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I Am In The Process Of Writing A Novel, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:47am

What to do when your boss has set two conflicting policies? And, in particular, what to do when that boss is you?

To wit, today’s post. I have policies for Saturday posts. Two Carpe Diems:

  1. Must all be written in one day, and finished before noon.
  2. I should write what I want to write about.

One Superstition. I to try not to jinx anything I care about by making declarative statements about an attractive but speculative train of thought. In other words, I watch myself for premature extrapolation.

Which leads us here. I am in the process of writing a novel. I hope that no matter what happens in the future, I will look back on today and think, yes, on that day, on May 5th in 2018, that’s what I was doing.

To date I have only said here that I am writing something “long form.” That’s a superstitious way of saying, “I’m trying to write a novel.” But having been in process fairly seriously now since January, I think I can say more. In fact I want to say more. See carpe diem policy #2.

  • I have tried to write every morning Monday – Friday.
  • On occasion life gets in the way.
  • So far I have ~42K words.
  • I am aiming for ~75K.

Some more things that on May 5th, 2108, I am holding to be true about this novel-in-attempt:

  • It’s not “literary fiction,” i.e. I’m not writing Let The Great World Turn, or Disgrace, or The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • It’s “upscale genre,” i.e. I’m aiming for something like a Tara French or Louise Penny mystery.
  • It’s women’s fiction, about women’s relationships, set in the plot structure of a corporate wrongdoing thriller. John Grisham, for example, but in tech, and with far more emphasis on character and emotion, because, women.
  • The thriller vs. character/emotion balance is by no means sorted out. I may change my mind.

I’ve learned so much.

  1. Respect! Never again will I read a work of fiction without a bow to the author.
  2. This stuff is hard! You gotta have a plot and characters, OK, fine.
  3. But the characters and the plot have to work together!
  4. And if you are me, you also want the language to carry emotional weight. Maybe all writers want that. I am trying so hard to say only facts here.

My self-talk tells me I have no plans but to complete this project. That I will count myself successful if I finish a polished first draft. Of course I’d love to get published. But right now I believe that thinking about the commercial side will prevent me from focusing on the first order of business, i.e. 33K more words, and then editing. By the way, I imagine I will toss out at least 25K of the words I will have written. Then I will write new words, meanwhile reorganizing the whole thing.

I confess that sometimes my head hurts. Not from stress, at least I don’t think that’s what it is. But just from trying to hold so much in my mind at once. Those characters! Those plot lines! The things I said in Chapter 18 that I need to revisit in Chapter 34! And what I can only call the waves of it all? I guess I mean the arcs? How the narrative swells and recedes? Yikes you guys. As I said, respect to all of you who’ve already done this.

I admit. I hate writing this, at least I hate it every morning before I finally sit down and open the laptop. And while I’m writing it’s an enormous effort. I find myself saying, “Bah humbug,” a lot. Out loud even. But after, ah, the sweet after. And I can’t help but enjoy the simple learning of how to do something almost completely new.

Also, after 61 years of analysis and problem-solving and persevering amongst others, it’s an adventure to see what my solo imagination brings back to me.

Right now I feel that although I crave success and recognition as much or more than the next person, even if I only finish this thing and go no further, the attempt has been a gift. But because I’m trying to avoid attractive extrapolation, let me reiterate. Every single morning, Monday through Friday, I have to trick myself into getting started.

Usually when I post I am trying to give you all something – some analysis, some style and design thinking, some moment of shared feeling. Today I just wanted your company in this really big thing I’m trying. It’s big for me and yet inconsequential in the world. Thank you for listening.

Have an excellent weekend.

