So You Want to Write a Catholic Novel

In my more than three decades of writing for Catholic publications and publishing houses I’ve come across a lot of people who have talked about writing a novel . . . someday. If that’s you:

  1. Why didn’t you start one?
  2. Why did you stop once you started?
  3. What would help you start and complete your book?
  1. I’ve actually started 2 books. Storylines etc. They both were missing a bit in my mind.

  2. At first I felt they were really weak. But now, after I’ve gotten much more involved in my faith, I realized they don’t tell the story how I really want it told… So MUCH revamping is necessary…And now, I’m a busy WAHM… but I should start back… RIGHT??? Even if it’s just to finish the stories.

  3. What would help… feeling free with my time. It will happen… but “someday”.

What do you suggest? How does one get out of our own way???

I’ve started and stopped a lot of books. Sometimes it’s easier (and better!) to begin with a new one than to “fix” the old one.

I sugggest you begin with the idea of telling a good story. Don’t think about teaching religious education or making a “Catholic” point, but let who you are – a Catholic – be reflected in what you write. Write what you know, right?

Some authors like a complete outline before they begin. Others tend to wing it more. I’m more a winger. I have a character I like, a plot that seems interesting to me, a problem that the main character will soon have to begin solving or dealing with, and an idea of how the book will end.

Whatever method works best for you is just fine.

The real key is to write a set number of words every day, six days a week. Even if that’s only 250 or 300 words, it adds up quickly over the weeks and months.

The secret is there is no secret. It takes a commitment and work. But being able to use your God-given gift of creativity is a real joy.

Sometimes I feel called to be a writer. But I tried my hardest in my twenties to get my novels published and it didn’t pan out. I have since then reverted back to the Catholic faith and have toyed with the idea of writing religious fiction, but I am a mom with young children and expecting another. Time is a big factor, as well as the fact that a) it might not be God’s will; b) I may have zero talent or even c) it might be God’s will for me, but not right now. I really don’t know. Plus, I don’t feel as if I can pray about it like I normally would because I am not in a great place in my spiritual life. God and I feel like Facebook friends at the moment.

Started ten… finished five… have the rejection letters to prove it. Working on No. 11, almost done, have a foot in the door… my life is busier than it has been in the past five endeavors, but somehow, it’s moving forward. It’s taking longer than it has in the past, but at some point you have to decide where on your list of priorities writing is and make sure it really is at that place. I know that my family and my jobs have to come before the writing… but the writing comes before shopping, lunches out with friends, TV watching and surfing the internet. It’s up to me to keep it there.

You’re wise to put first things first. It helped me to remember: God, family, writing. In that order. It well may be that later on you’ll have time to write and have more to write about, including being a mom.
I can remember when my children were little and I wrote family column the thought would cross my mind: “You kids get away! I have to write about how important being a parent is!” Then I’d smile. It all worked out.

Good for you! I have no doubt those five helped you write a much better number eleven. I wrote ten before I had one published. As with any skill, that’s how a person learns.

And good for you for carving out that time in your schedule. It does take some sacrificing. In the long run, perseverance trumps talent.

I’ve started lots of books & stories, but haven’t finished much in recent years. I have several ideas floating around right now, but not sure where I want to go with them.

One minor stumbling block for me is that I don’t know the proper, accepted capitalization for certain things–the sacraments being one of the major sticking points. Should they all be capitalized? If not, which ones shouldn’t be, and is it a situational thing? In other words, I know the building I got to Mass in is a church, but the overall body of Catholics is the Church. My wife and I are in a marriage, but would our specific sacrament be our Marriage? Is there a writers’/style guide for Catholics?

That’s exactly it went with me. I’ve just published a novel (with a Google site for it here). The main character is half Frank and half Roman in a Roman province that is about to be invaded by the Franks. Having lost her mother she travels to the provincial capital to find her father whom she has never seen. She has two problems: what kind of a rapport will she be able to establish with her father, and how will she thread her way through the upheaval of a Frankish-Roman war with her blood pulling her in two directions. The rest of the novel just worked out that initial premise.

That is not how it went with me - but certainly how it should have! And so +/- ten years to finish the thing.:whistle:

Those are good questions! I ask them when I’m copyediting a book for a Catholic publishing house. It can vary from house to house. Some follow their own style rules (upperecase (captial letter) for Him and Himself if it refers to God, for example) and some lean more heavily toward the Chicago Manual of Style.

