Prologue: My First “Novel”
When I was a teenager, I really wanted to write a novel. Naive and inexperienced as I was, I thought that this would be simplicity itself – you’d just sit down, write the story in a notebook and then look for a publisher. Anyway, I kept coming up with new ideas for novels, mostly involving zombies, various apocalypses and/or aliens in some way or another, and trying to write them.
Nine times out of ten, I’d get a fresh notebook – design a cool cover for it and come up with an interesting title. Then, filled with enthusiasm, I’d start writing. A couple of days later, the story would usually be left unfinished either out of a lack of enthusiasm or because I’d come up with a better idea.
I only actually finished one of my handwritten “novels” when I was about 13. It was an extremely cheesy sci-fi action/horror story called “Galacticon” and it basically involved three people fighting their way through an abandoned space station filled with zombies and mutants. There was also a ridiculously comical arch-villain (who was behind it all) shoehorned into the story during the last few pages too. It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece.
Since I was using a rather cool-looking hardback notebook, I also designed a rather melodramatic and fearsome cover for it too:
Anyway, “Galacticon” was only 104 (wide-ruled) A5 pages long. And, with about 68 words per page, it works out at about 7000 words in length at the absolute most. It isn’t even a novella, it’s a long short story.
Still, despite this, I kept trying to “write a novel” and failing repeatedly for even a couple of years after “Galacticon”.
It was only when I was about seventeen that the idea of writing short stories finally occurred to me. Once I focused on writing shorter stories that I could finish in a few hours, I suddenly started producing a lot of stuff. Gradually, over the years (and with a lot of practice and quite a few writing classes) my stories started to get a bit longer.
When I was about twenty, I decided to have a go at the “Three Day Novel” contest/challenge. Although I never formally entered it and actually took four days, I ended up producing a 21,556 word horror/fantasy story called “Indigo”. It wasn’t a novel, but the sheer length of it absolutely amazed me.
To be honest, I still haven’t technically written a full-length novel yet (the longest thing I’ve currently written is “Liminal Rites“, which is only about 30,000 words long and kind of badly-written too).
But, although I hardly ever seem to write any fiction these days, I still hope to write a proper novel one day. Which brings us on to the main point of my article….
If You’re New, Then Start Small
This is one of those old pieces of advice that you’ve probably heard a thousand times before and you’re probably rolling your eyes at the computer screen right now and thinking “not again”. Well, the reason that people keep saying it is because it works. It isn’t meant to delay you or slow you down or anything like that, it’s there because it works in several different ways.
One reason why it’s so useful to start small is because it gets you used to actually finishing things.
If you do what my thirteen or fourteen year old self did and try to write novel after novel without much in the way of practice, then there’s a good chance that you’ll just end up with a lot of unfinished novels. In fact, if you do this often enough, you might actually get used to leaving things unfinished too.
You don’t want to do this, so start with small projects which you feel that you have a realistic chance of completing. Remember, if you’re totally new to something, then everything will probably take longer at first, because you’re still learning how to do everything.
Another reason why it’s good to start small is because it builds up your confidence gradually. I’m not a weightlifter, but if I ever decided to get into weightlifting (for some bizarre reason) and someone handed me a 500kg barbell and told me to try to lift it, I’d probably look at it and think “how can I lift that? It’s ridiculously heavy?”
I’m sure most people would feel intimidated by something like that too. Well, writing a novel or a full-length comic is kind of similar to trying to lift a gigantic weight. In other words, if you’ve been practising with smaller weights and gradually built up your muscles, then you’re more likely to look at the gigantic weight and think “It’s a bit larger than what I’m used to, but I’ve got the muscles for it” or something like that.
Well, the same is true for writing. If you’ve written a lot of smaller things and gradually increased the length of them each time, then writing a novel seems like a much smaller step to make than if you try to write a novel without building up your creative “muscles” first.
The final reason why it’s a good idea to start small is because it gives you room to mess around and experiment with different things. This one is pretty self-explanatory, if you’ve committed yourself to writing a full-length novel and you realise that there’s a major problem with it or whatever, then it’s going to be a lot more of a problem than if you’d experimented with a lot of shorter pieces of fiction first and worked what does and doesn’t work for you.
Sorry that this article was so short, but I hope that it was useful 🙂