By Frank DiBianca
Writing a novel is not a piece of cake nor is publishing one. And the better we want it to be, the harder it is. But it is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding adventures we will ever embark on. Sometimes it helps to have a bit of encouragement, and our forerunners have provided much of that.
So, let’s look at and try to unpack some memorable things they’ve said applicable to the discipline of writing.
- “No one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories you have to tell.” – Charles de Lint
The Population Reference Bureau estimates that over one hundred billion people have ever lived. Yet not one of the others has experienced your life or stories. Wouldn’t you like to tell the rest of us about them?
- “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou
Many people have told me they have always wanted to write, and they are dying to write. When asked why they haven’t tried yet, the usual answer is. “I could never do that. I’m too scared.” Let’s see what someone very successful in writing and scaring has to say about this.
- “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” – Stephen King
The “always” and “just before” are noteworthy. According to King, it doesn’t matter if it’s our first or fiftieth novel. And the peak fear strikes just before we begin. Why? Probably because while the idea to write is remote, we can still ignore it. But once we’ve made up our mind and are staring at a blank word-processing screen, unsure of the first word, that’s when we’re most fearful and vulnerable.
Now, what about the process of writing?
- “If I see an ending, I can work backward.” – Arthur Miller
Do you write backward, forward, or both ways “From the Middle?”* Are you a pantser, plotter, or more probably, a combination of these? Are you “Using the Snowflake Method”** or, perhaps, a homemade recipe?
Just use something, and switch horses along the way if necessary; but keep on keeping on!
- “I may not be where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.” – Joyce Meyer
Meyer has put her finger on the key to successful writing. If we put the Lord at the center of our work, even when things aren’t flowing well, He will be at our side and carry us through.
- “You fail only if you stop writing.” – Ray Bradbury
Kudos to Bradbury for this pearl of wisdom, and to my wife, Kay, whose protagonist in her new novels says, “Never give up!”
- “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” – Anne Sexton
Sexton’s advice is crucial for Christian writers, and for that matter, for everybody who believes we have a spiritual nature.
- “The job of the writer is to get your main character up a tree and then throw rocks.” – Vladimir Nabokov
Tension, conflict, obstacles, detours, resolution . . . without them you have no novel.
- “I do not like that man. I need to get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln
What a perceptive comment from one of our most beloved Presidents. Not only is it valid in general human interactions, it’s essential for good fiction. Know your characters (Ingermanson’s book teaches how to do that)—especially the bad ones. This comes about more naturally for the good characters.
When facing the challenges of writing a novel, remember what the English said during WWII, “Stay Calm and Carry On.” I hope this discussion has been helpful, maybe even inspirational.
* Write Your Novel from the Middle, James Scott Bell, Compendium Press.
** How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, Randy Ingermanson, Ingermanson Communications, Inc.
Frank A. DiBianca is a fiction writer and retired university professor. He received a Ph.D. in high-energy physics from Carnegie-Mellon University and later worked in biomedical engineering. Frank lives in Memphis with his author-wife, Kay, (The Watch on the Fencepost, CrossLink; Dead Man’s Watch, Wordstar). He has just completed his first novel, a romance.