I saw this question posted to an online writer’s group recently. What a daunting question! Let’s say you’re starting from square one. You love reading. You love writing. Now you want to do it: You want to write and finish your first novel. Where do you get started?
Read and Write. A Lot.
Stack up your favorite novels and read them again–this time with a critical eye. Keep a journal handy and write down what you love most about the book and why. Ask yourself how you think the author accomplished his or her magic.
Want to take it even deeper? Set your favorite book on a book stand and type a scene or two. You’ll be amazed how much you learn!
Now try to apply what you’re learning to your own work-in-progress.
Read Books on Craft
There are lots out there. Most of the ones I learned from are old, because I checked them out of a library. But they were good ones! More recent titles that are popular include the many books by James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson’s How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, and, of course, Stephen King’s On Writing.
Many craft books have exercises you can work through to hone what you learn. Don’t just read them–do them! You’re not a writer if you’re not applying pen to paper. (Or hands to keyboard.)
And don’t forget to compare what you’re learning in your craft books to what you read for pleasure. Did you just learn about increasing tension in the plot? Giving the main character a fatal flaw? Describing your settings? Observe these techniques in the wild–look for them in the books you read!
Join a Writer’s Group
Online or in-person–or both! It depends on where you feel most comfortable and what’s available in your area. A writer’s group is a place for writers to exchange ideas and information and answer each other’s questions. The benefit you’ll get from the experience of other writers can’t be overstated.
Plus, you’ll be hanging out with other people who get it. You know. People who think nothing of fighting off dragons in the kitchen while making dinner, or talking out loud to your characters while running errands.
My favorite online writer’s group is 10 Minute Novelists.
Get Your Work Critiqued
At some point or another, you need to expose your writing to other people, especially other writers who can spot your strengths and weaknesses and put a name to them. Maybe your writer’s group offers a critique group or a way for like-minded authors to buddy up. If not, your writer’s group is a great place to ask!
Maybe there’s an in-person critique group in your area. Keep your eyes peeled for posters, or ask at the local library, the book stores, the college, and the coffee shops. Meetup is another option for finding in-person groups. Can’t find a group in your area? Start one!
Try to get together with a small group of people who can be your ongoing critique partners. They’ll read for you, and you’ll read for them. Don’t be worried you have nothing to bring to the table! If you’re a reader, you have something to offer to a writer. Don’t forget that the best way to learn is by teaching.
You’ve had your writing critiqued by your peers; it’s time to have it critiqued by your superiors. One of the first writer’s groups I ever joined (American Christian Fiction Writers) had monthly classes lead by best-selling authors. The opportunity to have my work critiqued by these professionals was the most valuable thing I ever did in my writing education.
You can also see if your local or online college offers creative writing courses. Or you can look for a personal writing coach–an editor/mentor who will walk you through the learning process.
So, you want to be a novelist, but don’t know where to start? These are the best tips I have to offer, and the course I followed myself to become a competent writer. If you’re doing these five things, you’re on your way to becoming a published novelist.