Never mind the old cliché that says ‘there’s a novel inside everyone’. It might well be true, but the tricky part is getting it out and on to paper. You might be surprised to hear that there’s never been a better time to write a novel.
After 23 years trying, I think I’ve finally discovered the secrets of writing a novel the easy way. Or, to put it another way, “the easier way.”
The Author Struggling to Get Out
I’ve served time as publisher, reviewer and writer. I’ve met a few authors in my time, ranging from Stephen King, Ian Rankin and Ken Follett to Ken Bruen, Terry Pratchett and Minette Walters. Although you can never lump everyone into the same box, generally speaking, people who write novels, are ‘different’. There’s something about them that sets authors apart from the rest of society.
For a start, they have to be single-minded. Working out a story, inventing characters and putting it all down on paper (all right, probably a computer screen, but don’t pick hairs) is a daunting process. Novels range in length from 50,000 to 150,000 words. That’s a lot of writing. And plenty of opportunities along the way to think ‘the hell with this!’ and run off to watch reruns of The High Chaparral. Or The Walking Dead.
Maybe Breaking Bad… (got the idea now?)…
Motivated to Write a Novel?
Veteran American mystery writer Joe Gores quotes the advice given to him when he asked a Notre Dame professor how to become a writer. “It’s very easy to be a writer,” the prof said. “Go to a big city and get a little room with a table and a chair in it. Put your typewriter on the table and your backside on the chair. Start writing. When you stand up ten years later, you’ll be a writer.”
Today we can substitute ‘computer’ for ‘typewriter’. (Have you ever tried to get ribbons for those things?). Which adds the added hassle that we have to conquer the urge to edit whilst we write. But essentially nothing has changed.
Do you have a strong belief in your own talent?
To be productive, writers need to have a strong belief in their own talent and confidence that what they are writing is ‘good enough’. As a former publisher who had to wade through piles of submissions, I can vouch that this sense of confidence can be misguided. Having said that, several terrible writers I rejected (no names) went on to have tremendous success with other publishers. So the question to ask yourself is ‘good enough for what?’. And frankly, that depends on what your goals are.
If you’re attempting literary fiction and you suffer from lack of self-confidence, then you’re probably a masochist who should think about switching to self-flagellation. It’ll be immensely less painful in the long run.
If, on the other hand, you’re trying to write a thriller, a romance, historical mystery or similar genre novel, keep at it. As another old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Writing is a craft that can be learned and the way to learn is to work at it. Don’t worry about making mistakes, just get writing. There’s nothing you write that can’t be edited and improved on later.
Severe Lack of Confidence
I can confess that I suffer from a severe lack of confidence in my writing. At the moment I am reading The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke, a brilliantly multi-textured work of fiction by any standard and I can’t help comparing Burke’s flowing prose to my own miserable efforts. Which is silly.
A guy I know who teaches writing at university suggests that would-be novelists keep a copy of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code to hand. It sold millions and zillions of copies, but let’s be honest, Dan Brown is no William Shakespeare, nor I suspect, does he aspire to be.
So that’s how you write a novel. You just sit down and write. There is no easy way unless you are the type of self-obsessed, doggedly persistent person that will make a natural author. For the rest of us, I can recommend some very helpful eBooks:
In addition, I should say that I wrote them. They’re the best.