1. YOUR FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT GOAL IS TO FINISH THE SHIT THAT YOU STARTED
Let’s get this out of the way right now: if you start a fucking novel, then plan to fucking finish that fucking novel. Your hard drive is not a novel burial ground. It’s like building your own Frankenstein monster — robbing a grave, stealing a brain, chopping up the body — and then giving up before you let lightning tickle that sonofabitch to life. The true author finishes what he begins. That’s what separates you from the dead-beats, from the talkers, from the dilettantes. Don’t let dead metaphysical weight slow you down.
2. THAT MEANS MOMENTUM IS KEY
Say it five times fast: momentum-momentum-momentum-momentum-momentum. Actually, don’t say it five times fast. I just tried and burst a blood vessel on the inside of my sinuses. The point remains: writing a novel is about gaining steam, about acceleration, about momentum. You lose it every time you stop to revise a scene in the middle, to look up a word, to ponder or change the plot. It’s like a long road-trip: don’t stop for hitchhikers, don’t stop to piss, don’t stop for a Arby’s Big Beef and Cheddar. Just drive. Leave notes in your draft. Highlight empty spaces. Fill text with XXX and know you’ll come back later.
3. THE FIRST DRAFT IS THE BEACH-STORMING DRAFT
It’s you and hundreds of other soldier-penmonkeys clawing their way up the enemy beach of the People’s Republic Of Novelsvainya. Most of those other poor sots are going to take a stitching of bullets to the chest and neck and drop dead in the sand, flopping around like a fish, their bowels evacuating. Your only goal is to get up that beach. Crawl through mud, blood, sand, shit, corpses. It doesn’t matter if you get up that beach all pretty-like. Or in record time. Nobody cares how your hair looks. Your first draft can and should look like a fucking warzone. That’s okay. Don’t sweat it, because you survived. Put differently, that first draft of yours has permission to suck. Go forth and care not.
4. BE LIKE THE DOG WHO CLOAKS HIMSELF IN STINK
Find joy and liberation in writing a first draft without caring, without giving one whittled whit. It’s like pouring paint on the floor or taking a sledgehammer to some kitchen counters. Get messy. Let it all hang out. Suck wantonly and without regard to others. Let that free you. Have fun. Don’t give a rat’s roasted rectum. You’ll think that all you’re doing is upending a garbage can on the page, but later, trust in the fact you’ll find pearls secreted away in the heaps of trash and piles of junk.
5. THE FIRST DRAFT IS BORN IN THE LABORATORY
Take risks on that first draft. Veer left. Drive the story over a cliff. Try new things. Play with language. Kill an important character. Now’s the time to experiment, to go moonbat apeshit all over this story. You’ll pull back on it in subsequent drafts. You’ll have to clean up your mess: all the beer bottles, bong water, blood and broken glass. But some of it will stay. And the stuff that does will feel priceless.
6. WRITING IS REWRITING IS REWRITING IS REWRITING IS
Said before but bears repeating: writing is when you make the words, editing is when you make them not shitty. The novel is born on that first go-around but you gotta let that little bastard grow up. Do this through rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting. As many times as it takes till it stands up and dances on its own.
7. YOU HAVE AS MANY CHANCES AT-BAT AS YOU SO CHOOSE –
A Marine sniper doesn’t get infinite shots at his target. A batter only gets three strikes. A knife-thrower only has to fuck up once before he’s got a body to hide. The novelist has it easy. You can keep rewriting. Adding. Fixing. Changing. Endlessly anon until you’re satisfied.
8. — BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE
Seriously, you have to stop sometime. You whip mashed potatoes too long they get gluey. Comes a time when you need to stop fucking with a novel the same way you stop tonguing a chipped tooth. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Write till it’s good, not till it’s perfect. Because you don’t know shit about perfect. Aim squarely for a B+, and then it’s time to let others have a shot in getting the novel to that A/A+ range.
9. KNOW WHEN TO BRING IN THE MOTHERFUCKING A-TEAM
You’re not Lone Wolf. You are not Ronin-Ninja-Without-Clan. A novel is a team effort. You need readers. One or several editors. Potentially an agent. True story: writers are often the worst judges of their own work. You spend so long in the trenches, it’s all a hazy, gauzy blur: a swarm of flies. It’s like being on acid. Sometimes you need a trip buddy. Someone to tell you, this is real, this is illusion. “The pink unicorn is just a hallucination. But the dead body in the middle of the floor, dude, that’s real, WE GOTTA FUCKING GO.”
10. ESCAPE THE GRAVITY OF THE HATE SPIRAL
Every 10,000 words is a new peak or valley on this crazy-ass roller coaster ride. You loved the novel last week. This week you want to punch its teeth down its throat. That’s normal. Write through it. The hate spiral will kill you in if you let it. It’s one of the reasons we abandon novels. It’s also nonsense. Sometimes your best work is your worst, your worst is your best. Everything is ass-end up. Fuck worry. Just write.