Thursday, April 10, 2014

How to Write a Novel Part Twelve with Guest blogger Kat Carlton

I pointed out in some of my earlier blogs that a key to success, at least for me, was either tricking other people into doing my work or, hopefully, taking credit for other people's work. This rarely involves outright stealing a manuscript and then bludgeoning the writer, but I wouldn't rule it out completely, either. I've tried it with Paul Levine, but he is surprisingly agile.
I put the call out far and wide to some of my friends associated with publishing, which included writers, critics as well as editors.  I explained to them what I was trying to do here on Thursdays and got a good response.  Our first guest blogger is the lovely Kat Carlton.  All you need to know is that she’s a good writer and a friend of mine but I’ll also share this:

Kat Carlton is the alias for a covert creative operative who’s content to kick ass from behind her laptop, since (unlike her characters) she can barely spell the word ‘karate’ and has the street smarts of an eggplant. Two Lies and a Spy (Simon & Schuster) is her first young adult novel. Please visit Kat at

Writing the *&^%$#@! Novel by Kat Carlton
So, you want to write a novel? Really? Is there something wrong with you? Are you nuts? Do you enjoy, say . . . cutting each leaf and twig of your hedges with manicure scissors? Searching for buried treasure in a cat box? Tweezing the hairs of a rabid raccoon, one by one? Because that might be more fun.

Sure, I can tell you about the process of writing books. I have written 24 contracted ones for 4 New York publishing houses. And I know you probably want me to be all upbeat and cheery and wave pom-poms at you. “Gimme me an S! Gimme a T! Gimme an O, R, Y! You can do it! Go! Rah, rah!”

You can do it. Really. I want you to know that. But writing a novel is a long, arduous process during which you may question your abilities, your perseverance and your sanity. So you should be afraid. Be very afraid. The question is: what do you do with that fear?  

I still struggle with it. I’m a professional novelist, but on many days, I’d rather peel off my own skin whole and sew a dress out of it than sit at my computer and write. I’d rather scrub toilets at the bus station. I’d rather floss an angry alligator’s teeth.

But here I sit, writing. And egad! I must soon commit novelism again. The voices in my head are driving me to it, despite Microsoft and Webster and the ghost of my dead mother telling me that ‘novelism’ is not a word. I must commit it.

As a serial author, you’d think that those voices commandeering my brain would actually be helpful in plotting my course of fictional mayhem—or at least my new novel—but they aren’t. Neither is that mythological creature, the Muse. That fickle tramp is off romping in blank white sheets with some other scribe.

Nope, it’s just me here, cursing at the cursor and myself for having agreed to write a blog on writing The *&^%$#@! Novel. But I’d rather do this than my taxes, so . . .

Let’s talk about fear.

Writing a novel is scary enough when you haven’t ever written one. I will give you that. But writing a different kind of novel after you’ve written over twenty--and they haven’t set the market on fire--is terrifying.

See, my plans to hit the Times list writing Sassy, Sexy Fiction with No Literary Pretensions have backfired so far. I intended to laugh all the way to the bank (which is now laughing at me) with the added benefit of pissing off my aforementioned dead mother, who was a very lofty literary critic and scholar. (Mummy, I do hope there’s good Scotch up there. I know you’ve had to pour yourself some stiff ones ‘cuz of me.)

I mention my own terror not because it in any way trumps yours . . . I say it because it is so very normal to be afraid. As I mentioned, you should be afraid. The question is how you perceive that fear and what you do with it.

Writer’s block? It’s fear, plain and simple. Writer’s block is your avoidance of your manuscript because it’s scaring the piss out of you that you can’t get the words out. So siddown, you. The more you run from it, the more it’ll torture you.

Compulsive and paralytic self-editing? That’s fear, too. Fear that once you get the words out, they won’t be elegant enough or pithy enough or brilliant enough or funny enough. So stop it already! Just spill. The more anal retentive you get about that one particular sentence or paragraph, the worse it will be.

Research mania? Guess what . . . it’s not your noble thirst for knowledge. It’s—say it with me now—fear. Stop reading background stuff and get your own words on the page. Create specific situations. Then research on a need-to-know basis.

The crappiest thing about fear is that old, moldy cliché: the only way through it is through it. Yeah, I see the skid-mark you’re leaving as you try to sprint around it. Yeah, I see you at the bar trying to pretend it’s not there.

We all deal with fear—it may be our very reason for writing in the first place. Wanting to leave a mark on the world. Or at least a squiggle somewhere in Google.

So change your approach to fear. Let it energize you. Punch it in the face. Wrestle with it; embrace it until it’s sick of you, twists away and runs off to torment someone else.

Whatever you decide to do with your fear is up to you. But it will come back to haunt you as you write, so use it. Smear it onto your pages as drama, as comedy, as angst or as crisis. How you handle fear is ultimately more important to your career as a novelist than inspiration, punctuation or approbation.

So hold fear off with a gun while you read craft books and figure out a beginning, middle, and end. Beat it with a hammer while you muse on how your character grows and changes during your plot. Plunge a knife into it as you string sentences and paragraphs and pages and chapters together. Poison it as you revise. And flat-out bomb it as you do it all again.

What’s that you say? I’m asking you to become an ambidextrous, violent, grandiose psycho who fights imaginary battles with abstract concepts—all while typing and possibly drinking coffee at the same time? 

Well, yeah.

That’s how you write The &^%$#@! Novel.


  1. Thanks, Kat. Excellent post. Of course, any post I trick someone else into writing is a plus.

    We need insight from writers like you with real publishing experience.

    Jim Born

    1. Jim, you're awfully honest about your trickery. :-) I didn't feel conned at all! Of course, that's the secret of a good con, no? LOL. Thanks for inviting me to guest blog.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Kat. I'm going to look for your books.


  3. Very funny. I'd say more but I'm afraid of you.

    1. LOL. Should that give me a cheap thrill?
      Back to spinning an improbable plot . . . thanks again for hosting me!

  4. Excellent, practical advice. I sometimes remind myself: "Put Your Ass in the Chair."