ESSAYS

HOW I WROTE MY FIRST NOVEL by Yolanda A. Reid



At age 19, I told my English professor that I was writing a novel.
I'd written the first chapter. How interesting! How wonderful! 
She wanted to know if the novel was about me. I told her that 
the main character was like me--a college student, at the time--and
that her name was Yasmine. But she was NOT me. I was adamant: 
I wanted to write outside myself.

"Most first novels," she said, "are autobiographical."

I never finished that novel. I estimate that I began 3 or 4 more novels. 

I wrote lots of notes. None got beyond the third chapter. 

All the while, I wrote dozens of short stories. Some of these stories 

formed an inter-connected series, based on my grandfather's tales.

Over the years, I wrote in my journal, describing the novels I wanted 

to write. A few months before I began to write my first novel, I wrote 
the following words--which are, I think, the essence of my novel's 

grandfather-character:


"I could have the old man tell a tale when he speaks of love.
Bk II is a combination tale, history (impersonal and personal).
He reminisces on his youth, . . . on his beloved's death. 
On Love. On the world. Through time. . . ." 


Then, the next spring, I sat down and wrote a one-page outline
for my novel. I wrote each chapter fairly swiftly. After about 
6 months, I began to revise. The first version was written in 
longhand. The second, on a typewriter. Then, a couple more versions 
on my computer.


As I wrote and re-wrote, I wept. No one had told me how emotional 
I might get while writing a first novel. So I set the book aside. 
After a few months, I returned to the manuscript with the
idea of incorporating some of the stories into the novel. 

And voila! I had written my first novel.


So, if you're a writer contemplating the writing of your
first novel, here are a few suggestions:

--Be prepared to cry. When you do, take a break from writing--
either a couple of days or a couple of weeks. You decide. You 
might try skipping the section that makes you cry. You can get 
back to it once the first draft is completed. Just know that 
your own reaction to the writing is a sign you're onto something 
authentic and life-altering.

--Ask a friend to be your novel-buddy if you anticipate a strong 
emotional reaction to your work. As you write--if you begin to 
experience the emotional reaction--call that friend. Go out to 
dinner with family. Do something that's fun for a change. 
Why not take up a hobby that is not writing-related?  Like knitting 

or learning Spanish.

Find lots of links for hobbies at   www.ivillage.com.

--Create a novel journal. In this journal, write down ideas about 
the novel and its characters. Your vision of what you want the 
book to be. Be very specific. You could create a virtual journal on 
your computer disk/hard drive. Or you might try blogging. 
(A blog is an on-line journal.)

There are web sites that give free blog space, such as 
www.blogger.com and www.wordpress.com.

--If you're not a member of a writers' organization/group/workshop/website, 

join one. The sense of camaraderie is so helpful. It's very isolating to write 
a novel alone, as I did--with no writers' group 
or class for support. 
I've since joined a writers' organization, which provides a feeling o
f help and                          support as we attain our dream.


Find writers' organizations at www.writersdigest.com  (the premier website/                 
magazine for budding novelists)  and at www.writerswrite.com.


--Of course, read writers' magazines/e-zines for technical tips on
writing. But you should also choose a favorite author to read 
and re-read exclusively as you write your novel. Realize that 
the author's writing will influence yours--so he/she should be great.

Some writers choose not to read other writers while writing a book.
Some novelists--like Barbara Kingsolver--read a favorite author. 
Think of this book or author as a literary comforter; mine is Wuthering Heights

by Emily Bronte.

Find your favorite author's work at  www.literature.org.

--On revising: Ideally, revising ends when you begin your next book. 
In the meantime, have someone else read your manuscript. In my case, 

no one but editors read the entire manuscript.  Several of my family members 
and a writer-friend read chapters/chapter.

But if you're not ready for your cousin to read your novel, work on an article,
 
begin another book or just take a break and re-discover the world.


_____________________

Copyright © 2012  by Y.A. Reid