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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How to write a novel if you've never done it before

Someone on Twitter asked me for advice about writing a novel. (Actually, I think she asked me for a one-on-one class in novel-writing for her friend, and my response was to smile vaguely and write a blog post.) Here’s my advice:

1) Write about something you love, and characters you love. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with them, so they might as well be people on whom you’ll lavish your time willingly.

2) Have reasonable expectations for yourself. And experiment a little at first to find out what those expectations should be. For example, don't expect you can keep up a NaNoWriMo pace (1600 words a day) if you also have four children at home or a three-hour comute. Maybe 700 words a day is your ideal pace, with two days a week off.

2A) Maybe experiement with some short stories first, just so you can figure out your own "normal."

3) Read a lot. Read widely. Read in the genre you’re writing. But don’t try to write your own version of someone else’s book.

4) Learn the rules before you feel free to break them.

5) Make sure the main character solves the main conflict.

6) Get to know your characters, but leave room for them to surprise you.

7) Don’t let a critic destroy your self-confidence, but if every reader says the same thing, it benefits you to figure out why.

8 ) Epic battles don’t engage the reader. Individuals within the epic battles do.

9) Don’t share your first drafts. Write crappy rough drafts without looking for perfection on the first shot. The reason to have a rough draft is to have a splendid second draft.

10) Write looking for questions, not to give answers. Write because your soul requires it, not because you have a “message.” If you have a “message,” call Western Union. If you have a story, write a story.

What else, guys? Share away in the comments box, and then I don't have to give a twitter-follower's friend a one-on-one novel-writing class.


Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or shoveling snow. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 


Amanda said...

I've actually learned so much from reading writing "how to" books. The best ones have been by authors I really love to read, like Stephen King. His "On Writing" memoir was so inspirational.

Maureen Fisher said...

Develop a thick skin. Everyone gets rejections--some more than others. Just pick yourself, dust yourself off, figure out the reason for the rejection (if possible), and fix it. Keep writing. Eat chocolate.