One writer’s journey from dream to publication, with all the lessons and setbacks and turnarounds that dot the broken road we travel.
A guest post by Jennifer Blanchard
Let me guess, you dream of publishing a novel; of your book reaching bestseller status and having raving fans. You dream of being able to make a living from writing and publishing novels.
I get you, because I’ve had those same dreams since I was 13 years old. But getting there isn’t quite as easy as you dream it’s gonna be.
My journey to publishing my debut novel has taken 18-plus years—7 of those years actively working on it, 2 of those years spent on the story I published.
Over the course of my journey so far, I’ve found there are really three major “stages” that you go through:
• Stage 1: Oblivious Dream
• Stage 2: The Backtrack
• Stage 3: Now We’re Getting Somewhere
Sadly, most writers spend their lives in Stage 1, refusing to believe that storytelling has a process and principles that need to be in play. They just keep dreaming, keep writing, oblivious that they’re heading nowhere.
You’ll also find a good number of writers in Stage 2, where they spend most of their time learning what it takes to write a novel. But never actually writing. Or if they do write, they don’t finish. They don’t go all the way.
It’s Stage 3 everyone strives for, but few actually get to. Because it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifices, practice and letting go.
Here’s how my journey unfolded over the three stages:
Stage 1: Oblivious Dream
I spent a good 13 years of my life in this stage.
This is the stage where you’re enamored with the dream: being a bestseller, having a book signing, going on a book tour. The stage where you have no idea what you’re doing, but you either don’t know or don’t care. So you sit down and start writing, to see what comes out.
I did this hundreds of times over the 13 years. Starting, stopping, starting over again, starting something new, never getting anywhere.
Back in 2008, I wrote my first novel. Pantsed the whole thing. And then I spent another year writing and rewriting and rewriting. Still not getting anywhere.
I was frustrated. I was pissed off. I had a ton of stories bouncing around inside me, but I couldn’t figure out how to make any of them work on paper.
I so badly wanted to get my stories out there. So I decided it was time to learn what I was missing.
Stage 2: The Backtrack
I call this stage the Backtrack because this stage is really step one in the novel-writing process. But 99 percent of writers skip over it and think they just intuitively know how to write a novel.
This is the stage where you make it your mission to become a student of story. To go back and learn what it takes to write a novel you can publish.
I had taken every fiction writing class I could get my hands on. Read every book under the sun about writing novels. And yet I couldn’t make my stories work. So I knew there had to be some vital information I was missing.
At this point in my journey, around the beginning of 2010, I went on a hunt.
And that’s when I found an article by Larry Brooks on story structure. I swear I heard trumpets in my head. It was like all the gaps and holes left by my previous fiction education got filled in.
All stories must have structure, they must have specific plot points occur at certain times and places in the story. Boom.
A life-changing moment I will never forget.
For months I studied every article, every eBook, everything written by Larry Brooks that I could find. I immersed myself in story. I dedicated myself to it.
I watched movies every day, sometimes twice a day, breaking down the structure, the scene missions, and really trying to wrap my head around the whole storytelling thing. I read books, studying the structure.
And toward the end of the year I had a thought: I need to teach story structure to writers, so they didn’t waste years of their lives writing stories that go nowhere.
Even though I was still learning, I knew I was a step further than the writers who were coming to me for help. And I kept expanding my education, reading more books by Brooks and anyone else I could find who aligned with Larry’s teachings (Randy Ingermanson, Syd Field, etc).
I even hired Larry to analyze two of my story plans, to see if I had anything viable yet.
My first story needed a lot more development, but he said my second story could work and be interesting, if I fixed my Premise.
Stage 3: Now We’re Getting Somewhere
This is the stage where you’ve learned enough and absorbed enough storytelling information and had enough practice at writing, where you are now able to turn out stories with publishing potential.
I spent three years in Stage 2, before I was able to move into Stage 3 (and I’d add that you never really leave Stage 2, because storytelling is a life-long journey, and you have to be committed to always being a student of story). Larry’s analysis of my story is what allowed me to move to Stage 3.
Because now I was getting somewhere. Now I had an idea that was viable, if executed properly.
I spent the next two years working through how to properly execute this story. But for the first time, I didn’t write several drafts in order to find my story.
Instead, I used a specific story planning and development process that allowed me to work through all the details of my story, including structure and scene architecture.
Once I felt really good about my story roadmap, then and only then, did I sit down to write the draft. When I finished it two short months later, I knew I finally had something with potential.
Of course, there were still edits and tweaks that were needed, but I was close. Much closer than I’d been previously.
I worked through a specific revision process to make sure the story worked, beginning to end. And then I gathered a team of people to help me with the final polish: an editor and Beta Readers.
I did it, I made it to the end. I finished a story.
And the story was actually good.
On June 16, I released this story into the world. My debut novel, SoundCheck, is now available on Amazon.
I credit this achievement to my willingness to move out of Stage 1 and work through Stages 2 and 3, the ones that most writers never get to.
There’s a hell of a lot more to writing a publishable novel than you even realize. My entire process, from story plan to published novel, only took me about 7 months.
But I had 17 months (plus 16 years) of fear, doubt, Resistance, perfectionism, procrastination and distractions to contend with. All of this wrapped around the 7 months it actually took for me to finish this novel.
Is my debut novel perfect?
No. No such thing. There’s always something you can do to improve it. Always some way to make it better. But it’s a novel from my heart, shaped with a keen understanding of craft, and my beta readers tell me its good.
Some say, really good.
At some point, you have to call it done.
You have to say, I’ve made it through all three Stages, this is my best work to date and I know my next one will be even better.
Some Super-Secret Tips No One Ever Talks About
As you’re working through these three stages of the novel-writing journey, here are some super-secret tips to help you out. These tips come directly from my journey to publishing my first novel.
These tips relate to things no one ever really talks about, but that are a huge part of the novel-writing process:
• Work On Your Mindset—writing a novel takes strengthening your mindset, because if you don’t believe in yourself or believe you can do this, no amount of effort will bring you success. You have to make your mindset match your goal, your desired outcome.
Writers tend to have a lot of negative, limiting beliefs about what’s possible, and you have to transcend all of that to get where you want to go.
• Set Intentional Ways of Being—when it comes to your writing goals, you have to be intentional. You have to know where you’re aiming to come even close. And you have to take consistent action every single day. Intention is a huge part of being successful.
• Commit to the Process—because it’s definitely a process. And you won’t get it right the first time, the second time, maybe not even the third time. But if you’re committed to the process, you’ll eventually get it right.
So many writers give up when things get hard, when all they have to do is take a step back, reevaluate and be willing to let go of what’s not working.
• Have Tools for Busting Through Fear—and distractions, and self-doubt, and perfectionism, and procrastination. All of these things are gonna come up while you’re working through your novel-writing journey, and if you don’t have tools to help you deal with them, you’ll get stopped in your tracks.
What stage are you at on your novel-writing journey?
About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author, award-winning blogger, and story coach who helps serious emerging novelists write, revise and launch their books.
Want to know what it takes to go from Story Idea to Published in 7 Months? Contact Jennifer through her website to register for my upcoming webinar.