76 Responses

  1. I assume you’re an apple person. I have heard from my writing pals that Scrivner is excellent organizational tool. Good luck. I’d love to read it. Also, have you thought about a critique group? I’m in two and it really helps get me outside my head. I have found that writing fiction is a delicate dance between satisfying the writer in me while simultaneously satisfying the reader. A critique group helps with that balance. Of course, you can’t please all readers all the time, but in fiction if you please most readers, you’re ahead of the game. :)

    1. @Claire, Hello! I thought of you, of course, as someone who is accomplished in this process. So far I am exchanging with one other person. “I have found that writing fiction is a delicate dance between satisfying the writer in me while simultaneously satisfying the reader.” Exactly that. Right now it’s a very friendly gentle exchange:).

      I have imagined that I might move on to a wider critique group when I felt there was at least a good chance the task wasn’t completely outside my reach. How should I find one? And, I would love to have you read this, if/when it would be appropriate/it’s ready/something you have time for, or to read your work if an amateur like me could be useful in any way.

  2. It sounds as if you, like me, you tend to want to reduce things to their irreducible minimum in order to avoid hyperbole. I suggest that rather than thinking of your project as a big thing for you that is inconsequential in the world, you consider that, since you yourself are demonstrably not inconsequential in the world (your family, associates, and readers will confirm this, I am sure), your project will also have consequence because it will affect you (and potentially others) as an agent whose actions do indeed have consequence. Small ripples are still ripples. So keep writing!

  3. And don’t forget to proofread carefully (and delete superfluous “you”s in your sentences when necessary). Ahem.

    1. @marsha calhoun, But “you” is a very important word in this context! I suppose anything that gives someone with dependents a feeling of accomplishment can be good for more than just the doer. xox. Thank you for the encouragement..

  4. Brava!
    That’s really great-my favourite genre
    Can’t help with any advice-I’m only a reader :-)

  5. Oh… I am so in awe, Lisa. I’d love to write something long… but the thought of tackling a novel of any genre scares the pants off me. Good luck. Writing every day, the discipline of just doing it, is so good, and like Hemingway always says, stop for the day when you’ve still got gas in the tank. That way the prospect of starting again is not so daunting. I am so excited for you that you’re just getting on with it! Okay…I’ll stop now… I’m gushing, I know.

    1. @Sue Burpee, You are a top-notch world-class enthuser:). Thank you! And I have avowed repeatedly that I could never write fiction. Now at least I’m trying. Never, as they say, say never, unless you want to. xoxox.

  6. I think this is so wonderful and brave! I’ve thought about writing a novel based on several of the clients and cases I see in my criminal law practice, but the notion overwhelms me. I’d love to read your novel – you write so beautifully.

    1. @Leslie K, Thank you very much. It is overwhelming – I wrote a first chapter last year just to see if I would write something I liked at all. Then I did nothing else until January;). I would imagine that if you ever had the time the material of your work might prompt a story.

  7. Hello Lisa, Long-form writing is definitely a special skill. I read that P.G. Wodehouse had an elaborate system of pinning up sheets to keep track of the plot and avoid loose ends. It certainly worked for him–who else had plots simultaneously so simple and so complicated?

    I am glad that your book will not be like The Handmaid’s Tale–I absolutely loathed that book; the other authors you mentioned I don’t know (Grisham is of course very famous, but I never read him). No matter–your own voice is what we expect–not Atwood’s, Grisham’s, Wodehouse’s, etc.

    1. @Parnassus, I have a spreadsheet! And an outline! And I will probably have to make a new spreadsheet because the one I have has some limitations.

      I would TOTALLY do pinned up sheets of paper on a wall had I no computer. And really it might be better to do so.

      I did not like Handmaid when I read it but of course with the Hulu television adaptation it’s become an anthem in the Trump Era for some of us.

    2. @Parnassus,

      I am so excited you are writing a novel! I think your style and voice are fabulous. I can’t wait to read it!

      My friend Jeff Abbott, who has made his living writing novels for years now, uses index cards in different colors for each character and pins them to the wall and switches them around. The work that goes into plot design is overwhelming.

  8. I’m so excited for you. As you know I am a giant fan of your writing, your style is so singular, so thoughtful. I’m sure that this process is very difficult but to create something out of the workings of your own mind must be absolutely thrilling.
    I really, really hope I get to read it.

