel the urge to seek out praise and approval, know that it is a useful pursuit in many other aspects of your life, but in your early drafts, it is counter-productive. Look for help in improving your novel, not acceptance, and permission to stop improving.
What you will find, and you won't believe it until you experience it, is a real sense of accomplishment, achievement, and pride when you finish a final draft of a novel after months and months of hard labor. You will know when you have done something worthy of respect and praise, and you won't need someone else to "validate" you. Your sense of accomplishment will come from the five-inch high manuscript you have completed and the knowledge no one else will share, knowing how long and how hard you worked at improving that novel.
So lean back, enjoy the process, take the pressure off yourself to produce excellence immediately in your first draft pages, and take confidence in the one truth about novels – that the more you work on them, the better they get.
And welcome to the club.
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