Are You Ready to Write?

You’ve decided to write your first novel. Congratulations. You can’t wait to sit down and write. You’ve come up with a blockbuster plot with loads of compelling characters. You’re only lacking two things: knowledge and experience.

Attempting to write a novel without knowing how is like getting behind the wheel of a car without taking driving lessons. Or, continuing the analogy, it’s like a driver trying to get to a destination without a road map or directions. You’re going to waste a lot of time going around in circles before you find your way.

Consider doing four things before you attempt to write a novel:

  • Read as much as you can about the craft of fiction writing. The good news is you don’t have to get an MFA to learn about fiction writing. There are loads of free resources on the internet (more on that in a minute).
  • Read as much as you can in the genre in which you want to write.
  • Join a writers’ group, either in your region or an online group.
  • Try your hand at a short story before you take on a novel. The novel is a long, complex form of writing that takes years to master. There are no shortcuts.

There are scores of fiction writing courses, webinars and other resources out there, but before you spend your hard-earned money on these, know that there are abundant low-cost or free resources as well. Here are some great resources:

Online (blogs and websites)

I regularly read a number of excellent blogs and websites on the craft of fiction writing. My favorites are:

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Author Joe Konrath blogs about writing, publishing, ebooks, and much more. His book, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, is a great resource for new writers.

Absolute Write

This site bills itself as a “comprehensive informational Website for writers of all levels. Absolute Write offers articles and information about fiction, nonfiction, screenwriting, freelancing, and copywriting. In addition, we provide information about editing, publishing, agents, and market research. You’ll find links to classes, software, and a large and active online community of writers and publishing professionals.”

I especially like the Forum. Set up your own profile and post or respond to other posts. It’s a good way to find other writers and get some great guidance.


 Being Human at Electric Speed

Former publisher and current media professor Jane Friedman offers insights into writing, social media and the future of publishing.

Nathan Bransford, Author

Former agent and current author Nathan Bransford blogs about writing, publishing, social media, and much more. This is one of the best sites around.

Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers

Martha Alderson’s blog gives tips and techniques for plotting novels and screenplays.

Writerjenn

The blog of author Jennifer Hubbard.

Rachelle Gardner

Agent Rachelle Gardner’s website. Rachelle offers mature and sensible advice on writing, publishing and the role of agents.

Writer Unboxed

Writer Unboxed is a collaborative blog by authors Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton.

Books on Writing

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, By Jane Smiley

On Writing, By Stephen King

The Art of Fiction, By John Gardner

Write Away, By Elizabeth George

Writing the Breakout Novel, By Donald Maass

Writers’ Groups

Writers’ groups, whether online or in-person, allow you to share your works-in-progress with other writers. Some communities have writers groups that are affiliated with the public library or literary organizations. If you don’t have one in your community, you can approach your local library to start one or just start one by yourself. Online writers groups offer many of the same benefits of in-person groups, but they lack the
opportunities for collegiality that are so important to belonging to a community of peers with a common interest.

Once you have the knowledge of how to write a novel, the next step is to get some experience. Again, writing short stories is a good way to start. Bring you short stories to your writers’ group or submit them to an online group. You will begin to see what your strong points are and where your writing needs work. When you have a few solid short stories under your belt, you will have a better grasp of the elements of a successful novel.

When do you know if you’re ready to write? How long did it take you?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Are You Ready to Write?

  1. I’ve never thought myself a writer, and I’m not comparing myself to a prodigy at all, but (hopefully I’m not putting my foot in my mouth here) I also don’t think you need to have training to be a good writer. You certainly have to read and write the genre you are interested in writing, but sometimes being outside the box, if you do it well (and I stress well) means you can bend the rules. I think new writers need editors and agents to guide them, but taking classes and having writers groups can sometimes force you to play in the box and if you’re not that skilled at in the box writing, you’ve lost what gives you your edge, your unique take on perspective, point of view, or whatever it is that makes your book stand out.

    That is not to say you should not learn and study. I read at least four of the resources you posted, but other than required high school and college classes for business majors, I have not taken classes and I do not intend to. I accept that this means I will have to owe an editor my first born child, but for better or worse I’m staying outside that box. I’ll let you know how I do.

    One last comment, yes a novel is a huge undertaking. It has taken my coauthor and I over two years to write ours, but writing short stories is an entirely different skill at least when I’ve tried. It’s like writing something for Twitter or writing an essay for school, the pace, audience, and style are so different, that the success or failure in one does not reflect one’s ability to write the other.

    Just my thoughts.
    -Eliabeth Hawthorne

    • Elizabeth,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that you don’t have to have academic training to be a writer. People have mixed feelings about writing groups. I was lucky enough to find a good one with people who are sharp critics but not mean-spirited. Like you, I don’t intend to take any writing classes. I do attend writers’ conferences and belong to a writers and agents group, but that’s more for networking.

      Please keep me informed about the progress of your work-in-progress. Good luck!

      Chris

      • As far as writer’s groups go, I don’t feel qualified to comment on someone else’s work. My opinions and direction I would send the book down is not going to be the same path that an agent or publisher would, so it’s a double edged sword. If I don’t feel qualified to comment on a random person’s work, I certainly don’t want a random person giving me direction on mine. Not to say that we don’t use beta readers to catch things we miss, but we were very selective in who we picked to do our Manuscript Analysis, and for anyone reading this, I suggest it highly for new writers assuming you do your research and pick someone great.

        We’re still figuring out the networking thing. Ermi lives in Australia and I live in the middle of the desert. Literally. The nearest writer’s conference for me is a 5 hour drive in Dallas, which will be great if I get a job there and move, but for now it is out of my reach.

        So, we’ve focused on creating an internet platform. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and an RP site geared toward our target market. We’ve done a couple live chats with authors and agents, but nothing substantial. I’m wondering if you have any advice for us on other ways to network when we cannot physically get out there yet.

        I will be sure to keep you apprised on our status. Thank you for your interest.
        -Elia Hawthorne

      • Elia,
        Thanks for your email. You make some good points. The quality of the critiques you will get from a writers’ group will vary widely. What I have found most helpful is to identify the sharpest and most insightful critics in the group and try to work a barter arrangement with them by exchanging drafts. I did not mean to imply in my post that a new writer should only show her work to a writers’ group and then submit it to an agent or a publisher. There are a number of steps before a manuscript is ready for submission to an agent, as I’m sure you know. After numerous critiques and rounds of line-edits, I hired a wonderful book editor to look at the beginning section of my work, which had undergone a number of changes. I couldn’t afford to hire her to review the entire work, but she did a terrific job. Some agents will also give helpful feedback on submissions.

        Good luck again with your manuscript.

        Chris

      • Elia,
        Regarding the other part of your post about networking, I am just getting started with that so I don’t have any good advice. What I have read from marketing gurus is to blog constantly, read other blogs and engage with other writers online, make sure your book is on multiple platforms (if self-publishing), and try to generate publicity through speaking engagements and interviews. I’ve heard trying to obtain book reviews is a waste of time if you are a self-pubbed author which is the route I have chosen. Even if you are fortunate enough to be published by a publishing house, they might not do much in the way of marketing for a new writer. They will leave a lot of the marketing up to you. Livnig where you do presents a lot of hurdles, so I would advise getting involved in online communities.

        Best wishes for success.

        Chris

  2. Well said. Have you read “How To Become A Famous Writer Before Your Dead”? It is a beautifully irreverent guide to writing that combines good advice with no-nonsense encouragement.

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