The Most Important Lesson Any Novel Can Teach You

The completion of a novel is always a cause for celebration. And as I step down from the wild two-year train ride of my latest completion, I can assure you my knees are still sore from dancing the Charleston all over the house. That two-inch pile of paper sitting on my desk is the receipt for the last two years of my life. There it is in black and white: a thousand memories, a fair share of heartache, and a good dose of joy. Even without peeking at the worth of the words hiding under that bursting manila folder, I have every reason to be pleased with myself.

I finished a novel. I’ve finished seven novels. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. A novel is a mammoth commitment. It requires hours upon hours of ruining your eyesight in front of a computer monitor, sleepless nights of staring at the ceiling in search of that elusive plot twist, and plenty of crashing through brick walls when nothing seems to be going right.

Anybody who has finished the first draft of a novel, no matter the quality of the words therein, is entitled to every bit of my respect. I’ve been there at the beginning of that white stretch of eternity, staring down that blinking cursor, wondering how in the name of heaven I’m ever going to pull another 100,000 words out of a nonexistent magic handkerchief. But by the grace of God, I somehow managed to do it one more time. You’ll have to excuse me while I go another round with the Charleston.

That said, as much as a completed novel is a time for celebration, it’s also a time for serious reflection.

What Writing Teaches Us About Writing

Dreamlander NIEA FinalistEverything I’ve ever learned about wordcraft has happened while I’m in the midst of a project. I suppose that’s because if I don’t have something tangible to which to apply a tenet, I’m not very likely to remember it. I can look back over the course of my novel writing and tell you exactly what I learned from each project. And, thankfully, Dreamlander is no different.

Learning is the ambrosia of life. I can only pray I never stop learning. Even storytelling would lose its sheen if one day I woke up and knew it all. It’s with great excitement that I look back on my discoveries of the last two years, and with even greater excitement that I anticipate what the next novel may bring. As immeasurably as I value that stack of paper on my desk, I value even more the lessons it’s taught me.

What Writing Teaches Us About Finishing Books

Every novel is a hill that must be climbed. They all look insurmountable from the bottom. Taking those first steps is always the most difficult part: it’s always easiest to turn back while the beginning is still in sight.

The middle is the best part. The characters are cooperating, and the plot is falling into place like clockwork. The middle stretch is why I write. This is where it’s fun.

Then we begin to sight that final rocky ascent, and the last burst of adrenaline pierces our exhaustion. We might lose our step once or twice here, but that sweet, rarefied air at the top of the mountain is too intoxicating to let us stop. And then, with a great sigh of relief and exultation, we’re finally there.

Every Novel’s Lesson Is Different

Behold the Dawn 200But every novel is also different. When I wrote Behold the Dawn several years ago, I struggled through the usual fair share of trials. And yet the whole thing flowed in a way I’ve never experienced before. Except for a few false starts, it practically wrote itself. It was an experience that spoiled me. I was just the vessel on that one; the words poured into me and out of me from somewhere else.

But if the lesson I learned for Behold was that sometimes I don’t have to do anything but sit at the keyboard, Dreamlander taught me a much harder-fought and ultimately more valuable lesson. Dreamlander taught me that I have the power to make a story work. I don’t have to rely on Inspiration. If Behold was about me being a puppet in the hands of my story, Dreamlander was about my story being the puppet in my hands.

I probably say this after every book I finish, but I mean it this time—this was the toughest book I’ve ever had to write, whether due to my rookie foray into fantasy or my lack of preparation in the early stages. But, no doubt because of the difficulties along the way, it taught me one of the most important lessons yet: Don’t give up. You can do this. You don’t need to be inspired every step of the way because you’ve honed your craft long enough to make things work even when they look hopeless.

Now please excuse me: the Charleston awaits!

Tell me your opinion: What have you learned from writing your most recent novel?

the most important lesson a novel can teach you

 

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I’m guilty of violating all of them, esp. participials and passive voice.

    But I’ve only written two novels. When I’ve written SEVEN like you have, maybe I’ll be a better writer!

    Seven.

    Excuse me, I think I’m turning green.

  2. Oh, and BTW–CONGRATS!

    Keep on dancin’ girl, and know I’m here celebratin’ with ya!

  3. Let me just say that I wish my first two novels were as good as yours. And thanks for dancing with me – it’s always nice to have a partner when you’re trying to do the Charleston.

  4. Thank you both. I’m pretty happy myself.

  5. Thrilled to hear that you finished another novel. I love reading your blog – keep writing!

  6. Congratulations on completing another novel. I must admit I could dance the Charleston in honor of your achievement.

    I agree, may there never be a day when we stop learning!

  7. Congratulations! I can’t imagine accomplishing such a goal… much less 7 times! When I read your posts I am tempted to give it a whirl. Great stuff

  8. Hey girl! Way to go! Seven! That’s quite an accomplishment.

    I’m sure I overuse participles. Thanks for the reminder.

    Lynnette

  9. Congrats on the new novel. You always amaze us.
    *hugs*

  10. Lorrie: Do it give it a whirl! It’s a tough trek up the mountain, but the view at the top is always worth it.

    Lynnette: It’s amazing the little flaws that keep cropping up. As soon as I think I have them all mastered, another one comes creeping into view. Discovering the little problems (like participles) is never as much fun as the huge epiphanies. But they’re all important.

  11. Thanks for reading, Kim.

  12. I agree that finishing is an important lesson. I think what the novel I just finished taught me is that this writing thing is more than just creating. Revising and editing are hard work but are essential if I want the story to be its best.
    I also learned that I don’t love everything I write. I like the essence of this novel and I adore my characters, but the story could be better, stronger. I am just sick of it right now, so I’m on to a new novel that’s singing it’s siren song. For now.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s important not to give up, but it’s also important not to let ourselves get burned out. Sometimes we just plain have to take a break from a specific novel.

  13. I’ve learned how incredibly difficult the process is. Rewarding at times. Frustrating and depressing at times. But I put my hands to the keyboard and work.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      For being as easy as typing some words, you’re right: it’s insanely difficult. But equally rewarding.

  14. Steve Buza says

    Just completed my first novel, this morning, 1:46am. I wish I knew the Charleston.

  15. thomas h cullen says

    That for all my remaining days, I’ll have reason to be content:

    Having annihilated an entire political order worldwide, besides, I can now live every forthcoming cycle with the existence and history of Croyan and Mariel in my own mind.

    Exactly a year on, from having finished The Representative, it’s status has been neither changed or corrupted; that it’s status is eternal, I won’t however say…..I knew that exactly a year ago today!

    The annihilation, of the current global order – that’s what for a relatively long time now I’ve known about the life history of Croyan and Mariel.

  16. This post was great! I needed to hear it! I am struggling with my WIP and after realizing my first novel actually flowed too freely I´m tempted to give up.

    But I won´t!

    Thank you!

    M.

    • thomas h cullen says

      It’s never easy, acting against a strong instinct – and what it shows in return is strong character.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Every story is its own adventures – and presents its own challenges. They all have difficulties to present and lessons to teach us.

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