I’ve considered myself a novelist pretty much all my life. When I was six years old, I’d beg my parents for notebooks and decorate the cover to look as close to a novel as I could. I must have made two dozen “books”—all with incomplete insides, as my desire to create new stories won out over my desire to finish what I had started.
In college, I majored in creative writing and wrote short stories that were published by university literary journals. For the equivalent of my senior thesis, I wrote the first 100 pages of Very Important Literary Fiction Novel.
Which I never finished.
When I found out about NaNoWriMo in 2009, I decided to write a mystery novel that had been kicking around in my head about a coroner named Fenway. I had the characters of the coroner, her father, and the killer. That year I hit 3,000 words the first week and gave up.
I started again in 2013. And failed. And again at a Camp NaNo the next year. And failed. My word counts barely got into four digits before I gave up.
It was all the same problem: I’d write a bunch of words, then the next day I’d read what I wrote the previous day and edit, then write a little more. Then the next day I’d read the whole thing and edit. And by the fifth day, I was simply shuffling chairs on the Titanic.
Then Facebook popped up a cheerful reminder on October 31, 2017. “On this day 8 years ago, you said you’d write a book about a coroner named Fenway. And then you didn’t, you loser!”
It struck me that while I’d considered myself a novelist all my life, I’d actually have to finish a novel in order to really be able to call myself by that title.
So I made a deal with myself: I’d start writing my Fenway the Coroner novel, and I would go until I finished. I wouldn’t stop if I thought it was bad. I wouldn’t edit it as I went along. I’d write, and I wouldn’t stop, until I was done.
That mindset is tough to get into, especially because I’d never finished a novel before. I had no path of success to follow. But I knew that the constant editing wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I wrote, specifically NOT editing what I’d written the previous day, and I wrote until it was done.
I hit 50,000 words on November 21, 2017, and I finished the first draft at 83,000 words on December 18. It wasn’t a good first draft—I had to change from first-person POV to third-person. And if I hadn’t had the mindset that I’d finish the book no matter what, I might have given up when I realized the POV needed to change.
I often say that it took eight years for me to finish my novel. It’s more accurate to say that I spent eight years on the first two chapters and wrote the rest of it in seven weeks. It might even be more accurate to say that it took me eight years to start my novel!
But having the mindset that I would finish that draft NO MATTER WHAT—that was the crucial thing to get me over the hump. I’ve now got five books self-published (four in the Fenway the Coroner series) and two more completed drafts in editing. It only took me 45 years to finally speak the truth when calling myself a novelist.
What needs to change in your mindset?
Paul Austin Ardoin is a California native and the author of the Fenway Stevenson Mysteries. A graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in creative writing, Ardoin has published short fiction and humor in literary journals and anthologies. He blogs and peddles the Fenway mysteries at paulaustinardoin.com