Writing workshops. Writers’ groups. Online courses. Masters of Fine Arts programs. Writing books full of writing exercises. Writing coaches and creativity coaches. Blogs. Dictionaries, thesauruses, and grammar books..
With all these great resources available, you’d think that our society would be over the top with prolific and enthusiastic novelists. So why is it that very few people who want to write a novel can’t get it done?
I recently read a great little book by Walter Mosley called This Year You Write Your Novel. Mosley is a successful novelist with many books to his credit. And he put everything he knows about writing novels into this useful little book. You should give it a read if you’ve ever had a notion for writing a novel.
Day By Day
The title is kind of bossy, right? This year you get the job done, no messing around. Getting started is tough, and finishing is tough. But if you have an idea and a willingness to write, you better just get started.
Stop thinking about writing and start writing.
Mosley emphasizes the importance of showing up and staying at your writing every day. There are no shortcuts, and no one is going to hand something to you. If you want to produce something good, you need to spend the time and brain power on the task. Mosley says that ninety minutes a day is the minimum amount required, and I wouldn’t argue with that.
Writing every day isn’t just about dedication. According to Mosley, your subconscious mind needs continuity to do its best creating. When you keep heading back to those characters, that scene, that plot and that other subplot, your imagination can stir around the story without breaking momentum. It’s like a musician rehearsing–you don’t practice for a week, and you’ve got some ground to make up.
Step By Step
Mosley talks through the practical steps of writing. Get started, don’t stop to revise and edit until the entire draft is done. Then revise and revise and on and on. You’re done when you keep trying to make it better, but you make it worse instead. That’s when you know it’s as far as it’s going to go.
The book also explains basic techniques of novel writing. Metaphor, simile, dialog, scenery, plot, point-of-view, showing rather than telling, etc. If you’re not familiar with these things, this book is a good place to start.
Again, it’s like a musician practicing her techniques. As you use the tools and methods of novel-writing, you’ll get better at them. There are no writing exercises in Mosley’s book. He says that writing the real stuff is the best practice you can get.
What Happens Next
Mosley finishes the book with an overview of the publishing business. He describes the roles of agents and publishers, and how a book deal is made. Again, the process is explained, but you’ll have to try it and fail at it in order to eventually get better at it.
There’s no certainty of success here. No one can hand you a step-by-step guide to getting your first novel published. Some writers are lucky and others are not. Putting in your best effort for one year will get you a solid draft, and that’s as far as Mosley’s book promises to take you.
A book about writing should be brief and to the point. You have an itch to write, then get going. Understand the tools and techniques of the trade, and then start showing up for work every day. If that sounds good to you, take a little time to read Mosley’s book. Then off you go.