Monday, July 19, 2010

How to Write a Novel

How to write a NOVEL by Amy Turn Sharp

Grow up in the sticks as an only child without television.
I think my creative spark was cultivated among the trees and born in the creek beds of Southeastern, Ohio. Or you can just grow up anywhere but always hear words a bit differently than others. You listen to the way your Southern mother says brain and it sounds like braing and you secretly love the way words roll out of mouths. You pretend to be British on the front porch while you roller skate back and forth the concrete slab. You perfect Alice in Wonderland passages and repeat them like a tic throughout the countryside.

Be a High School freak.
Or at least that dreaded kind of person who was friends with everyone. The person who is at the base level pretty likable. I straddled the line of all of those types (the Jock, the Brain, the Criminal, the Princess and the Kook ) I never fully committed to one type, but I got inside them all and learned their language. I learned their movements and motivations.
It seemed that the stories gleaned from those people stayed with me forever though.

Get on Track at College
Practice the American phenomenon of drunk writer. Work on eating life. Work on intense relationships with others. Charm the writing department. Nod to others about the next step and an MFA and all that jazz. Write good shit. Write shit. Write more than you ever knew could come out of one person. Start to question yr purpose. Start to realize you are cursed and blessed as an artist.

Fall off the Edge
Have some sort of crisis and run away to Europe.
Live in Greece.
Stand in dangerous places.
Ancient places.
Meet people you like.
Meet people you lust.
See sunsets that scare you.
Go right up to the edge of sanity and dip yr toe in the pool.
Be reckless like a mofo.
Listen for the first time in yr life to other people's stories.
Filter them.
Crawl back home.

Fall in LOVE.
It all changes.
You start to carve out a life that in no way resembles the one you thought you would have.
March ahead. Time. Have children. Have career. Forget about writing all of those pages that came like a fever back then.
Push it down.
Push it down.
It doesn't matter you tell yrself.
You are happier than any one thing.
You are a diamond in the sky. You are Lucy's best friend dressed in gold lame.
You don't need that part of you anymore.
Love gives you everything you need.

Come back when life starts to push against you.
Life starts to chafe you with the realities of NOW.
People start to cry.
Break apart.
All of it is gone (yr invincible skin) and one day you just say NOW.
Now is where I live.
I won't get that much better or worse.
I will line up all the letters.
I will pluck them from my mind and snack on them during soccer practices and while making lunches.
It's OK to write in yr mind for long stretches of time.
It's where the story lives.
It's easy to say that you are working on a book even if your not typing the keys.
You really are working.
You may even ditch that original idea or it could be lost in the ether like mine was with a mac notebook death three years ago. You may go way off course like me. Quit a career in an unstable economy and start to write. Then start a toy company.
Whoops. Life is stronger than we are sometimes.

Then Really decide. Scream that manifesto into the wind.
Blog it.
Talk it at the grocery store.
Bore yr friends.
Take a calendar and plan it out. Then something will happen like you will get knocked up and have 9 months to really do what you want. I have taken on more than I ever should have lately, but I am doing it. I have a very concrete goal of turning in something that resembles a manuscript (or a shitty first draft) on August 23rd to a friend who is going to help me ready it for the query process. I will have a baby and then sometime over the holidays when you are all drinking excessively and throwing decor around I will sit in a small room of my own and edit like a banshee.

Here is really how I am really doing it:

1. I saved some money and have hired a sitter two days a week. I am ruthless with my time during those hours. I will only write. Even if Joe came home in the afternoon unannounced and devastating romantic I will not kiss his lips.
I will only write.

2. I carry a small notebook and fountain pen with me all the time. I scribble scrabble perfect sentences and little conversations and tiny words when they strike me.
This is not new advice, but it works.

3. I look at the calendar everyday and freak myself out.

4. I have developed a relationship with a mentor. I trust this person and they are helping me edit and discover things about myself as a writer. I reached out to a writer that I admire (bc I am ballsy like that) and although they were honest enough to let me know they did not have the time to help me they directed me to a person that helps them sometimes. It has been like a a magical connection. Like I always knew this person.

5. I read and read and read like always. I keep current on what it out there. I grow jealous over others accomplishments but I plunder on. I stop comparing myself to others.
I wonder why I have this compulsion to write a novel when it is really hard for me. Essays and poems would be easier. But it is there. This cast of characters that live in my head and talk to me.

6. I have a binder from Target and every week I print out what I have accomplished and place it inside. It grows fat like me and I smile. But I also shudder because it is unedited and raw.
I stroke the binder like a small cat on my lap and make wishes.

