I have exciting news.
Some of you have been following my blog for many years, and you know that I attempted this adventure 18 months ago, when we were living in Portugal. I set out to write a novel.
But things were different back then. My mindset wasn’t where it is today. I did not reach my goal of writing a novel.
For starters, I was in the middle of crossing that sh*tty river of change and had just experienced my dark night of the soul. I was still in survival mode, feeling my way to a better life. At the time, I eyed writing fiction as a means to make money, so my motivation came from a place of scarcity, not bliss. The whole creative endeavor was marinated in stress hormones. Not fun.
But worst of all, the thought of writing a novel was completely overwhelming. I had no friggin’ idea how to write a novel!!!
I loved to read, yes, but I imagined it would be hard to actually write. Also, my self-talk back then was, shall we say… not what it is today. I knew better… you know, don’t speak negatively about my abilities to write fiction, etc. But I wasn’t putting that rule into practice nearly enough.
I knew that I had to believe in myself, but I was also aware that I was starting at zero.
I was wondering basic things like, how the hell do people write dialog? How do they even come up with story ideas? I have no stories in me! (<- that’s bad self-talk, by the way). And on and on.
This must be learnable.
So I took the approach of studying novel writing. I figured there had to be formulas. Strategies. There had to be certain formats, tropes, or outlines to follow for writing fiction, right? This must be a learnable skill.
Remember that artsy guy in high school (all schools have one) who seemed to be born with the Hemingway gene? I knew there were talented people who think up stories in their sleep, while brushing their teeth, or walking to the mailbox. I wasn’t one of them.
If I didn’t have the nature, I’d settle for the nurture.
Could I train myself to be a writer?
Remember those formulas I assumed exist? Well, they do. There are more resources for aspiring writers than you can imagine. So I dove into gathering info about those formulas. I created a schedule for myself. I leaned into it and figured I’d give it a go.
That was back in Portugal. I quickly abandoned the project… without writing a single word. I just couldn’t figure out how to manage writing while homeschooling our daughter, which at her age, was a full-time job. I was also maintaining my blog and any other number of things I could think of.
Honestly? I was making excuses.
I was afraid to start because I didn’t really believe I could do it. I still kept thinking “I don’t have any stories in me.”
But things have changed. I’m different now.
Over the past year and a half, y’all know about what I’ve gone through (the breakdown to my breakthrough), and that I’ve decided to become a happy sexy millionaire. As a result of the work I’ve done on myself, my self-talk is now beyond great. It’s mega-fuckin’-fabulous. Plus, my other secret weapon is that I’ve been meditating with Dr. Joe meditations where I visualize my future…
And all this time, I kept my mind open to the possibility that — just maybe? — I could write fiction. Could I? What if?
Or that maybe writing fiction could be a source of income some day. Would this be another part for the “millionaire” aspect of my Happy Sexy Millionaire identity? Or even THE main component?
I acknowledged that I really didn’t know what to do, but that, to hell with it, I’ll just figure it out.
There are two important things here.
First, in my visualizations, I saw myself writing with my laptop, and I felt in my heart and soul how amazing that would feel to have stories just flowing out of me, and the ease of writing. I pictured myself in Italy writing in cafes. Or looking out over the ocean on the Amalfi Coast.
I saw my future where I effortlessly dictated stories while walking, wearing a sun dress and big sunglasses. I imagined myself jumping out of bed in the morning with verve and gusto, excited to get back to writing my novels. I visioneered all of this in my mind during Dr. Joe’s meditations with feelings of joy, awe, freedom, love, and gratitude. (You know the drill.)
Second, I focused my self-talk toward a new goal: becoming a successful author and novelist. My typical Coffee Self-Talk is more general, with a smattering of specifics sprinkled in that address health, love, wellness, money, success, and so on. (More on that soon, in my forthcoming non-fiction book, Coffee Self-Talk — stay tuned!).
But now I started adding phrases to my daily self-talk focused on becoming a novelist. An amazing novelist! I was telling myself that, yeah baby, I can do this.
And ya know what?
It freakin’ worked.
Over time, my brain slowly started to accept the idea. Those self-talk seeds took root and sprouts actually started growing. I was starting to believe myself, and was no longer filled with doubts. (Au contraire, as you’ll soon see, I was filled with something else…)
Fast forward to this week where we are self-isolating, hunkering down in the warm Arizona sun while the world grapples with coronavirus. And… I have exciting news.
