The Start-Up of Your Novel

startupRolling my eyes is my instantaneous, often involuntary, response to things that are irritating, tedious, or patently ridiculous. And the things that make my roll my eyes so hard that I may need hospitalization are self-help books and LinkedIn. So when someone recommended that I read “The Start-Up of YOU” by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (that emphatic capitalization was his idea, not mine), I just about eye-rolled myself into on-coming traffic. When I was done reconsidering my friendship with this person (note to the people in my life: really bad book recommendations will make me question everything in our relationship), I decided . . . that I still wasn’t going to read it. Life is too damn short, and my reading list is too damn long.

But, I decided I would read a couple articles on it to get the gist. That way, I could at least pretend to have read it if this person ever brought it up again. Imagine my surprise when I read “10 Memorable Quotes from the Start Up of YOU”, and found the quotes intelligent, even insightful. And a few of them spoke directly to my experience in writing my novel.

“Whatever the situation, actions, not plans, generate lessons that help you test your hypotheses against reality.”

When I’m writing a scene, I often get tied up trying to figure out if it should end this way or that. And I go back and forth, considering my options, leaving the page blank. But time and again, I find that the time I spend pondering would be better spent just writing. The process of writing is necessarily iterative. To put it in terms of this quote, you start with a hypothesis: “Would this scene make more sense if I end it this way?” You can only test this hypothesis if you actually roll up your sleeves and write the scene. More importantly, you can learn things from writing the scene that you won’t learn from just thinking about it. So take action – just write it. You can always edit later.

Speaking of editing:
“You remake yourself as you grow and as the world changes. Your identity doesn’t get found. It emerges.”

This one really hits home for me. Novel writing, for many people, takes place over years. During those years, you’re not only growing as a writer, you’re growing as a person. Things are happening in the world and in your life, your perspective is changing. So, when you’ve finished a draft, you may go back and find that it doesn’t ring true to you anymore. Maybe your characters feel a little shallow. Maybe you realize there’s more you can do with them.

Realizing that your novel still needs work can be heartbreaking. But it’s also an opportunity. Maybe a serious revision is called for. Maybe it’s time to move on to a new project altogether. Regardless of the direction you ultimately take, it is not a rejection of the work you’ve already done. That work was a necessary step in allowing yourself and your novel to emerge. Be grateful, and move on.

These two go together:
“The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.”

This. This a hundred times over. The best way to improve your writing is to surround yourself with better writers than yourself. This can mean socializing with other writers, taking classes, or simply reading good writing. Ideally, it is a combination of all of the above. So where do you find these writers?

“If you want to build a strong network that will help you move ahead in your career, it’s vital to first take stock of the connections you already have.”

Here is a thought that is both humbling and inspiring: every writer you know is probably better than you at something. Sometimes it’s the technical things, how they structure dialogue or end a scene or draw a theme through a whole novel. Sometimes it’s a function of where they are in their writing life. The one who writes prolifically can teach you about work habits. The one who writes slowly can teach you about attention to detail. The one who’s just starting out can rekindle your passion. The one who’s been doing it forever knows about perseverance.

“The will to create is encoded in human DNA.”

This is perhaps the best and most succinct articulation of the creative impulse I’ve ever read. Why do we write? The same reason entrepreneurs build companies and painters paint and quilters quilt and builders build throughout time. Because the desire to make something is fundamentally human. And acting on that impulse connects you with other humans and affirms your humanity.

So go forth and start-up your novel.