I get a lot of e-mail from readers who want to be writers, but they're not sure how to get started. I thought it would be interesting if we all shared how we wrote that first novel.
Here's how I did it. In 1990, I was 20 years old. I'd just taken a college creative writing class and caught the bug to write. I'd taken plenty of writing classes before, but they were taught by short story writers. This one was taught by a novelist, so she required us to turn in chapters of a novel as our final project. That's what hooked me. I've never been sent by a short story. Novels send me, and I was finally writing what I wanted to read.
When the class ended, I didn't want to stop. Unfortunately, I graduated from college and had to get a job. Although my major was English, not journalism, I found myself with a copyediting job at the major newspaper in Montgomery, Alabama's capital. This was about an hour's drive from my apartment. It was also an evening shift, 3 p.m. to midnight, because the paper was a morning paper. (Let's not even talk about my weekends, which were Tuesday and Wednesday. Party on.) So here's what my day looked like:
8 a.m. Get up, shower.
8:30 Type what I'd written the day before on a TYPEWRITER. I kid you not. Computers were exorbitant back then. You'll be happy to know the experience of typing an entire 100,000-word novel on a typewriter, then revising it and typing the whole thing AGAIN, did drive me to buy my first computer before I finished my second novel.
9:30 Write, LONGHAND, with breaks to buy food and pantyhose. Yes, people still wore pantyhose to work back then. The pantyhose were the bane of my existence, besides the typewriter.
1 Change into work clothes.
1:30 Drive to work.
4 "Dinner" break. We took it so early because the night would get increasingly crazy as the reporters hit deadline and the stories rolled in for copyediting. The other copyeditors often would go to dinner together. I couldn't afford this, and I also saw this time as precious. I would bring a peanut butter sandwich and go sit on the steps of one of the state government buildings surrounding the newspaper office--my favorite was the state capitol--and write some more. It was during one of these hours in the hot late afternoon of summer, sitting on the steps of the Alabama Forestry Commission building, that I finished my first novel and immediately wrote the first page of my second.
8 a.m. Start over.
Yes, I did sometimes hang out with my friends rather than writing during the middle of the day--but not often, because they were still in college classes. And no, I didn't watch TV. I didn't have one. I was spartan, baby, and loving it. I really did get a lot of joy out of writing, which is why I'm still doing it, right now, at the kitchen table, at 4:30 in the morning before my son gets up.
That's my story. What's yours?