I’m writing a novel!
For real, this time.
I’ve decided with overflowing eagerness that I am indeed going to write fiction! And I’ve never been more sure or excited about it.
The self-talk worked!
That’s right, the self-talk rewired my brain. Self-talk is a technique specifically designed for changing your beliefs. So that’s what I did. I now believe that I’m a great author, a creative genius, a prolific writer! All because of my self-talk! There was no other reason. Nothing else had changed. Just the words I say to myself, and the words bouncing around in my head.
Excited by this progress, I amped up the self-talk focus on being a successful writer even more.
I shouldn’t be surprised that my self-talk was so successful, but I admit, I did a double take on the new mindset I was experiencing. I was all, whaaaaaa? Holy shit, it actually worked!
I decided without a doubt that, yes, I could and would write a novel. I still didn’t know the mechanics of writing a novel, but I no longer had lingering fear. No doubts. No dread. So I dug into my notes from a year and half ago about writing fiction, and got to work.
My Cuppeth Overfloweth
Uh-oh. Upon opening my Notes application, I realized that I had over-gathered back then. I’d allowed “research” to become the procrastination that prevents actual writing. It’s easy to get lost in the search results for “how to write fiction.” I had pages and pages of notes about plot, characters, arcs, tropes, scenes, beats (what the fck are beats?), setting, genres, sub-genres, sub-sub-genres (yes, there are those), and more… all just half-assedly cut-and-pasted from the internet.
After reading it all, I was still confused.
So I selected only a couple of things to focus on. I just wanted a basic “this is an example of a novel’s structure,” paint-by-numbers, template type of thing. In my notes, I found a potential formula to structure the book. When I saw that outline, I was like… hmmmm… I can work with this.
I also learned that you don’t have to just sit down and write a book from beginning to end. Some authors create a ton of “scenes” (like scenes in a movie), writing them in no particular order and piecing them together later. They just imagine a scene for their character and write it. The next day, they might write another scene that takes place way before the one they just wrote. This flexible approach made novel writing much more approachable to me.
Some authors know the beginning and end of the novel, and that’s it. Some simply work their way backwards from the end, the only thing they know.
I was full of excitement, hope, and novelist juice… yet, I still didn’t have a story in mind.
But I did choose a genre.
After some thinking, I realized that I would start my fiction writing adventure with romance. It’s a genre that I know well. I like romance novels, and because I started reading them as an adolescent, I have some experience from which to draw.
But what should my story be?
Then, a tiny miracle happened.
I was sitting silently, looking at the trees in my mom’s beautiful backyard filled with citrus blossoms. And… I had the tiniest idea of a story.
Boom! Whoa! Whaaaaaat?
Me with an idea for a story? Yes.
But of course. That’s what self-talk does.
(It changes your brain!)
Now, I had no idea what the story would include for all of the different chapters and challenges, but again, many authors don’t know those things when they begin. I didn’t know who the characters would be or anything about them. I just knew that I was using one of the tried-and-true romance tropes, and worked it into my story idea.
And so, I had an idea for a novel.
Remember, my self-talk convinced me that I can do this, and I started to prove my self-talk right.
Along with jotting down a few notes for writing fiction, I was/am also reading a lot of fiction books to pick up tips on craft and get the creative juices flowing. I’m loving the super popular Throne of Glass series, an exciting page-turner, by Sarah J Maas. It’s not romance, but I originally looked into it based on the cover(!) while browsing Amazon. After reading some reviews, my 9yo daughter and I decided to read it together. It does have some romance in it though. :) I also decided to listen on Audible to the version of 50 Shades of Grey called Grey, by E L James that is told by Christian’s perspective (the male). That’s a good one to listen to while taking walks.
So! I had my rough story idea — more of a premise really — but nothing resembling a fleshed-out plot.
No Plot? No Problem!
Then, I decided to also read a book on writing that I’d bought a few months ago called, No Plot? No Problem, by Chris Baty. This would be my one — and ONLY, I promise — “how to write” book before I start writing. I wouldn’t let myself get bogged down again in research or “how to.” I would just write, using the limited instructions I’d learned.
