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Behind the scenes insights on the writing process for novelist
I know from research that to build an audience for my work as a writer—specifically as a novelist—I should use platforms like Substack to write about the process, providing some “behind the scenes” insights. If you were to ask any writer at the tail end of finishinga novel that they would have spent months—even years—working on, they would tell you the process, behind the scenes, sucks.
For me, it was no different.
For starters, writing, especially a novel, is the loneliest thing anyone can do—and I’m someone who has been on deployments where I’ve been cutoff from friends and family for months at a time, and also during my time living in New Mexico, most of that was spent living like a monk—so I’m not exaggerating when I say writing a novel will kill your social life.
What could be construed as your new social life is the time spent with characters that, at first, you think you know well and that they’re going to follow along with whatever outline you may have created, only to find they will have taken on their own personalities and steer the story to a conclusion you hadn’t even considered.
During the early weeks of the quarantine, after I realized the notesI had spent years collecting while on the road, with the idea of creating a specific story with one main character, on the nights after everyone in my family would have gone to bed, giving me time to focus on writing, I discovered that when I would start trying to turn those notes into a first draft, I would encounter my characters saying to me, “This is how our story is going to go down.”
Yes, “our,” because I realized that the character who I had thought was going to be the main character was really not—at least not the only one. And a minor character who was supposed to fade out at some point in the story—to then make a brief return at the end—turned out to be a bigger main character.
It was at this point in the process that I realized this is where a novel truly becomes a novel, not an autobiography masquerading as a story that would be filled with self-inserts obeying a boring outline. I had to consider, “What would the reader want?” At the time, with the world seemingly falling apart, I placed myself in the reader’s position—I knew I’d want something that was life-affirming, even if it was sad. I also knew it had to be an escape, or else readers would “DNF”the crap out of my story.
By this point in the process, I also realized that I was holding back so much—out of fear of what not only my friends and family would say but also everyone who may have known the inspiration for many of the characters in the novel. But then I gave myself the ego check I needed. Chances are, no one was going to read the damn thing to begin with, and yes, even though I was writing with the reader in mind, I was also writing mostly to keep sane during the peak of the quarantine.
It was also my escape, and I didn’t waste any opportunity I had, especially when my family had gone to bed for the night, to go to my writing desk and escape the pandemic—escape the feeling of one day flowing into the next and into the next—to a time when life was simpler, back to my twenties, where I thought that by the year 2020 we would be living like The Jetsons with flying cars instead of the nightmare we were all trying to survive, where we were living like The Flintstones, and instead of flying cars, we had memes.
So, because of this nightmare and because I was trying to escape, I took my own advice—the advice I used to give my kids before they all grew into anxious adults, terrified of the world they would be inheriting—to not worry about what other people would think. Give yourself permission to make mistakes because, the reality is, most people are too busy with their own struggles to give yours more than one second of thought. The same was, and still is, true for me—every night before I returned to my characters, I would repeat to myself what had become my personal mantra: the title of Steven Pressfield’s book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.
The story took off from there, and it went to places I hadn’t anticipated. There were nights where I couldn’t stop crying because of twists in the plot and the escalation of tension that I was certain would engage the reader. I ignored every thought I had of possible reactions from people who may come up to me after the story was published to say, “Did that really happen?” or “Why did you hide this?” This is not an autobiography but rather a work of fiction made for the reader who would like to explore with me the main theme at play in the series, The Desert Road of Night: generational trauma.
That’s what my story boiled down to: the trauma bonding that occurs between two people who love each other and would die for each other. But what parts of those bonds are made out of love? Is it more trauma? Yes, this became the subject I wanted to explore. Not just a love story, and not just a provocative romance, but the desperate clinging of one soul to another. The desperate attempts to keep themselves afloat in a series of disappointments and tragedies that would demand of these characters to scratch out of their will to live the strength to go on living—with that strength seemingly there on a second-by-second basis
So, for those who are interested in a behind the scenes peek at the process of writing a novel, it was me literally taking every fear, every trauma I had endured, reliving every tragedy I had experienced, every injury I have survived, and every nightmare I have had, and putting it out there to make a point. That is not to say I didn’t do the same with taking every joy, every ecstasy, reliving every moment of passion I’ve experienced, every triumph, and every dream that has come true in having the goddesses that had given me their love, their respect, their soul, their all, and putting it out there to also make a point.
What is the point? Buy my book and find out. Or at least subscribe to this newsletter.
I plan on making available stories from the novel series that, because they would have disrupted the narrative flow, I didn’t include but will publish through this platform.
The same will be true of what I edited out of the second novel of the series, which I am calling Athena. That’s the process waiting for me at the end of the summer, where I will look at that part of the series and go through the same agony that I am just now coming out of for the first novel of the series, The Beautiful World of the Alive.
There you have it: some of my “behind the scenes” insights. I plan on sharing more insights in the near future, including how the process made me a better writer, how having beta readers DNF your latest draft is the most valid form of feedback there is, and how to move on after the story has been written and the books have been published—which is something I am tackling at the moment.
Now that I am taking a break before starting the process over again with the second half of my series, what am I going to do in the meantime? Network with the intention of meeting people who are part of my target audience? Create content that would support my work as a writer. After all, I am also a photographer and electronic musician—anything I can do to enhance the reading experience for the audience I hope to build, that’s what I will be doing.
In the meantime, drop me a line or a comment, and let’s connect. I welcome feedback of all kinds.
The key takeaways for aspiring writers or readers from the passage can be summarized as follows:
Building an audience is important, and using platforms like Substack can help provide “behind the scenes” insights into the writing process.
Writing a novel can be a lonely and challenging process that may impact one’s social life.
Characters can develop their own personalities and steer the story in unexpected directions.
It’s crucial to consider the reader’s perspective and ensure the story is engaging and satisfying for them.
Overcoming fears of judgment and criticism is important for an authentic writing process.
Stories may explore deep themes and can be based on personal experiences and emotions.
Editing and refining the narrative is an essential part of the writing process, even if it means removing parts that don’t fit.
Receiving feedback from beta readers, even negative feedback, can be invaluable for improving the story.
Networking and creating content that supports one’s work can help attract and engage the target audience.
Engaging with readers and welcoming feedback can lead to valuable connections and insights for the writer.
By considering these takeaways, aspiring writers and readers can gain a better understanding of the challenges, insights, and strategies involved in writing and promoting a novel.
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Finishing a novel is a subjective term—it’s better to say the writer got tired of the endless drafts and edits.
Did Not Finish
It’s only made beautiful for the characters because of their discovering how to cope with living with trauma through consensual power dynamics—BDSM.