This website has one purpose and one purpose only – to encourage you to write….not for an agent not for a publisher – for you. Writing is a great thing in, and of, itself.
Writing short stories is great fun BUT, for me writing a novel is where it’s ‘at’. Elsewhere on this website you will find some tips on various aspects of creative writing (how to write a ‘scene’, finding you character’s voice etc.) but these techniques will only help you once you’ve made a start. And here’s the thing…you don’t need to know all that stuff before you start. You can get going with it and learn it along the way.
You can start enjoying creative writing right today…
That being said…writing a novel is a big project, there’s loads you have to think about and it goes on and on and on (….and on….etc.) but that’s what makes it great. To paraphrase the greatest ever British Philosopher – Douglas Adams;
“A novel is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is….”
…and it’s easy to let this put you off getting started; the size of the task is staggering. So before we get into the nitty-gritty of writing, I thought it might be helpful tell you ‘don’t despair’ and ‘you can go it’. It’s doable and you can do the doing. The trick (like any ‘big job’) is to break the work down into smaller bits and get stuck in. What you need my friend, is a process. I’m going to give you a good steady workable process in a moment.
How to write a novel in 3 ‘easy’ steps
Every writer has a process of some shape or form. You need to develop your own, one that works for you. The difficulty is that it’s tough to develop a writing process straight out of the box; you need to be writing (or so most people find) in order to figure out your process. ‘Catch 22’ as they say.
What follows is intended to be a surrogate process: one that you can adopt and one you can change or develop as you figure out what your own process needs to be. Do what I describe below and you WILL end up with your novel…. But please please please, deviate from it at any point as you figure out what your process needs to look like.
Here’s an overview of the three stages of novel writing;
- Create your first draft
- Re-write it
- Technical Edit
Each step holds its own joys and challenges – let me break them down for you…
Create your first draft
Hemingway (never) said; “write drunk, edit sober”…. It’s a quote that’s been mis-attributed to him many times. Writing, re-writing and editing are demanding activities that require focus, discipline and a great deal of tenacity (not whiskey).
Having said that, writing a first draft is much more about the free-flow of creativity than the other stages. OK if you know all the tricks and conventions of creative writing, your first draft might come out more refined that if you’re a novice – but you really don’t need to worry about your technical abilities to get working on your first draft. Jump in!
The first draft has only one objective – to get the story out of your head. Its fine for characterisations to be flat, for plot-points to be bumpy – the first draft is akin to cutting down the tree whose wood you will then use to craft a beautiful piece of furniture.
Its no more complicated than that – you can start right away. I promise you.
Keep these things in mind;
- Sit down and tell yourself the story
- Don’t leave ‘tricky bits’ out if you come to them – gaps can be impossible to bridge – get something down ‘start to finish’ – it can be refined / cut / replaced later
- Give your characters the space to do and say stuff (they will want to speak to you – it’s part of the magic you’ll experience)
- Don’t agonise over decisions in your plot / characters – get something down
And remember to avoid these cliches (see the page ‘new to creative writing’);
- Don’t start with your character waking up (or hungover)
- Don’t describe them by having them look into a mirror
- Don’t start right at the beginning – throw your character into the deep end.
If that’s all the encouragement you need – then skip the rest of this section and get writing your first draft….if you’re still a little unsure as to how to make a start try one of these exercises;
If you already have a plot in your head
Draw it – literally – draw a time line with boxes showing what happens and in what order. Pick a point some distance in from the start of your timeline and begin your story at that point.
If you have something you want to say but no plot or characters
Try expressing your idea in the form of premise-protagonist-pivot. For example you might be all fired up about how you were let down in love. This might be expressed as;
Premise – love stinks
Protagonist – a young man
Pivot – the young man thinks love should be great but will find out it stinks
or an alternative pivot – the young man expects love to stink but finds it to be fantastic
The point here is that if you are finding it difficult to make a start, if you state your premise and then set your protagonist ‘against’ it, the source of the conflict you’ll have in your story becomes obvious – now you can make a start.
The bottom line is that you really do just need to put pen to paper – its a first draft – get going…give yourself permission.
…and now (or in a year or so) you have the first draft of your novel….seriously – just get stuck in.
Here’s where you need to know what you’re doing in a technical sense. I love this part of the process; its where characters come to life and the world I’m creating becomes a real place.
There are loads of conventions and tricks you’ll need to learn and get under your belt for this part of the process. Story structure, characterisation, point of view decisions, scene architecture, not to mention getting to grips with grammar. It goes on and on, even the most experienced professional author will be learning and developing new ways of making their prose come to life.
The good news is that all this stuff can be learned – and these days the advice is out there. I’ve put pages together covering some the tricks I can think of and the sites and people I’ve found most useful, so feel free to take a look around.
This is the final stage – you’ve created your first draft, you’ve re-written it into something of substance – now you need to go back – read it out loud to yourself – and make sure each sentence has all the right words in the right order. (Here’s where you’ll look for grammar, typos, ‘sticky words’ etc.)
Go on then….
You have a novel in you – I know it and you know it – I want to encourage you to write it – not only that, but I urge you to make a start now. DO NOT wait until you think you’ve all the skills. Make your start and make it today….and if you feel like it, please let me know how you get on…
Until next time – may your words always be true and your jazz always be hot…
All good things to you. Adam