I quickly finished Baty’s book. In fact, I couldn’t put it down.
I’m so glad I read it!
Cuz, whoah… No Plot? No Problem put rocket fuel in my tank.
I highly recommend this book to anyone(!)… whether you think you have a story to tell or not. It’s a fun, page-turning, good little read, and more importantly(!), it’s going to share with you how to just sit-the-fuck-down and start writing.
Turns out… we all have stories in us and this book will get you started.
The author founded the famous National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Have you ever heard of that? NaNoWriMo is an annual event where writers all over the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.
One novel. 50,000 words. One month.
Yeah. For realz.
In the past, I could never have imagined doing this. I figured all of the people who participated in this adventure were the artsy high school guy/gal — people who had stories in them already, or character ideas, or too much caffeine. Or people who studied writing in college.
I was not one of them.
Yet Baty’s book tells you exactly how to do it. In one month. (Spoiler Alert: Anyone can do it. Ergo, I CAN DO IT!)
Coronavirus? Sheltering at home? Self-Isolation?
Yes, you know what I’m going to say… NOW is the perfect time!
I’m not waiting until November.
My husband also wants to write fiction. Well, he has written fiction… actually he’s co-written an amazing children’s series called STEAMTEAM 5, and he’s really good at it. (It’s a clever series designed to get kids, especially girls, excited about STEM/STEAM subjects.) He also wrote screenplays in college. (OMG… just realized, I married… artsy guy!)
Greg has stories in his blood, and he wants to write more — this time for adults. He’s way more comfortable with screenplays than novels (because he reads mostly non-fiction), but when I started reading my novel formula notes to him, and mentioned “scenes and beats,” something clicked. Those were screenplay terms. “Oh, now I get it,” he said.
So last night I was sharing what I was learning from the book No Plot? No Problem. And he asked me something.
“Are you going to do it?”
Until that moment, I knew I was going to write a book, and I was feeling really good about the process. But right NOW?
IN ONE MONTH!?
True, I have more direction than I had the week before, from revisiting my research and whittling it down to just few items I can digest. I feel capable and excited from my self-talk. And I was ready to put my toes in to the novel-writing pond… soon.
But he asked me if I was going to do NaNoWriMo, as in write my book in a month.
“Like, as in May?” I asked, tentatively.
You see, you can do the NaNoWriMo challenge any month of the year that you want. It just happens to be an organized program (and competition, with prizes) for writers who do it in November. But the book No Plot? No Problem suggests that you just pick whatever month you want. Sitting here in March, waiting until November would just be dumb.
But I had not been thinking NOW. I was really reading the book to just get a little bit more research under my belt for book writing. I wasn’t reading the book to actually embark on a month long, 50,000 word novel project!
And I just sat there and thought a moment. Then, I said, “Um, well, yeah I guess I will.”
I looked at the calendar and realized I had five whole days to prepare, which, according to No Plot? No Problem, is just fine. If you work from an outline, it’s good to have the outline ready when you start, because each day of the month is for actual, 1700-words-per-day writing. Not research. Not planning. All of that can be done in five days.
Excitement trickled through my veins as I digested this plan.
Then, out of the blue, he said that he wanted to do it with me!
So we decided that we’d do this together, each writing our own novel during the month of April. Me fueled by coffee (and self-talk!), and him fueled by Corona with lime (because, irony). After all, with our self-isolation, the timing couldn’t be better for diving into a cool adventure. We are literally living through epic times. Why not soak up some of that epochal juju and infuse it into our fiction?
But wait, there’s more! Drafting my mom… and my daughter.
I was telling my mom about it this morning, preparing to woo her with my excitement to join us. My mom has always wanted to write a novel. But she has never had a healthy attitude for doing it. (Wonder if that’s where I got it?)
I think she doesn’t have the self-esteem to do it. And so I was telling her about how we were going to do it and I invited her to join us. I told her everything about the book No Plot? No Problem.
Importantly, the first draft during NaNoWriMo is always expected to be total crap, which is a good thing, because it frees you to just write like crazy and not judge your work. The idea is that you’ll make the book good later, during rewrites, after the month is over.
Anyway, I told her to read No Plot? No Problem on her Kindle over the next couple of days and she would be ready to go. The seed had been planted.
