It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but, after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.
The above quote is from John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Nobel laureate John Steinbeck.
Though Where the Air Is Sweet is about to be published (just saw the final cover art and copy today), I am working on another book. It is somewhat misleading to say “I’m working on it.” It is nebulous at this point. Still forming, gestating even. And I am terrified. Hence my latching onto the above quote and sharing it here.
I published a few Writer’s Tips blog posts awhile back. I hope to add to the list. I used to be very hungry for such tips when I was starting to write my first novel. And so I want to share what I have learned to help others.
But Steinbeck offers the tip of all tips. It is from an article called “Advice for Beginning Writers” written by Steinbeck in 1963. Though he is discussing writing short stories, I think it’s safe to apply the advice to novels or other genres. You can read the whole article here.
Here’s my favourite section:
If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.
In other words, if there is an impulse, honour it. And write. What you create might be good. But it might not.
That’s why it’s scary.