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Writing that First Novel

By Palmer Owyoung
Posted Monday, January 17, 2005

My experiences writing my first novel
Writing that first novel

Winston Churchill said it best when he wrote-“Writing a book is an adventure: to begin with it is a toy and amusement; then it becomes a master, and than it becomes a tyrant; and the last phase is just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude- you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

Writing your first novel is a daunting task. It is a dance, a balancing act, between your inner-editor, and that part of you that, for some inexplicable reason, wants so badly to put your story down on paper.

I struggled with myself for most of my twenties, including a two year stint in the Peace Corps where I started and quit twenty different projects. Though I wrote almost everyday in my journal and in letters to friends, I could never really get past the inner-editor that kept trashing my stories, in order to write the great American novel that I had anticipated when I’d first arrived in Africa.

I would sit there in the heat of the Namibian desert, banging away on the keys of an old typewriter, romanticizing that the Hemingwayesque setting would somehow provide enough fodder for my imagination that the book would simply write itself. I’d always make it to about the fifth page before I’d hit a wall and would end up sitting there staring at the blank pages with a despondent and vacuous look in my eyes.

Afraid that I was going to end up a starving writer I went to graduate school where there was little time to do anything else, but digest and regurgitate esoteric political theories on why dictators preferred briefs over boxers and how this contributed to their bellicose regimes.

I was then sidetracked to the second San Francisco gold rush, searching for the next killer app and enough financial freedom to give me the time to write. After the dot com bomb and the company that I had started went bust I did finally have the time that I needed to write, though not exactly in the way that I’d imagined. I thought that I would be writing my first book on a tropical island with a pina colada in one hand and a pen in the other. Instead I was sitting with my laptop in the corner of a dusty library shushing high school students.

I’ve always said that I hate writing, but I love having written. I thought that writers were supposed to be inspired by the wild lives that they led or the fabulous friends that they had, but instead the tedium and the boredom of the process had always frustrated me. But faced with unemployment and unsure of what I was doing with my life I started to write again.

Writing my first novel gave me the opportunity to figure out my process and what I learned was that rather than waiting around for inspiration to show up you just have to slog through the boredom, frustration and tedium to get to your story. What I was surprised to learn was just how much of being able to write well was just showing up everyday, writing badly and learning to accept it.

I’ve learned that what works for me is just sitting down in front of the keyboard and writing as much as I can for as long as I can. Doing this keeps my inner-editor at bay. What I usually come out with is a series of unintelligible sentences, dropped modifiers, and grammar errors that would make a 3rd grader wince. But when I start sifting through the wreckage of overwrought verbiage and discordant tenses I find a few gems that I read over and over again with great satisfaction. The beauty of writing is that it is a very forgiving medium to work in. The writer unlike, the sculptor, painter, or woodworker can discard, reassemble and rework their characters

Writing my first novel has also been a lot about overcoming my personal insecurities. Since writing has been the only thing in school that I truly excelled at I was always looking for external validation from it. I was terrified that if people didn’t immediately find my prose pithy and delightful that I might suffer a debilitating brain aneurysm and lose my ability to write altogether.

So much of writing the first book was getting over my self and my ego, letting go and realizing that people would both love and hate my work.

It’s more than two years and 68,000 words later, my book has finally come to fruition. Now in a last act of faith I fling it to the public and I am filled with both trepidation and exhilaration as I watch my baby take its first steps in the world.

The initial reader reviews have been exceedingly kind using words like, inspiring, hilarious and brilliant in its description. For this I breathe a sigh of relief, but I know that other less praising words are likely to be used as well and I’ve learned to be okay with that.

So get that novel out of you even if is terrible. At least it will give you the opportunity to slay that monster within.

Copyright 2003 Palmer Owyoung All rights reserved.

About the Author
Palmer Owyoung's first novel, Halcyon Daze, a comedy about a woman having a quarter life crisis is currently available on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com as well as his website (http://www.palmerowyoung.com). It will go into wide release in June of 2003. He is from San Francisco, but currently resides in Singapore. He has a Bachelors in Sociology from UC Santa Barbara and a Masters in International Relations from UC San Diego.