You’ve got a novel in you, don’t you. That’s why you’re perusing editorial sites such as this one, digging into the craft. Inspecting lots of different avenues (hopefully), you’re learning and seeing what others are doing.
Whether you’ve started your book or not.
Because writing your first novel is a daunting task. Again, whether you’ve written the first page or ¾ of it or have finished the first draft, everything you thought you knew about the craft of fiction just fluttered out the window on the south wind.
It looked so easy.
I mean, if John Grisham can crank out the same Thriller fifty times in different settings and changing the character names, how difficult can it be?
And you’re not like the plethora of Johnny-come-latelies who type ‘The End’ and throw it up via Create Space five minutes later.
Because you’re serious about your craft. Or you wouldn’t be here, now, with me.
And the last thing on this Earth you want to do is publish some sub-standard novel and have the five people who actually read it laugh at you. Behind your back, of course, but somehow that laughter rings in your ears regardless!
So here’s the thing, boiled down to its essence: Writing is hard work.
And, there’s a ton of elements to learn, before you even get to the first quarter of the game.
It doesn’t take the savvy among us to figure that out pdq.
I’m often asked (pretty much daily!) whether an aspiring writer should take classes first, or join a workshop, or work with an editor in the initial stages, or just how to go about all this.
And I have a pretty set prescription (honed over these decades in the trenches), which I haven’t deviated from much in all this time:
- Write. Write, write, write, write, and write. Do this first. Before you read the how-to books, before you take that class. You’ve obviously had the passion for a while, or you wouldn’t still be grappling with the idea.
And there’s a simple reason for this. Writing creatively is a right-brain endeavor. It emerges from the deep subconscious, where all things creative live. The more you plug into this, the richer your writing is.
Learning the craft is the other side of the hat. It’s left-brained, logical, the studying of the trade, learning the basics, seeing what’s wrong in your masterpiece and fixing it.
And if you put on the left hat, before you’ve allowed the right one to flourish, you’ve just put a cap on your own creativity.
And we never, ever, ever, ever want to do that.
- Read. Read, read, read, read, and read. Not only in your genre, but as widely as possible. Read the classics. Read Literary (horrors, you say! :). Read Romance and Thrillers, Urban and Westerns. Read a little of everything. See how other authors accomplish what you’re trying to do.
A lot of new writers are concerned about inherently picking up the voice of whomever they’re reading, so they abstain from doing so. And you’ll hear a lot of advice to do exactly that.
Horse hockey. If you could write in Hemingway’s voice by reading him, we’d all be doing so.
And that’s missing the point—the point being you can learn bits of the craft that way, and everything you learn is helpful. Both now and a decade down the road.
- Join a Writer’s Workshop.
They’re great—to a point. But here you can learn the basics. Most have people read x amount of their work, and then the group critiques it. You can learn a lot of the fundamentals in these groups.
Plus, it’s a fabulous exercise to actually read your work aloud. You hear it differently. Not only do you get critique that may or may not be helpful, but you also “see” those parts that are clear as a mountain stream in your head but somehow got translated to the page as a muddy creek.
Just don’t overstay your welcome. By which I mean, as with any support group, the ones with writers are meant for you to a), take what you need and leave the rest, and b), ultimately grow out of. Unless of course you just like having coffee with these folks. Then you can stay 🙂
- Now, take that tome you’ve slaved over, then compared to others, then read aloud to the group, and look at it again. Hard.
Oh, Lawdy, does it look different now!
Count your blessings you didn’t query 84 agents or slap it out there via some self-pub method. Because now you see, don’t you? All the elementary mistakes, along with the major organic ones.
And if you don’t, send it to me and I’ll teach you what works and what doesn’t, why, how to fix it, etc.
Finally, I’m not big on how-to books about writing. There are a few good ones, but mostly you wade through a lot of crap to find a pearl or two.
So, do the above, do the work, rinse and repeat, and you’ll never end up being embarrassed with that book.
Instead, you’ll be mighty proud of it—and justifiably so.