    1. @DaniBP, So nice of you to say. It is thrilling to create something out of the workings of my mind, it feels in many ways like unexplored territory, and somethings I could not get at in a logical, non-fiction kind of way. Thank you. I am trying to hard to end up with something readable. xoxox.

  9. I’m so excited for us both. You, for what you’re doing and me, for (hopefully) getting to read it!

    A lovely and stress-free weekend to you.

    1. @MaryAnne, Aw thanks:). Fingers crossed I can get something written that’s worth the favor of your time. I hope you will forgive me if I cannot, and I appreciate your support. xoxox.

  10. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I learned to make words with a pencil and paper. I have neither the focus nor the discipline to write a novel, so I’m utterly in awe of you and anyone else who starts and completes one. My hat is off to you. And I know that no matter what form it takes, yours will be something I want to read.

    1. @Susan B, xoxoxoxox. I always wanted to be “a writer,” too, but it seemed like I’d have to become magical. Maybe the blog undid that for me, maybe I just finally have enough time on my hands. In any case, thank you.

  11. Writing is, contrary too what many think, very hard work regardless of the intended length. Especially when, as you say, not only does one need to develop interesting characters, plots, and subplots, but there are many different related and parallel threads, connections, etc. to keep straight. Still, it is highly rewarding. The coolest thing is that even with a well-planned outline, you still never quite know 100% where the journey will take you by the time you’ve finished. Sounds like you are well on your way though. Onward and upward!

    Best Regards,


    1. @Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke, Yes! Exactly! I outline a plot but in order to write I have to put myself into the place of the protagonist and when I do that I cannot stay wholly in the frame of a step by step plot, I have to follow something less conscious.

      It is fascinating.

      Thank you!

  12. Lisa, Whatever happens with your novel you will not regret writing it.
    In the eighties I wrote a non-fiction book about my mother’s life as a refugee and its consequences.
    While I never published the book I have felt it was important to write. I can honestly say it about killed me.
    I believe you have the kind of fortitude that it takes to finish the book. Savor the process despite its difficulties and you will finish it.


    1. @luci, Thank you very much. Fortitude. One foot in front of another. I am glad you wrote the book about your mother, I can imagine it was an Herculean task.

  13. I am in awe. Truly, I am terrified of anything long and therefore I have not (yet) had any desire to tackle a long and extended project. I admire you for even trying and already I know that what you write has consequence in the world. But long ago I learned never to say never, as well as to applaud anyone who can tackle such a project or even stick to the attempt.

    You are aiming at my favorite genre, but actually I continue to think it is all good and that any genre someone would tackle is a magnificent enterprise. I am applauding you and encouraging you with silent mind-waves.

    1. @Mardel, Oh man I need those silent mind-waves! Because now I have to disappear again into the depths. So much yet to figure out. Never say never. xoxox. Question is – what is a thriller for women?!?!?!

  14. Good for you! I’m a big mystery/ thriller fan. I hope the structure of the genre makes your story easier to tell. What kind of shoes is your girl going to wear?

    1. @Roseag, It does make it easier, as does the tech work process that I am familiar with. And don’t think the question of shoes hasn’t come up;). Thank you for the attagirl!

  15. This is very good news! I was imagining a piece of literary nonfiction when you mentioned long form writing…. but a thoughtfully written (and yours would be) genre novel with a tech backdrop and women sounds like more fun to read. Wide open territory too! Best wishes to you!

    1. @Wendy, Thank you! I really want to write something that’s fun to read, that you can read before you go to sleep and not be a) too challenged b) embarrassed by the writing quality;). It is wide open now, I think books are starting to come out that populate this area.

  16. I love the genre you’re writing and Lisa Jewell had become a new favorite. I do think she writes wonderful thrillers for women.

