I Think My Novel Will Have to Be an E-book

This is Red Rock Coulee, just west of Medicine Hat, AB.

These rocks are among the largest of their kind in the world, up to 2.5 meters across. They were formed by the prehistoric seas that repeatedly covered most of North America. And it’s iron oxide that causes their redness. 

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The salesperson for one publisher said it would cost me $19,380 just for the editing, and another salesperson said a novel that length would have to sell for at least $34 as a hard copy. Moreover, he warned, if I added even one color photo, and I plan to add several, the price would at least quadruple.

But I like to photograph, and I would like to include photos of a few of the key scenes in my novel.

So if I try to publish in hard copy, I, an unpublished and unknown writer, would be asking readers to pay $136 for a novel. I don’t know about you, but Sisyphus and his humongous boulder immediately come to mind.

Red Rock Coulee

However, I can’t even imagine trying to push that boulder on the right downhill, let alone up.

But the good news is I’m not Sisyphus, and Zeus is not punishing me. Besides, I’m not responsible to get a rock of any size to the top of a hill or even to the bottom of one. That would be an outcome, and I am not responsible for outcomes.

I’m only responsible to create possibilities.

I can put out birdseed, but I’m not responsible for whether a Northern Flicker comes to my feeder. I can cast a dry fly next to some deadfall in a stream, but I’m not responsible for whether a brown trout takes it. I can buy a lottery ticket, but I’m not responsible for whether that ticket wins anything.

And I can write a novel and try to publish it, but I’m not responsible for whether anyone ever reads it.

“The readiness is all.”

Northern Flicker
A Northern Flicker about to wash up before it dines at my feeder.

When I first thought of writing, I came across a quotation by Raymond Chandler that was an absolute fit with my approach to things.

I say that because I always work on a large task for a certain period of time, usually thirty minutes, rather than working until I complete it or until I complete a significant portion of it.

When I was teaching, for example, I didn’t have to mark an entire set of papers – I just had to mark for thirty minutes. Then I could quit if I wanted. And today, I don’t have to vacuum the entire house – I just have to vacuum for thirty minutes. Then I can quit if I want. And today, I don’t have to – etc.

But usually, once I start it’s easy to keep going and even easy to add another thirty minutes, if I want. Or not. My choice.

It’s the same with writing, Chandler says. The key is to set aside a period of time each day, three to four hours perhaps, where you sequester yourself someplace that’s distraction free, then wait. This waiting is very, very important. You can’t check your emails or your calendar, or browse through magazines or your notebooks, or tidy up your closet. Your sole job is to wait, distraction free.

It’s that simple, he says. You either write, or you do nothing.

But I think that doing nothing invariably ends up being quite productive. Ideas and insights can’t stand a void. So when they spot one, they very quickly jump into it and try to fill it up.

My job at that point is to notice what they’re up to and help them.

And soon, if I stay out of their way, my characters begin writing my novel for me. That, folks, is when the magic truly happens.

But if I ever have a day when I can’t write, Chandler says I shouldn’t try to force it. A good novel is not a conscious, lock-step process.

I like what he says very much. If I put in my three hours, I’ve had a great day even if I didn’t write one good sentence. I don’t have to feel guilty about not getting any words on the page, and I don’t have to feel as if I’ve failed.

My goal was to make those three, distraction-free hours, and I did that.

Fortunately, however, most of my days truly are non-stop magic, where my characters do, indeed, write a few paragraphs for me.

And in my next post, I’d like to suggest how I think that magic happens.

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2 Replies to “I Think My Novel Will Have to Be an E-book”

  1. You talk about magic. So, you get in a swimming head state of mind…and your characters come to life. How do you create a plot, add characters and write enough chapters to sell a book. I’m asking these questions because I’d like to write a book myself.

    1. Carol
      Thanks for those questions. Let me start with a preamble.
      At the very beginning I decided that I had to keep the whole process of writing manageable so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed and just give up. That’s why I latched onto the Chandler idea that I mentioned in this blog. All I had to do was commit to three hours each day, and that was it. After the three hours was up, I’d had a successful day no matter what.

      During those initial three-hour sessions, I simply Googled things such as “How to write a novel” and got sites such as http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Novel. I read their suggestions, but I had to be careful not to become overwhelmed. Some of the sites made it sound as if you had to do all those things at once. I decided I didn’t, and I wouldn’t be able to anyway

      Then after a while I looked more specifically at how particular writers write. I Googled “Paris Review” > “Interviews,” for example. Lots of interesting ideas there.

      And I read such books as: On Writing, by Stephen King; Writing, by Ernest Hemingway; The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner; Writer’s Workshop, by Stephen Koch; The Trip to Echo Springs, by Olivia Laing; Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey; and Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. Some were useful. Some weren’t. Goldberg’s, for example, wasn’t a fit for me, but it’s a classic and obviously works well for others. And I did get some good ideas from her.

      I finally settled on The Chicago Manual of Style and Webster’s Dictionary. I wish, wish, wish, I’d settled on them at the outset. Apparently they are what much of the publishing industry prefers. And you do need one style manual and one dictionary.

      But let me be more specific about your questions. I’m about to start a second novel. I’m not worried about plot, or characters, or selling a book. Those will all come later. I will simply start by choosing one character, and one time period, and one location. And that’s it.

      I might decide to write about a woman who lived in Montana in 1893, for example. Now at the start, I’ll need to read – probably in Wikipedia first – about Montana in 1893 and what a woman’s life was like at that time. And soon ideas will just begin coming to me. Maybe she lives on a farm ten miles from a small town. Married or single? Old or young? Happy or not? And so on. I’ll know those things when I need to.

      And the more I read, the more ideas will show up unexpectedly. I’ll come to know, somehow, that she’s afraid of skunks and porcupines, and loves fresh apple pie and camomile tea, and paints flowers and dead shrubs out in the meadow beside the farmhouse, and wants to be a barrel racer or a bull rider in rodeos.

      And then another person will appear. Maybe a local bull rider who offers to teach her how to ride. Now I have two people in my story, and they will begin to interact. And thus the novel begins to write itself. I very quickly become nothing but a scribe who quickly writes down everything he sees and hears.

      But, and this is very, very important, I have to write EVERY DAY. If I miss a couple days, I begin to lose contact with my story. The people in it start to turn into mere cardboard characters, and they will no longer allow me to be a part of what they’re saying and doing.

      Once that happens, I have to try to regain their trust by simply sitting quietly for three hours a day for a few days until they decide that I really am back and that I really do want to be their friend again.

      So, two things, Carol. I write every day. And I need to keep the writing process simple so I don’t get overwhelmed. And, as I said, for me that means beginning with one character, and one location, and one time period. And the rest of the novel will, indeed, take care of itself.

      I hope some of that is helpful.

      Thanks again for your questions, and good luck in finding out what works for you and, especially, good luck with your book.

      Keep me posted. I’d love to hear how things are going.

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