If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but found the traditional structured process too frightening or overwhelming, maybe your imagination works in a more organic fashion like mine. In that case, start with your main character and the idea the character gives you for the plot. Then close your eyes, grab your notebook or computer, and watch the main character. Sooner or later she or he will begin talking and moving around. When that happens, start writing! I guarantee what you hear and see will thoroughly surprise and delight you.
Even though my books are considered literary novels, I’ve always admired the mysteries of Tony Hillerman, and the way he laces his novels with information about the Native American tribes in his area. I call books like these “info novels,” and they are great fun if you’ve never read one. That is also a goal I try to achieve with my Occult novels. With these I’ve been able to weave information about contemporary Pagan life, as well as real spells, chants, or rituals throughout every chapter. This series also provides a wonderful opportunity to add data of interest to my women readers about holistic healing, feral cat rescue, perimenopause, fibroids, and much more.
Anyone who would like to undertake a big project like a first novel should know the sky is the limit. If organic structure development, experimental formats, and “info novels” appeal to you, go for it! Don’t worry if your ideas differ from the traditional novel. And don’t be afraid to seed your novel with information. Just make sure it occurs naturally within the flow of the storyline. For good examples, read the “info novels” written by novelists who excel in this form.
Also, don’t let your first draft scare you, because all first drafts tend to be utterly frightening. A first draft has only one purpose: it’s the place where you put your ideas down on paper. The editing of the first draft is where the magic happens. When I create the first draft of each chapter, it is an exhilarating experience. A real adrenaline rush! But I am first and foremost a poet, and like most poets I love to edit. It’s the polishing of each scene, sculpting it to sail smoothly into the next that gives me the greatest joy.
In fact I am currently working on a new novel, which is proving to be the most organic and intuitive one I’ve ever attempted, making it great fun to write. All I started with this time was the main character and her cats. She never told me her idea for a plot, so I just followed her around, writing down her thoughts, words, and actions as she moved from scene to scene. Suddenly, other characters appeared, and exciting subplots began to emerge.
Now I am six chapters into this novel. The first five chapters have already been published or accepted by literary journals, because I always submit each finished chapter as a short story to gain publication credits for the novel. Yet the main character still hasn’t revealed the plot to me. No problem. This novel seems to be following its own organic, information-rich course, and those who’ve read several of these chapters have enjoyed them immensely and can’t wait to find out what happens next. Me too!
Don’t let fear stop you from writing the novel that’s been bubbling around in your imagination for days, months, or years. Most of all, don’t let a lack of money or education stop you. I never took a writing class, and nineteen years later I’ve published more than thirty poetry books and novels. My poems and short stories have appeared in over seven hundred literary journals, magazines, and anthologies worldwide. How did I do it? I used what was available to me. I found my high school and college grammar books and studied those. And then I read the poetry books and novels of writers I admire, and that’s how I learned to write.
Sometimes if your mind works in an organic fashion this may be the best way to tackle your first novel. Then all you’ll need to do is let go, give total control to an imaginary character who lives in your head, listen to what she or he says, and start writing!