Posted by Ben Pfeiffer on Oct 5, 2012
Begin with an empty notebook. Or you can start with a blank word processing file, or a sheet of paper in a typewriter. But blankness remains essential. You will also need an imagination. Obstinacy helps, as does linguistic flexibility, so cultivate a diverse lexicon and “a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true.”
Write. Keep writing. Fill that blankness up with the linear progression of your thoughts.
You will need optimism and pragmatism. Try to be a little insane. Not too insane, though. Just insane enough. If you can, try to suffer from a mild imbalance that enhances the creative abilities of artists, something like cyclothymic disorder. Don’t take it too far and become, like, an alcoholic or a solipsist, though God knows plenty of those have succeeded as novelists.
Do not mistake the encouragement of your friends and family members for the unbreakable single-mindedness you will need to write a novel. Other people cannot, by definition, dream your dreams for you. If your spouse wants your fiction to succeed as much as you do, then he or she is codependent or bizarre and should be regarded with suspicion. This is not to say that loved ones should hate your writing or that they should discourage you. Their reactions should fall somewhere on the spectrum from “That’s nice, honey,” to “Don’t you think you should stop watching TV and write or something?”
No one can help you. You have chosen to write a novel, a choice not unlike crossing the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia. You can buy all the supplies beforehand—books on writing, sunscreen and a keffiyeh, pens and pencils and programs that keep track of your characters—but once you’re lost in that desert, brother, no one can save you.
You have two choices: (1) Push through, survive, and return to civilization with your vision like a prophet of old; or (2) Turn back and give up and decide that you’re better off as a [Barista, Salesman, Proofreader, Copyeditor, Social Worker, English Teacher, CIA Agent].
Good luck. Remember, “More people fail at becoming successful businessmen than fail at becoming artists.”