My family gave me a unicycle for Father's Day. They might be trying to kill me. Thirty days later, I'm still alive – Ha! – and covered in wisdom. Or maybe those are bruises. Whatever. The point is, I've discovered that learning to ride my one-wheeled-antagonist is a lot like writing a novel. Strap on your helmet and wrist guards, and I'll explain.
1. It Seems Like a Good Idea at First
Unbridled optimism might be the first sign you could be a writer or a unicyclist. You're sure in your heart-of-hearts that this new undertaking is a great idea, and you can definitely get it done if you work hard enough. This feeling is followed by the realization that...
2. You Have No Idea What You're Doing
Whether saddling up for the first time or staring at the blank screen while the cursor pulses in silent judgment, you quickly realize you're clueless about how to begin. Congratulations! You're on your way! To the emergency room. Or maybe the Newbery Award. I'm just saying prepare yourself for anything at this point, is all.
3. Research is Key
Write what you know is a cute aphorism, but maybe a bit of a lie. Unicycle what you know is straight up crazy talk. Research is your friend, the Tom to your Huck, the Martin to your Lewis. I wouldn't even have been able to get on that cyclopean-death-steed if I hadn't googled and youtubed beforehand. The same can be said about writing. Do I know which fork to use first at a State Dinner, or the melting point of human flesh? No, no I don't. But the internet does. If that fails, your friendly, neighborhood librarian is just an email away. (Raise your hand if you think the NSA has you flagged for some "necessary" search topics. Yup, me too.)
Plotter or pantser, sometimes you wander off the main road and end up in the garden. Ask yourself, "is that poison ivy?" and "is anything happening in this scene that moves the plot forward?"
Atop the monohoop-of-shame, you have to activate your core to stay on course. So, what is the core of your writing? The characters. What do the characters want, what do they need, and what's in their way? When you're face down in the hydrangea take a moment to check in with your characters, and they'll pull you out of the weeds. (I may have sprained my metaphorical ankle with this one.)
This is the part of Hero's Journey when the hero faces abject failure and almost quits, but then somehow beats the odds to return with the elixir. The elixir in this instance being a large bottle of Advil.
Writing has similar, less (physically) painful pitfalls. You will hit them. Good crit partners will be there to ask if you're okay, and get you back up and pedaling toward a resolution in no time.
Yolen's Law gets the job done on the page and on the road. You're not going to get better thinking about writing or riding. You're going to get better by doing them. A novel is a big, intimidating goal. Mastering the single-wheeled-conveyance-of-clowns-and-doom is too. I'm nowhere near joining the circus, but I am better than I was yesterday. So don't sit down to write a novel, sit down to write the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next scene. You can get a lot accomplished with just two pages a day. Keep track. Celebrate your progress. Jump for joy.
Meanwhile, if you need a unicyclist that's good for about eight to ten feet at a time, I'm available.