    I admire you tremendously for this (as well as for other things). I know the kind of discipline it takes to be your own “employer” and actually how exhausting the creative process can be. And of course, the satisfaction and almost “high” after a “good” rather than frustrating day.

    I also think concentrating on the novel itself now, rather than what will happen afterwards is the right thing to do to stay focused and not too scattered. xo

  17. Applauding loudly. I would be thrilled to read a book written by you. Mysteries are my favourite; we don’t have a television, and read voraciously. Books scattered everywhere in this house.

    1. @Ali, Thank you! I love the image of books scattered everywhere.

      To be honest, right now the book read like a story of two women playing out in a plot that’s thriller-approximate. I think. So I need to up the thrill quotient, at least I think I do:). I am glad to hear you like the genre.

  18. I am in total awe of what you are doing. I am not a writer but I love to read, so I look forward to your novel. I read almost all genres but fantasy. Love Louise Penny and mystery/thrillers in general. Can’t wait to hear more about your writing process.

    1. @Jane, You are wonderful! I thank you:). And I just have to try to make it more thrilling. You know my natural voice is more plaintive, essentially. It’s so hard!

  19. Forty two thousand words is huge! Over the halfway mark to your goal. No advice, just admiration and respect for what you are doing.

    1. @Nyreader, Oh my gosh not at all! I love this. And I need to keep a sense of humor, and joke about what I’m doing, otherwise I might take it too seriously and then who knows what would happen!

      Also someone I know in the music biz thinks Father John Musty is the best ever, so, booyah.

  20. Lisa, I have always loved your writing. What an undertaking! I don’t have anything brilliant to say, but I wanted to offer encouragement and say that I can’t wait to read your novel!

  21. I love your topic – women working, in high tech? Your experiences working in high tech gives you lots of insight. There is a whole culture out there and it is often a minefield. Thus, making your topic outstanding.

    1. @Susan, Thank you. About this I am not in doubt, the book is set in tech:). For better or worse, so, I’m glad you like the topic!

  22. I’ve loved reading your writing over the years. I love the depth of thinking and effort, and now honesty, to which you aspire. BEST OF LUCK in your new endeavor of fiction writing. I agree – it’s something that deserves great respect. Creating something like a novel is hard work… but having creating something, now that will be amazing…

  23. Lisa, Stanford Continuing Studues has a great online writing program. I’ve been in two different groups on writing creative nonfiction. There is also an on campus class schedule. I recommend that you at least check out the catalogue.

  24. Congratulations on the 42K and good luck for the other 33K! Having written quite a lot of non fiction in my time, I have always wanted to put my – limited – knowledge and experience to a different use and create fictitious characters and relationships. But I am not yet ready for the downside which you describe so vividly – pushing myself to the writing desk every day.
    Would you be so generous as to share some more of your experiences in your writing process from time to time?

    1. @Eleonore, Yes, on each occasion that I feel I know something new. They may be rare, but, you have been so welcoming and I appreciate it so much.

  25. All the very best with your inspiring new adventure. Am looking forward to what lies ahead.

  26. Oh my goodness this IS TRULY EXCITING!!!
    I love the genre…amd Louise Penny is my all time favourite mystery writer…
    keep your “boss” happy Lisa!
    I admire the determination and dedication that it takes to write something of substance. Bravo!

    1. @Bungalow Hostess, Hehe will keep the boss happy:). And I realize now that saying “like Louise Penny” was kind of like saying “like Shakespeare.” I only meant to say that the “thriller” component is the plot structure and the book is primarily one of relationships;).

  27. Congratulations — 42K words! Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written,” so you are in good company. I too look forward to reading your novel.

  28. I echo all of the comments above; I too am in awe of the fact that you have come up with a plot and are already halfway through a first draft. Congratulations on your progress, and thank you for the report on what you’ve been doing! I love Tana French’s books and the way that her books are detective stories that are at least as much about the character of the detectives as they are about the solving of the crime, so if you’re working on the same type of novel I will be particularly interested in reading it. (Who am I kidding? I’d be interested to read anything that you write.). Good for you for keeping at it, and best wishes in completing your first novel!

