It took me 5 years to write my novel

I have the hardest time writing. It’s painful.

The day I came up with the idea for my first novel, I was sitting in Traditional Chinese History. We covered the Qin Emperor pretty thoroughly. And then we talked briefly about his tomb. At the time I read my books cover to cover, because unlike some of my peers I needed to read everything to contextualize individual events.

The tomb fascinated me. It was this incredible story, not yet excavated, disputed, and grandiose. I picked up random books that mentioned it just to get more information.

China’s Grand Historian, Sima Qian, wrote the legend. Check it out. It’s what made me want to write this story. Someone else would’ve written it if I didn’t.

And I almost didn’t.

Writing is hard. Grabbing someone’s attention to draw them through a story is hard. Especially when people have their own life experiences, and expectations about where that story should take them, and how it should finish.

I wrote the first chapter probably 25 times before I gave up on it. Then it became something I told people I was doing. “I’m writing a novel,” which went over well on Interviews, and at networking events. Everyone was fascinated. “That’s so great,” and “You’ll always have that,” were common supportive responses.

And I may never have another. I made progress when I actually put pen to paper.  And it happened fast. When I stopped to count, I’d written about 80 pages before touching a computer. It was surreal. No ads, no email to check, no facebook, no distractions. No ink. I went through at least two pens. And  using my hands, without that bright, mesmerizing light coming from my screen, I could focus on what was happening, without reacting to the prompts of the digital world.

I was making progress, and I wanted to keep that going. I started posting flyers about the story around Austin, and asking people on facebook if they wanted to read the opening. I got emails from strangers who’d spent some time in China, some who wrote short stories, and some who just liked fiction. Then my friends/family/acquaintances asked to read. I made a Google Doc where people could submit their feedback. And people used it.

Here’s the flyer I used:

sbb marketing flyer

It felt like an accomplishment. I’d probably never make any money off of selling books, but at least I was making progress. It took 3 and a half years after the initial idea to gain that kind of traction. But this time it took me a year and a half to finish.

Do you have any unconventional tips for motivating yourself to write? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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