Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
The suggestions I make and the advice I offer here will sound familiar to some of you. I’m listing suggestions I’ve made in other articles, the same suggestions countless editors, writing teachers, and agents offer repeatedly.
So, why repeat myself to say what’s already been said? Because maybe a new writer has missed those other articles and books and advice lists and will read this and be encouraged to both write and write well.
There are no shortcuts to writing a novel. You have to write the danged thing.
There are no shortcuts to writing a good novel. You have to know both the elements that go into a novel and those elements that will make it good.
Writers need knowledge.
And as writers gain experience in writing, they’ll gain knowledge. But writers can also gain knowledge from others.
Information about writing, editing, publishing, and querying is abundant. All those with access to a computer can have their questions answered. So don’t be hesitant about looking for information and answers. But check with multiple sources—don’t rely on a single person or group to answer all your questions.
To get started and to advance as a writer, learn and then practice the basics.
1. Read. Daily.
2. Learn what can be done with words. Play with them. Manipulate them. Become familiar with words, the most essential and basic of a writer’s tools.
3. Learn what a short story is, what makes a poem poetry, how to develop and present a convincing argument step by step.
4. Write. Write poetry, short stories, essays, dialogue, character sketches. Write stream-of-consciousness musings. Write overly detailed instructions on how to perform a task. Write a five-sentence story. Write a three-word poem.
5. Learn what goes into a novel. You’re going to need that information for the next suggestion.
6. Write a novel.
7. Recognize that your first novel is not going to be a masterpiece.
In the Middle Ages, an apprentice or journeyman was granted the status of master craftsman after his master deemed he was ready. The apprentice worked on many projects until presenting the one that convinced his mentor (and their guild) that he had earned the title of master, meaning he had mastered the craft.
In current usage, masterpiece means someone’s best work.
8. A first draft is not a finished manuscript. Realize that you will need to edit and rewrite.
9. Understand that none of the words you’ve written are priceless, untouchable, sacrosanct. You will cut words from your manuscripts and doing so will improve your stories.
10. Learn the craft. Learn how to develop characters and unfold plot, how to mix dialogue with exposition, how to write scenes, and how to stir reader emotions. Learn about point of view and genre.
Learn what back story is and learn when and where it’s appropriate to add to a story. Learn how to add it to a story.
11. Learn the mechanics. Study grammar and punctuation. Practice different sentence constructions. Learn the meanings of words and how word choice affects plot, tone, and reader expectations.
12. Write another novel using what you learned from writing the last one.
13. Remind yourself that not all readers will love your work—your plots, your characters, or your style. And acknowledge that it’s no big deal when they don’t.
14. Keep the reader in mind; know your audience.
15. Most important suggestion? Take this advice and these suggestions to heart. Don’t just look at this as another list of things to do and then check off. Follow the suggestions. Make them a part of your writing life. See if they don’t make you a better writer.
See if they don’t help you avoid mistakes that countless numbers of new writers make, mistakes that delay writing or publishing success for so many.
Don’t expect miracles—you will not be the first writer to write the perfect first draft and win a Pulitzer with that perfect first draft and have Hollywood beating down your door for the chance to make the movie from that perfect first draft.
Yes, you can dream; those dreams will carry you through long and longer nights and frustration and doubt. But writing, creating something from nothing other than imagination, requires more than dreams. It requires patience, and trial and error. It requires work. It requires discipline.
Do both, the dreaming and the working. Imagine. And then show your readers what you’ve imagined. Get them imagining too.
Write good story.
Create worlds and adventures with your words.