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Write Ten Novels

April 21, 2010

Write ten novels before you give up on writing fiction (unless you want to write short stories). Here’s my reasoning why. Okay, I’ll go back a little bit first and sketch in my back story in case it is relevant in any way (who knows if it is, I’m too insomniac sleepy to be certain, but this is my web-spot, so I guess I’m entitled to talk about me and how I got here)…

Among other things, being a ‘Jane of many trades’, I was mostly an artist who was always told I should be a writer because I supposedly had a way with words and was fairly good at writing. But, I didn’t want to be a journalist and I didn’t think that I could ever complete something as long as a novel. I didn’t really feel like I had that much to say. My imagination only went so far. I had only ever written poems, lyrics and short stories.

At thirty-something, I sort of fell into writing my first little book (with my fourth baby rocking to sleep across my knees). It was a non-fiction work (relative to Home Schooling which I was actively engaged in at the time). I sold it. I was INto veggie cookery and my vegan friends begged for a cookbook (or open a restaurant – the book idea was easier). I did my first cookbook. I sold it. I wrote another home schooling book. I sold it. Somewhere in-between there, I did my patternless sewing book and decided to self-publish that small scale, since it was mainly for my sewing students who had asked me to do it in the first place. Then I sketched in a second cookbook and started a third home schooling book, but a couple of moves and some hiccups in life distracted me from finishing those, and that was ten to fifteen years ago. I still hope and plan to finish up those one of these days.

Along the way, I began to play with fiction, something I had not done since school. I wrote some novels. Quite a few, actually. I couldn’t really decide my genre. All over the place, really. When I looked into the realities of selling fiction, which is somewhat different than selling non-fiction, I sort of gave up on pursuing fiction for some years. I was busy with other things anyway, so I forgot about writing altogether. Especially fiction.

A number of years ago (five or maybe six, I think it was), I decided to get serious about writing novels. I wanted to try, at least for a while. I finally knew my general genre leanings. In fact, in the midst of writing the first novel (during that second round of playing with fiction), I told one of my sons that I was going to write ten novels before giving up on writing fiction and selling it. I said I would put the manuscripts on a shelf, if it came to that, and I would just keep on writing. Ten novels. And if I didn’t sell any by the time I was done ten, then maybe I would quit trying. Interestingly, that son of mine had just gone to a screen-writing course at the Sundance Film Festival. He told me that the main advice of the successful screenwriter who taught that seminar was to write at least seven screenplays before giving up on selling any. He said, ‘write one, try to sell it, and if you fail to sell, put it on the shelf and write another, and repeat that process at least seven times’. He had said that the average number of screenplays written before selling one is seven and for him it was ten. He also said that you will get better in the bargain. And when you finally sell one, your shelf will be full of plays you can tweak, and buyers will be biting at the bit to buy your next one. You’ll be ready with nine more.

Another son of mine reminded me a while back (when somebody I know snobbishly razzed me for not being ‘Twilight’ famous yet) that writing is not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. No. It is not. It’s a long term goal thing. It might take more than ten tries before you sell. There are loads of successful writers who have failed to sell many times before finally selling. But, their persistence in writing paid off eventually. Their lucky ship came in at a certain point along the way. Preparedness met opportunity at some point. If they hadn’t kept writing, their story would be vastly different I would think. Many writers make a living without being famous. The only way you will know the ending to your story is if you keep writing. Will you sell your novel? You don’t know. But if you don’t write it, you have nothing  to sell. So write. Write ten novels. At least ten novels. Put your manuscripts up on the shelf (or in a safe or safety deposit box) if need be, put them up in the forms of books on the shelves of Amazon (print-on-demand independent publishing) if you dare, but just keep writing. Ten or more novels.