You see, my mom is an amazing storyteller. She has a shit-ton of stories to tell. She just needs some encouragement. And with the three of us doing this together, with self-isolation because of the coronavirus, there has never been a better time. There will never be a better time!
But I didn’t stop there. I drafted my 9-year-old, too. She loves to write. She regularly busts out stories on her own. I’m talking 20,000 word stories, too.
Shit’s getting real now!
It’s not just me. It’s all four of us.
If there’s one thing I want you to walk away with from this post, it’s that there was a time when I dreamed it would be neat to write fiction. I didn’t have any idea how to do it, and I didn’t even really know if I could attain it. I was paralyzed by self-doubt.
Then one day, I shelved those negative thoughts and used my self-talk to change my beliefs. Putting it to the test, I just told myself over and over, every day, that I could do it. I spoke it. I thought it. I imagined it.
As I said before, it worked.
And here’s the REALLY exciting thing about all of this.
No Sleep Because…
Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep until two in the morning because… wait for it… I had so many stories in my mind.
Mind you, this never happens. I never have trouble sleeping. But last night, I couldn’t sleep because I had story ideas!!!!!!!!! For the first time in my life. Stories, pictures, characters, tropes, words, arcs, and images for my novels. My mind was torn open and I was gushing fiction. I kept grabbing my iPhone to jot the notes down.
Wow. Me. Writing ideas for my novels into my phone.
Writers (and other artists) often describe their creative process as “getting themselves out of the way,” like they’re channeling their art from an external source. The Universe? The Source? The collective unconscious?
That’s what it felt like.
I’ve never had this happen with stories. My challenge is no longer, “can I write?” or “do I have stories?” I’ve already convinced myself that I do. It looks like my new challenge is being able to fall asleep at night because I have so many.
I’m tellin’ you, we can all do this!
WANT TO DO THIS WITH US?
WANT TO WRITE A 50,000 WORD NOVEL DURING APRIL?
If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, then join us on this fun adventure! Write to me at Kristen@HappySexyMillionaire and we’ll keep an ongoing dialog through the month encouraging each other and sharing ideas.
(And if you’re reading this after April 1, 2020, drop me a line for our next start date — I have a feeling we’ll be having future NaNoWriMo months. Either way, if you’re reading this during the coronavirus lockdown, it’s a great time to be writing. You don’t have to wait for us to start!)
In conclusion. Write Write Write Write Write
I also want to say that I’ll continue, obviously, to have amazing self-talk that my writing is fucking-amaze-balls-incredible.
NaNoWriMo is not something to be afraid of or feel pressure regarding the end result. I am not intimidated or pressured to become an author who writes books to feeds her family (though maybe it will feed them). This first novel, and maybe the first many novels, it’s just the act of sitting down and putting a story on paper. Like an exercise. Every single writer will tell you that the way you become good at writing is to write.
And so if any of you are contemplating on joining us on this incredible journey, then I want to emphasize that is supposed to be fun. You can think of as a hobby or a way to make money. But the bottom line is to just try it and see what happens.
“Shitty/Scrappy” First Draft
Your 50,000 word novel at the end of the month is to become your first draft. And as Hemingway (and all authors) always described first drafts, it’s your “shitty first draft.”
As you can imagine, I’m a card-carrying member of the self-talk tribe, so I’m not a fan of describing my work as shitty. I understand the rationale, and I appreciate it, but still. Therefore, I’m going to take the approach of what another author described as the first draft as “scrappy.” That sounds playful and cute and fun — like a scruffy little dog — with a similarly unintimidating urge to JUST WRITE SOMETHING. There is no expectation that this first draft is anything more than a first draft.
Again, people who participate in NaNoWriMo consider their first draft be… just that. It’s a work-in-progress. In fact, you might add another 10,000 to 50,000 words during subsequent rewrites. This first draft can have fatal plot holes, flat characters, unrealistic dialog, or confusing scene descriptions — it doesn’t matter. That’s OK. It’s even expected. It’s after the month is over that you can go back and delete things, edit, or even start over.
The goal is 50,000 words. Not 50,000 perfect words. If you hit the number, you are successful.
And if you this pick up the book No Plot? No Problem, you’ll learn what to do in the first month to get you from “zero to hero.” Because you will feel heroic when you finish a 50,000 word novel in one month.