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.
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.
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.
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.
TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW.
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.