What I have Learnt about Writing a Novel by Writing a Novel.

  1. To write novels you have to read novels, a LOT of novels.
  2. The best way to write a novel is to start.
  3. Don’t be waylaid by family, friends, and lunch invitations. You’re the writer. Write.
  4. Know how the language works. If you hate grammar take up knitting. 
  5. Genre is something that agents, publishers, booksellers, and readers think about; write what interests you. Let them work it out.
  6. Don’t try to be too clever with your narrator.
  7. Spew the whole story onto the screen, or page. This is the first draft: 90,000 words +
  8. Be disciplined. Give yourself a daily goal, i.e., 2000 words. If necessary write anything. Any writing (except the shopping list) counts.
  9. You don’t necessarily need to write what you know. How many witches, snakes, and house-elves did J.K. Rowling interview before she wrote Harry Potter?
  10. You don’t need to know the ending when you start; in fact, it’s best if you don’t.
  11. The three elements of a novel are narration, description, and dialogue.
  12. Narration is what your narrator says.
  13. Description doesn’t need to be exhaustive. A few apt words can paint hundreds more. Let the reader fill in the gaps.
  14. Dialogue is the best way to create believable and distinguishable characters.
  15. Verisimilitude (creating truth) is the writer’s goal; you do that with detail.
  16. Don’t think about your muse. They take the focus off you.
  17. A cure for writer’s block: put two clear but different characters in an adversarial situation and make them talk to each other. You will be amazed what happens.
  18. Somewhere towards the end of the 1st draft you need to know what it is about. What is the point of it? What does it all mean. This will lead you to the ending.
  19. Not every idea you have while writing this novel is right for this novel; it may be better for the next novel.
  20. After you’ve finished the 1st draft put it away for a few weeks and write some other stuff.
  21. The best person to tell you the real truth about the 1st draft is (almost always) the person who shares your bed. This is true and a whole lot cheaper.
  22. The second draft is cleaning up and consolidating the timeline, characters, relationships, lose ends, and getting rid of your (the writer’s) voice. 
  23. You should lose about 10% of the 1st draft. You can add or cut, but it’s mainly cut. Be brutal. If you don’t know about “Murder Your Darlings!” Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said it first, find out.
  24. The 3rd draft should be printed out. Read it on paper. You’ll be surprised what ‘other’ stuff you see and that may need to go too.
  25. Once it’s ‘out there’ it’s no longer yours. It belongs to the reader and it means what the reader thinks it means. You’re irrelevant.
  26. Start the next one.

2 thoughts on “What I have Learnt about Writing a Novel by Writing a Novel.

  1. Michael, that is truly a superb and comprehensive list. Every writer should have it posted on their notice board. Bravo!

    Like

  2. Love the list, Michael. The points are so good, also sensible.
    You say all that needs to be said, briefly and with a sense of humour.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.