7. I tell my boys that I am a writer. I think the more times I hear it out loud the better. I keep hearing it and saying it and now towards the end it makes more sense than it did before.
It was like hearing almost yr name or a variation of yr name being called across a field and turning.
But now I hear it clearly.
Now it is my name.

And even if I fail like so many writers do the first time round the sun, I won't freak out because it has been a true experience. Joe is proud of me and I am proud of me too. Even if it never gets anywhere it will have been this one shiny penny moment of my life. I have been practicing my query letter though. I am trying to infuse it with love and charm and bliss. I want it to seep out magic. I want it to make someone swoon. We all want that.

Now excuse me. My babysitter comes soon. I have five weeks till this baby comes and many more words to throw down. I have stories to plant. I have rows to hoe. I have gold star days ahead of me.


dee said...

I am so inspired by this, Amy. You are following your dream, and it is a dream I so desperately want to follow, myself. I opened a biz and had a baby 4 weeks later, so I can completely relate. But writing a novel? That's an entirely new level of awesome. I am bookmarking this and promising myself that I'll get there one day, too. Since I already write at length in my head *constantly*, I think I might already be on my way. Thanks for this...and GOOD LUCK! I can't wait to buy my first copy:) xo

virtuallori said...

Beautiful. You are meant to do this.

Rita Arens said...

I am so with you. Except I usually have to do it one night a week, as I have to do my day job when I have a sitter. But yes, I hear you! Be strong!

Grumpy but sweet said...

Yay You!

I'm cheering you on enthusiastically!

Rah rah, rah rah rah!!!

Heather Escobar said...

Wow. You are inspirational. Thank you so much for writing this.

abby said...

This is for re-reading on a regular basis. You inspire in the most beautiful ways.

Glass of Whine said...

I adore you Amy. Flat out.

Dad Gone Mad said...

You are fucking bad-ass, Amy. And your book is going to be amazing because you have earned it.

One thing I learned from my first journey through the publishing process is that it's SUPPOSED to suck. It's SUPPOSED to be hard. Nothing worth a stinky crap has ever been accomplished by someone who didn't claw and grapple her way through like you are.

I can't wait to read it.

Stephanie Wilson she/her @babysteph said...

Oh, Amy how I love this.

Next chance we get can we really and truly sit down and have a meal together, with dessert, and maybe pillows and couch and floor afterwards. I want to tell stories.


shawn said...

It takes one to know one and I know you can do it. You have it in you. I recently finished my first draft that was very overdue. Very. Keep the vision, keep the hope. Enjoy it! It's fun when you get one of those groove moments.

Anonymous said...

I love love love this post. It also confirms that beng crazy alone doesn't mean I have a novel in me. And that's ok.

Love you like crazy though,


Deb Rox said...

Can't wait for yours. Can't wait.

Ash said...

Inspirational - truly. The strength of your words leaves me with no doubt that you will succeed.

Sarah P said...

You can do it! This is how it happens, you put yourself in the right frame of mind first, and then when you hit a little speed bump, you don't easily forget why you're there.

When you do get around to querying, there are amazing web resources to help you. is amazing, among other sites!

Best of luck,

Elizabeth @claritychaos said...

This was fantastic. Very Brenda Ueland. I have no doubt it will be phenomenal.

Like Blake says "I will not reason and compare. My business is to create!" Sounds a lot like you, Amy.

Good luck. Power to you, mama.

Anonymous said...

I love you like thunder clouds. You inspire me and give me courage. You are awesome.

Tara said...

For too long I have read your blog without commenting. I have loved your posts, and how you arrange words into stories and snippets that are beautiful and real.

So now, with a newborn on my lap & similar dreams in my heart I am writing to thank you for this post (& many others).

I look forward to reading your book...

mayaluna said...

I'm so excited for you and this is one meaty post. I love reading every word that you type down.

Grumble Girl said...

I just read a RT of your baby coming today... good luck, sugar! And oh my, how this post inspires me... I have to do better about blocking out the way the house looks in order to carve out the time for myself - it's so easy to get distracted by small stuff and small people underfoot... you've got it all. I'm excited for you!! I'll be reading...

Peggy OKelly said...

Wow...I came across this randomly and it is so beautiful. It's a great example of how we look to the end as success but in reality your process is successful as you have inspired so many already...including me! Thank you!

Christina Elaine said...

This post speaks to me.. I just had a baby 18 months ago and I am launching a handbag line.... I totally relate to being crazy with my time.. we have a baby sitter a day and 1/2 a week. I love that you are following your dream.....



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