So You Want to Write a Novel?


                  In my teens, I remember thinking it would be cool to write a book someday, a real story that would have an impact on people and one I would be satisfied with. I didn’t need to have it published or read by a lot of people. I guess it was an early version of a bucket list item for me, but I thought of it more as living life as an adventure. At fifteen, I thought about what I wanted out of life and how to make it meaningful – how to make a difference. I used to listen to neighborhood men in their seventies talk about regrets they had in their lives and it usually boiled down to their priorities and relationships. There was a book in there somewhere.

               Well, for the next forty of so years, I got busy with life—school, work, marriage, family, etc. Along the way, I struggled to find a story that would click. Small scenes would visually pop into my head, but no story. Priorities of faith, family, friends always resonated and grew for me as I sadly watched these things diminish in the cultural. More people seemed lost, hurt, or busying themselves with entertainment and diversions to avoid thinking about the purpose and meaning of life. I also continued to meet amazing people that did not drift with the cultural. The encouraging thing was that, within everyone, there was more going on inside that I could often see from the outside.

During those years, I wasn’t writing, but I kept reading and taking classes. Two classes, in particular, stood out for me. One was in faith and the other was in psychology. In each, I was moved by several nuggets of profound wisdom that seemed to address the nagging questions most people seemed to be struggling with about their self-worth and the roadblocks we often suffer in our search for self-acceptance and then experiencing self-giving love for others. The idea for a book called, The Father’s Son, took hold and started to build. Characters and interactions between them played out in my head and didn’t disappear, as they had for so many stories in the past.

              I spend about five years doing research for the book and loved pulling together gems of wisdom, learning about the history and events of the locations, and formulating the story, but there was one problem—I wasn’t a writer. I had a story in my head, but no experience writing outside of work related stuff. I heard about the agony of writers crafting each phrase of each sentence to draw the reader in and move the story, but how was I going to do this? Well, my wife often chuckles about my overly positive nature and self-confidence—especially when I sent the first 734 page draft to three publishers without any professional editing!

I guess I just had to start and see what happened—an it did. As my fingers typed as fast as they could to keep up with my thoughts, the story seemed to flow. Characters arrived that I hadn’t planned on and scenes materialized as I let the story unfold, eager to find out where it would take me. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having dong this that spring and summer of 2015. I sincerely felt as if the Holy Spirit was doing the work and I was going along for the ride, but I loved the process. As I wrotem there were particular scenes I wanted to be emotionally powerful and I worried about getting them right in a way that would resonate with any potential reader. I think the most satisfying experience was when I finished one of those scenes and felt as if I had captured what I had envisioned.

            When I had finished writing and my own round of editing, it was time to solicit beta-readers. Luckily, I have a great family who would gentley tell me if I was kidding myself. They certainly helped to fix a lot of the tortured English I had learned from growing up in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts. The Boston accent was strong and the grammar was highly challenging, to say the least—but the story and the characters resonated. When my brother told me that I should seriously try to have it published, I was moved and humbled by his comment.

            Well, finding a publisher that would accept a submission from an unknown author is almost impossible these days. I did find two that would agree to review the 235,000 words (most novels are ~90,000 words) manuscript. I can’t tell if they actually read it, but both rejected it and said they published very little fiction. I solicited more beta readers, but now from more objective sources—people who were experts in the field and didn’t know me from Adam. One of those readers was an author and book publicist who was reserved in her initial response. I had to push her for a truly objective opinion and she said that there may be a good story in there but “the quality of writing needed a lot of work.” I guess I could have been upset or embarrassed, but her honesty was the best thing I could have heard. I searched and found a very good developmental editor in Michelle Buckman, who believed in being encouraging but very honest with her assessment and recommended edits—especially when it came to reducing the length “to let the gem inside shine.”

            After three years of editing, cutting, reshaping, and fixing grammar, the story got better, more readable, and more realistic in size for a publisher to entertain. This part of the process certainly wasn’t as much fun as writing the story, but I loved improving the story and the quality of writing. It was what it needed, but I still didn’t have a plubisher. Along the way, what I did find were a lot of wonderful people, publishers, editors, professors, leaders of faith formation, etc. who were willing to respond to me in an encouraging and supportive way, and to provide great leads—often going out of their way to do so. I am eternally grateful for their willingness to share their wisdom and for their thoughtfulness.

            At this point, I was being told to self-publish vs seeking a traditional publisher, something many people are doing—but I was led to a small publishing company run by two of the most wonderful people I have met along the journey. Because of them, the novel, The Father’s Son, has been officially released and I am spending my time trying to get the word out. I think the writing bug has definitely taken over, as I have written five other stories during this process. It’s funny to think that I couldn’t come up with any story for all those years, and now the ideas don’t seem to stop. I’m not complaining, as another one is percolating right now. I hope to have some of the other stories published at some point.

            As you can see from the above, I am no expert at writing or storytelling. I just found that I love imagining and crafting a story, and more importantly, sharing it with anyone interested. If you find yourself interested in writing a story that moves you, but don’t know where to start, I would recommend a few things that people have shared with me.

  1. Read other books with an eye of how they hook you in early, their style of writing, how much they leave to the imagination of the reader, how they engage the characters, and they way the move the story along.

  2. Think of a story that means something to you. Use people and places you know so that you can focus on telling the story.

  3. Network. Reach out to writers, publishers, experts in the field connected to your story, and ask them for specific help. Most will not respond, but it is surprising how many are more than happy to help encourage you along. There are also lots of artitles, sites, and books on the process. Example: Jane Friedman: Helping Authors was helpful early on for me.

  4. Join a writer’s guild where you can get advice and critique of your work from others as you go. They are usually great groups of people who know where you are and are still learning themselves. This is a great place to network and grow. When I started, a member recommended the free version of Grammarly to help with grammer/spelling edits. Simple advice but a great find.

  5. Build a social media platform early so that you can build followers and find good people to network with. When your book does come out, you have a following that you can get the word out to. e.g. your own website blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, etc.

  6. Start writing every day—blogs, letters, practices scenes, or your book. When writing your book, have a good outline of the story flow and the main characters, but be open to letting the story within that framework unfold and new characters appear. That was the fun part for me.

  7. Don’t give up. You will get more (many more) rejections and non-reponses than you will get responses, but it is worth it. It similar to looking for a potential spouse, you only need one.


            Thank you for reading this blog and I hope it sparks some interest to give your novel a shot. If you are a faith-oriented person, I found praying on this very helpful. The main thing is to believe in your story and yourself and being willing to work at it. I still have a long way to go there, but it does feel good to see the first book being published. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Good luck and good writing.