How to Write a Novel

When I decided to write a novel, I sat down and wrote it. This turned out to be a terrible idea. The draft I ended up with was unreadable. It contained every obvious rookie mistake. Then I started to learn to write properly, and redrafted my book along the way.

It took ten years.

I submitted the finished novel about 20 times and got praise and ‘almost but not quite’ replies from publishers and agents. So I wrote another book, using everything I’d learned. This one took just over a year, and the first publisher I sent it to bought it. (Transferral is available now,  from Chapters/Indigo, Amazon.ca or pre-order from Barnes and Noble, if you’re interested.)

I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way. If you want to write, here is my advice.

1). Read.

Read the kinds of books you love. Think about why you love them. See if you can find new books that you never thought you’d like. New genres and styles. Work out why you like some and not others.

Read books on writing. Buy them or borrow them from the library and work through every book you can. You don’t need to follow all their advice, but you should give it a try.

2). Take classes

In person, if you can. If you live far away from classes, or can’t afford them, take free courses online. EdX, Open Learn, Future Learn and Coursera are good places to start, but they are only a start. There is a wealth of information online on learning to write. Discuss writing with other learners, in person and in online forums.

3). Write

As much as you can, and as many different ways as you can. Try new things out. Finish books. Start new ones. You’ll hate your old writing as you learn more. But you’ll be able to mine the bad writing later for the gold that sometimes glimmers in it, so don’t throw it away.

4). Edit

Re-write as you learn. Use crit groups. Again, it’s nice if you can go in person, but there are thousands of online groups in every genre. Google to find groups that suit you. Take what advice helps, ignore the rest. You need a community and a critical eye on your work. Your friends and family won’t be harsh enough.

5). Repeat

Start again. Re-read the books you loved before. You’ll see each is an onion, with layers you only notice once you know more about writing. Take more in-depth classes. seminars, lectures by writers you respect. Go to conferences, if you can. Write more. Edit the new work. Try new crit groups. Then start again. Keep going through the cycle. Take your time. Persistence is key. Don’t give up and don’t be in a hurry, and you’ll get published eventually.

But don’t stop then, either. Keep going. Keep reading, taking classes/seminars, writing and editing. Because you’re never done learning how to write a novel.

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