In fact, I’ve decided to write at least twelve or fifteen or twenty novels. Maybe I will write novels until I run out of story ideas. I’ve got enough ideas for a hundred novels. Perhaps I will keep writing novels until I’m too senile to keep the characters and story threads straight in my head. Then I’ll just give my ideas to my kids to do with what they will, and I’ll go back to painting and trying to catch some overdue sleep. I’ll retire from writing at some point I suppose, unless I die before my time. And though I’ve got some faithful readers of my novels now, I’m not famous, so many naysayers deem me a failure. Why? You only fail when you quit trying, right? I’m still writing. And I think I’m continually learning my process, genre, style and so forth, as I keep writing. Some people like my writing, so how is that failing? Besides, writing is my hobby, my habit, my playtime, my passion. How can I fail at writing if I keep writing? Would I fail at sun-tanning if that was my thing? So, I’m shooting for at least ten novels. Seven down, three to go…

Write ten novels. Then see where you are.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2010 11:16 pm

    Been really busy so I haven’t been able to get over here, but I love this concept. I really wish I’d read it approximately ten years ago!

    The self-published cookbook thing: That was probably a lot more difficult to market than it would be now, not just because of the online nature of the business now, but also because – it seems to me – there are a lot more vegans now!

    When I first started writing, I felt like – and believe me, any agents in the business encouraged me to think this way – that self publishing was admitting defeat. They even used to call it “vanity press”, you know? Like it was just so you could feel like a writer, but unless you were endorsed by Putnam, you really wouldn’t be one.

    I agree with you 100% – once you’ve finished a novel, you know how to do it. The scary part is over. All you have to do is learn to do it better.

    The other thing that helped me was reading – and I can think of Sol Stein in particular – books about writing novels. There must be hundreds by now. And also, reading actual novels in the same genre that you’re writing. Worried you’ll copy their styles? So what! They copied their styles from someone else, too. Every time you learn how to do anything, you’re copying your teacher first.

    Sorry, not to drop a mini blog on your blog here, but I really like this one, kerri – TC

  2. April 25, 2010 7:27 am

    I guess we’re all gradually realizing that the publishing world has been changing at least lately (a good deal because of the internet, print-on-demand and virtual books like Kindle) and I think that the rules that applied before are adjusting. Who knows what the future holds. The ‘independent writer’ is being born in a way, it seems. I say bravo to that. An agent, a publisher, an editor – these are simply people with opinions/tastes (and some with some useful experience and knowledge, of course) and some power to decide who gets a chance and who doesn’t. The new world of publishing means that you can take some power to take a chance in your own hands. More doors are open now.

    My understanding of self-publishing years/decades ago was that it was generally considered ‘Vanity’ publishing, frowned upon, scoffed at and all that lowly stuff. But, many writers who later found success started first with at least one self-published work. I forget all the ‘big now’ names, but there are many of them. I used to hear that there were rip-off ‘Vanity’ publishers (probably still are some if not many) who charged many thousands (at least five and up to much more) to make a run of books which ended up as boxes of books in the author’s spare rooms or garages because no distribution channel to bookstores was a part of the deal. And so the writer was left to his or her own devices as to how to sell their books.

    I sold my first home schooling book and then my cookbook (vegan) to (signed contracts with) traditional publishers (after sending out multiple submission query letters to publishers that seemed likely amiable to what I had written – based on what I researched in ‘The Writer’s Market’ book). My second home schooling book went with the same publisher as my first. My sewing book was done in the earlier days of ‘Desk Top Publishing’ on our/the first (or second?) Mac computer and then taken to a photo-copying place that had the simple coil book-binding option. Very ‘rustic’ I suppose, but it did the job and my sewing students were happy to have it to supplement what I had taught them.

    Way back, I read some ‘how to’ books on writing novels and screenplays. Then I heard a number of successful novelists basically say that the key is, ‘Read, read, read what you love and then write, write, write what you love’. Since I love Austen, the Brontes and other similar classic works by/for women, I just immersed myself in their writings – read everything I could find, and then I began to think about trying to write ‘what I love’. I wanted to absorb their styles, verbiage and etcetera. I wanted to write as if I lived back then. Especially the dialogue. At first I felt uncomfortable trying to write in a more formal (old fashioned Victorian and earlier) way, but then it just flowed in my own voice. It’s my style now. Inspired by my literary idols (but I don’t dare say even aspiring to measure up to their works).

    Your comments are always welcome Tom, and never late. Dittos to your thoughts. Your ‘mini blog’ was great to read too. The more the merrier. Thanks muchly. KBW

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