Capitalization and such don’t matter when you’re working on your first draft. Finish that and then, as you edit, make the necessary corrections.

I talk about that in this little video:

It’s part of a free companion podcast for the ($2.99) book “How to Write Your Novel in Nine Weeks.”

I don’t always practice what I preach! It also took me 10-plus years to complete “Pope Bob.” (It nagged at me – off and on – for a decade!)

I’ve lost track of the number of stories I started and never finished over the past 20 years. I’m working on the whole “follow through” thing. :o

I think you’re right in that it’s often easier to start a new one than to fix the old ones.

I have one concept I really like that has been ruminating in my mind for the past ten years. I’m still waiting for the characters and plot details to become clearer. :slight_smile:

I think commitment is the key. You just have to decide to do it and then do it. I’ve let other things take priority (some deservedly so, others not so much). My anal qualities tend to slow me down as well. I want to get everything right the first time without having to go back and rewrite. Throughout all my schooling (from elementary school through grad school) and the hundreds of pages in papers I wrote, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I actually wrote a second draft (and that was only when the assignment required multiple drafts). I guess I’m a competent enough writer that I was able to get away with it. But it sure didn’t help me develop my editing skills. :o

It may be better for you to start writing on a regular basis before the plot and characters are as clear as you would like them to be. For me, one of the joys of creative writing is having characters “surprise” me by saying or doing something I didn’t expect.

I talk a little bit about that here:

Also, it seems wanting One Perfect First Draft isn’t working for you. Instead, consider having One Very Good Final Draft (with some rewriting and self-editing after the initial draft is done).

Perfectionism can really hobble a writer. And . . . it’s impossible to produce “the perfect piece.”

It can help to remember there is no “perfect time” to start writing your novel. It always takes at least a little leap of faith. Or . . . maybe a better comparison is it’s like taking those few first few steps out into the desert.

Small steps.

Just 300 words a day, six days a week (take Sunday off!), and in a month you have more than 7,000 words done!

Or, if you want a real kick in the pants, sign up for NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month ( That’s a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, November 1-November 30… or, 1667 words a day! Sounds crazy, but if my feet are held to fire (even if the deadline is nothing more than a personal challenge, with the feel that someone is actually tracking you) I do a lot better. I’ve participated five times and “won” (that is, finished 50,000 words in 30 days) twice. Yes, I wrote a lot of junk, but I’d rather think of it as a lot of revisable material (in fact, my work-in-progress was last year’s NaNo effort… and I only finished 20,000 words before I bailed, but it was a good start.)

Anyone want to join me? I’ve already signed up!

Thank you for letting writers know about this. I mentioned it in a recent blog item and wondered if it worked for people.

I never did NaNoWriMo but I did take part in the 3-Day Novel Contest when I was first freelancing.

In the end, it’s whatever helps the writer write and finish the piece he or she is working on. When I was editor of a diocesan paper I wrote a family humor column and would sit down at a computer and do a month’s worth at a time: four or five of them. (I already had my topics and angles in mind, and the column was very short.) There was a priest who also wrote a column and he would do his with a pen and yellow tablet, scratching out and rewriting, getting up in the middle of the night to consider a word or phrase. Neither of us could undertstand the other one’s method.We agreed our own seemed best and the other . . . awful!

I have to admit I understand the priest! I create better on paper with pen and then take it to the laptop to rewrite and revise. If my revisions go well, I can usually continue creating on the computer, but I prefer a pen, a notebook and a cup of coffee at my local coffee shop (where I can’t be distracted by household chores that never seem urgent until I sit down to write!)

My prayers are with those who are feeling a nudge to write a book. I know that can seem impossible. (“Not me, God. You have the wrong person!”) A little bit of effort, day by day, can take you a long way.

Another November looming, another NaNoWriMo on the horizon.

*Any *day is a good day to begin, continue (or finish!) your novel.

At this point I’d give my right arm for a little time to write. Or even read. I have a short story I’ve been working on. I promised a friend I’d have it complete by the end of this year. I haven’t touched it since a couple weeks before our 6-month-old was born.

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