A Cheat Sheet to Writing a Novel in Suburbia
By Natasha Tynes
“How did you do it?” They look at me. Middle-aged, over-weight with a baby on my hip, twins holding onto my leg, bags under my eyes, grey strands of hair making their appearance, an office badge dangling from my neck, still clad in my business attire while attending a Cub Scouts function.
“Really, how did you do it? Where did you find the time to write a novel?”
I laugh nervously. “I have no idea”. They hear the accent in my voice. They see my Middle-Eastern features, my olive complexion, my straight pitch-black hair, my brown eyes. An immigrant. A woman. An Arab. A triple minority. How did she do it?
The question of the hour. How? When? Is it even possible?
All throughout my novel writing journey I ebbed and flowed between over confidence and self-doubt. I can do it. No I can’t. A mantra that stuck around.
As I emerge now somehow unscathed from my journey and reflect on the past three years, the time it took me to finish my debut novel They Called Me Wyatt, I would say there is no magic formula, and I’m no super woman. Are you thinking about writing a novel? Well, stop thinking and start writing. It’s as simple as that.
If you really want to get in the weeds and know how this ESOL suburban working mother of three managed to write a 90,000-word book, then here is my cheat sheet:
Find your sweet spot: This is number one on my list and it really is what made my novel happen. I found my sweet spot at 6:00 am every day, rain or shine. I would write before the kids woke up, and right before I got ready for work. It was only an hour a day. Not much time, really, but I cherished it and protected it, committing to writing a few hundred words every day. Eventually the words added up and I became a novelist. It’s a simple rule that only requires a daily discipline.
Think about your novel all the time: When you are writing a novel, you will be forever immersed in the world you create. When you are not actually writing, think about all the nasty things that you will do to your characters. Who will you marry off? Who will you kill? Whose heart will you break? While in the midst of developing my novel, I thought about my plot constantly. In the shower, on the train, on my way to work, while pushing the baby in the stroller. It was always with me. This proved especially helpful during my one-hour writing session the next day. I was quickly able to jot down my ideas and map out a somehow conceivable story line because I had already thought about it the day before.
Set writing goals: As a former journalist, I thrive on deadlines. I do my best when I’m under pressure grinding away with a palpitating heart, and broken crowns from all the teeth grinding. My first deadline was to finish the first draft by the age of 40. I made it by the skin of my chinny chin chin, where I wrote the last sentence of the novel on the exact morning I reached the official date of middle age. I had other deadlines, some I met, others I didn’t. I had a deadline for a second draft (which I met), one for finding an agent (which I never met), and one for giving up (yes, I even planned failure).
Join a writing group: I’m not exaggerating when I say the village was what made my book happen. And by village, I mean my writing group who read every single chapter at least twice, line edited every page, refined my plot, and picked me up when I wanted to shred my manuscript and throw it in the Potomac River. If you don’t belong to a writing group, make it a top priority.
Read, read, read: This is self-explanatory. Don’t slack on reading just because you are writing. Sorry, not a good excuse! It goes without saying that you can’t become a writer without reading every single text that comes your way. So, kick back and read. The writing will flow naturally (or semi-naturally) after that.
Revise, edit, repeat: This was the hardest part for me. The constant revision and re-revision drove me up the wall. I had a great editor who was very supportive and patient, but the process itself was grueling. It took a lot from me to survive the editing process. Just keep reminding yourself that it will eventually come to an end, and your book will be in a much better shape after the dust settles.
Study the market: Do your homework. Research the best agencies, study market trends, and look into alternative ways of publishing; self-publishing, small press. Familiarize yourself with industry terms such as royalty, optioning fees, foreign rights, etc. Know the pros and cons and weigh your options.
Be active on social media: In today’s age you can’t’ afford not to be active on social media. I met my publisher through Twitter after responding to a call for submission posted using the #MSWL hashtag. I also connected with a supportive group of debut authors via a closed Facebook group. Social media will play a crucial role in your marketing efforts. It will make or break your book. Use relevant hashtags, multiple channels, create compelling social visuals, and even experiment with paid social media marketing.
Attend writing events: I met a number of amazing writers at the various writing conferences I attended. Some of those writers are now dear friends who constantly provide support (including looking over this very piece I’m writing). At writing conferences, I also learned the ins and outs of the publishing world and pitched my manuscript to agents (alas, with no luck).
Be patient and enjoy the journey: Last, be patient and believe in yourself. It will happen. You need discipline, a good idea and a bit of luck, and yeah some talent too. And remember if this accented suburban mom can do it, then you can do it too!
Natasha Tynes is the author of the novel They Called Me Wyatt. She lives in Rockville, MD with her husband and her three children.
About THEY CALLED ME WYATT
*This piece was first published on Women’s Writers, Women’s Books