    1. @MJ, I overspoke, probably, in that the draft I’m working on uses corporate processes and some wrongdoings as a plot structure. But I can’t help but get into the relationships and ineffable awe at the universe:). Thank you!

  29. In today’s NY Times obit of the novelist Joan Chase, who published her first novel, “During the Reign of the Queen of Sheba” (1983), to great acclaim at age 46, she is quoted as saying, in regard to embarking on her second novel:

    “When I began writing ‘During the Reign of the Queen of Persia,’ I didn’t know I was writing a novel. … Now, the second time around, I am a ‘novelist’ driving myself toward an enormous and predetermined objective. … Writing a novel or story is always a leap in the dark, a scary thing. What I’m learning now is that even the dimensions of the dark change when I begin again.”

    All bravos to you, Lisa: you know you are writing a novel, your first, and are willing to dive into that peculiar “dark” and to drive yourself toward that “enormous objective.” It may be “scary,” but it’s thrilling too.

    You will succeed, gloriously, and we will all be saying “and to think we knew her when…!”

    1. @Victoire, It is thrilling. And a slog. I am defining success as completion, so, you knew me when is simply knowing me when I wanted to draft a novel and then knowing me when I had:).

      That’s about the level of goal-setting I can work with….xoxoxox

  30. Respect is due. I have written one but I seem to have pressed pause and am havering about what to do with it now. I am like someone standing on the edge of the swimming pool, hopping about. I need a push. Hope that you get the next few thousand done without too much agony and that the outcome is a good one.

    1. @Annie Green, You’ve written one! All respect! And a push if it is useful in any way. What could be the next step were you to take one?

  31. Wonderful news! Isn’t it fun to see what your brain can produce all on it’s own? (Or with a little bit of research to nudge it in a certain direction.) Echoing some of what’s been written already I’ve found Scrivener to be tremendously helpful for organization and my critique group has been a real boon as well. I was about where you are in the process when I joined my group. I found that having that weekly deadline and reading my writing out loud to others helped me finish off the 1st and then 2nd drafts. Now I’m on to revising Draft 3 on my own–don’t want to put them through another complete read-through. But I do bring material that’s significantly new and because they know the story so well they’re very good at saying what works and what doesn’t. Best of luck finishing up and finding a good fit for a writing group. I’ll look forward to reading it!

    1. @Kathryn, Thank you very much for the advice.I will surely look for a writing group if I decide to do a second draft. I say if just so as not to extrapolate prematurely:). And that’s the best part, if I can build a structure and then clear a path for my mind to make something up – it’s a lovely feeling. xoxox.

  32. “if I can build a structure and then clear a path for my mind to make something up”

    Like any of us would ever doubt that the person who wrote that line ^ ^ ^ up there would not complete her draft, polish it and publish in relatively short order!

    Trying to figure out what I’ll wear to the book signing party I’m hosting for you here in North Florida…

  33. Hi Lisa,

    This sounds like quite the fascinating and worthwhile thing to do. One would think you’ll have a rather indescribable sense of accomplishment when “done”, whatever done means to you.

    Please do consider getting it published, as you’ve obviously got a ready made audience (including moi)!

    I’d bet it’d be a smashing hit! This genre is on fire already, add some gasoline of your own.

    (And if the heroine happened to be High WASP, so much the better!)

    You’ve got sand, not just for doing it at all, but also for sharing the process so vulnerably and honestly.

    Thank you!

  34. Hard work indeed. Are you working with a Publishing House? They can be quite helpful, especially working on your first book.

  35. I can relate to your process, as I am also writing a novel of the mystery/thriller genre. I have been at it for some time now and have had a lot to learn. I am in the rewriting process, and I feel like I will never be finished. In any case, I am in love with my characters and my time spent with them is both exciting and exhausting. You’re right! Writing a novel is hard work, but I love it.

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