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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Questions and Answers: How to write a novel

Advice: How to write a novel


Some people have been asking for advice on how to go about writing a novel so I thought I'd add some advice here on my blog from time to time. I'll keep it in bite sized chunks so you can nibble as you wish.

'Writers write'

I'm not sure who said that, but it's a good thing to remember. All the time you spend telling people that you are a writer or discussing ideas or setting up websites or emailing this and that can be summarised as follows:
'Time that you are not a writer.'

Why is that?
Because:

'Writers write'

That is to say, in the literal sense, when I am writing I am a writer. When I am not writing I am not a writer.

So, if you want to be a writer, you'd better start writing.

Excuses for not starting to write immediately:


I don't have time.

If you don't have time then it is because you have prioritised other things as more important than writing. That's okay. If they are more important to you then enjoy them instead. But if writing is truly important to you, it needs moving up that priority list so that you make time for it.

I'm waiting for inspiration

Good luck with that. I'm waiting for world peace. Let's see who waits longest.
Writers need to learn that you don't wait for anything. Just begin. If it's not perfect it doesn't matter. Write something down. Write some more. Tumble your thoughts onto the page. Call it your first rough draft and don't worry if it is a mess or doesn't make sense. When you come to your next draft you can take a closer look at what you've written and start trimming out those weeds, or knocking down the fence!

I don't know what to write about

Well that is okay. It is often said you should write about what you know. The converse is probably more true. Don't write about what you don't know. Who would want to read it?
But ultimately, what you write about depends on why you are writing in the first place. Do you want to create stories and characters? Do you want to express your own experiences? Do you want to make lots of money? All of these are different. 

If you are writing to make money then make what you can sell, don't sell what you can make.
If you are writing about your own experiences, ask yourself why should anyone else care? What makes your experiences interesting and different so that people will want to read about them? 
If you want to create stories and characters then choose a genre that you are comfortable in, and one that you have read widely in.
[We'll come to genres in another advice section so stay tuned]

One thing I would say is that if you want to write something then do it. Don't expect everything you write to be of good enough quality to publish or even self publish. You should never publish anything unless it is the best you can offer and you have thoroughly edited and proofed it with at least several other people if not a professional editor. And not just once. You should read your entire book multiple times to pluck out all those typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and parts that are not wrong but just aren't right either. Be a perfectionist. Your readers deserve the best!

Somebody else once said, 'Write a million words and then begin.'

That is great advice.

It means don't wait for that great idea and then try to create a great book on your first attempt. You won't have the experience and skill to accomplish the best you can do first time you try. Writing is like anything else. The best way to improve is to get lots of practice. Start writing short stories. Write twenty or more. Use them as practice to hone your skills. Don't expect to sell them. Write them to learn. 

Write knowing that every hundred words you write and throw in the bin is not time wasted. It is time learning. It is time spent gaining experience. It is making mistakes, falling down, and getting back up again. It's the best experience anyone can get.

Write, write and write.
Read, read and read.

Don't wait. Start now.

Check out some of the books I've reviewed that cover writing as well. You'll need to read a lot of books as you go.

I'll post up more advice in a while. Happy writing. Start now. Don't accept any excuses, least of all from yourself.


[Posted by Peter James West, author of the science fiction series 'Tales of Cinnamon City'
[Post relates to: Tales of Cinnamon City, Information Cloud, Cinnamon City, Ascension, Lord Hades, 2015, Science Fiction]
For news and updates, visit Science Fiction author Peter James West's blog http://www.sciencefictionextra.com