How to Write a First Novel by Steven Carter




How to Write a First Novel

by Steven Carter




  1. Buy some scissors.
  2. Learn, from your own social awkwardness—the polite, smiling silences after you have spoken your mind at parties, weddings, meetings, everyone within ear shot staring at his or her shoes—that you’re not as charming as you think you are.
  3. Write daily for a minimum of twelve years.
  4. Give up.
  5. A few months later, start tucking in your shirt again.  Write some more.
  6. No hats.  The importance of this cannot be stressed enough.  No Samuel Jackson backward berets, no baseball caps set in any direction, no compensatory cowboys hats, even if your hair starts coming out and you have to clear a mouse-sized clump from the shower drain every morning so the water doesn’t pool over your feet.  And, though it might seem to go without saying, no bandanas either.      
  7. Light beards are acceptable.
  8. Start divorce proceedings.
  9. Your gorgeous wife at your side, stand in front the judge as he looks over your property settlement.  When he asks, Is this it?  No houses, no boats, no cars? pause for just the perfect length of time, then say, No, but I wish there were.
  10. A few months later, start tucking in your shirt again.  Write some more.
  11. Finally read the copy of Moby Dick you’ve been hauling around for fifteen years, allowing yourself to skim the Leviticus-like sections that have always stopped you before.
  12. Admit to yourself and others that, even though you’re wild about Joyce’s early work, and you admire the chances the guy took, you just find Ulysses boring.  Feel the freedom that brings.
  13. Stop smoking.
  14. Stand at the edge of the abyss and look it over.
  15. Recall some shady impressions of Howard Hughes from your youth.
  16. With the wonderful advice of many friends and associates, write a novel and call it I Was Howard Hughes.  So that Google will find this, find a way to work the title into the odd fictional piece you are writing about how you wrote it, even though you usually don’t like that kind of cleverness.
  17. Relax.  Don’t take what you’re doing so seriously.  It’s not brain surgery.  It’s not even a trip to the vet with a beloved pet.
  18. Remember that Shakespeare was a businessman.  He had to fill up the Globe.  What would he have done in a world with Google?
  19. I Was Howard Hughes:  “The one book you have to read this year!”  “It makes a great stocking-stuffer!”  “Kids from 8 to 80 will love it!”  “The queen approves!”
  20. Take your clothes to the Laundromat, and like always, sit in a plastic chair in front your washer, silently watching the clothes spin, your reflection staring back at you from the glass door, the air full of cigarette smoke and the irritating jingles of a pin ball machine.  You’re a novelist now.  Smile faintly.




Steven Carter recently wrote a book.




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