You want to write a novel. Perhaps you want to write many novels. Fantastic! Now, settle in for a ride that will probably be long, interesting, challenging, daunting and fun.
The first thing to realise about writing a novel is that nothing happens quickly. So enjoy every step and take the positives out of setbacks – your baby just isn’t ready yet but if you keep persevering, learning and growing, you have every chance of achieving your writing dream and the delay means your book will be the best it’s capable of being when it’s finally released.
You only get one shot at a great first impression, so don’t be in too much of a hurry.
You’ll have moments of doubting yourself. I questioned if I should adopt a saner hobby – like retail therapy or doing coffee – but it was tongue-in-cheek while I kept pounding the keyboard. Fortunately, when I first submitted my manuscript to a publisher, although she said it “isn’t ready yet”, her feedback was very positive. Instead of recommending I try a new pastime, she invited me to resubmit, which I did and she subsequently offered me a publishing deal.
Because fears and frustrations are normal humps, write despite them, or spurred on by them. Write because you can’t imagine not writing. Write first for your own satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Then imagine the thrill if you’re able to take that to another level, to be published and share your work with others.
You will be working on your book for a lengthy time, so make it a good time. Maybe you’ll be a writer who attempts different manuscripts before one is published. Some of those may be destined to remain in your bottom drawer forever. Maybe you’ll be like me and decide that you still believe in that first full-length novel and can bring it up to publishable standard. Either way, the process will involve redrafts, critiques from others, more editing and eventually submissions to literary agents or publishers, unless you’ve chosen the self-publishing route. Response times on submissions vary greatly but twelve to twenty-four months isn’t unusual.
Because you’ll be with your book for a long time, write what you want to write, what you’re good at and what you’d like to read, because your foremost audience is you. Write some of what you know and research the gaps. You can draw upon every significant experience in your life – love affair, marriage breakdown, car accident, failed exam, trip abroad, house move, new job and more – adding texture to your writing.
Read widely, especially across the type of novel you want to write (if you know what that is). Keep a journal rating each book you read, recording what you liked or disliked about the work, and useful data such as publisher details, and, where the author mentions it, his or her agent. The former will help you cherry-pick the facets of writing that will develop into your unique style and the latter will help you target your submissions appropriately. There is no point sending your gritty crime novel to a publisher or agent that specialises in cookbooks.
Some authors don’t know what type of novel they want to write. They make this decision once they’ve planned a theme, characters, setting and so on. If you’re in this category, you’ll find your story and fit it to a genre or literary fiction.
Many of us know what type of book we want to write and plan a story around that.
At a very early age – as a shy, imaginative, bookworm dreamer – I became hooked on writing and addicted to crime fiction in film and print, and the likes of Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and series such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys cemented it. Ever since, I dreamed of being a crime writer and scribing my own series.
I took a winding path towards that dream, with stints as banker, paralegal, cabinetmaker, office manager, executive assistant, personal trainer and journalist, and came close to joining the police force along the way. Although I might’ve made a good police detective, I’ve found a safer way to investigate and solve crimes as an author. My ‘writer’s apprenticeship’ wasn’t time wasted. It made me more determined to achieve my dream. It continues to provide inspiration and fodder for my stories. It gives me maturity as a writer.
As I wrote my first crime novel Tell Me Why, I kept in mind some essential advice passed on to me by writing tutors, authors and publishers:
- Aspire to be as good as you’re capable of being at that time.
- Continue to work to be a better writer.
- Learn from the authors you admire but don’t try to imitate them.
- Be true to yourself.
- Writing is often solitary, so network with other writers – from aspiring to established – to learn from and support each other.
- Enjoy writing and the associated experiences.
- Luck and good timing can factor into success.
- Boost your writer’s biography with achievements in short story competitions and publication in a range of forms.
I am currently writing the fourth manuscript in my series and, so far, none has been as challenging as my first. Even at this stage, I keep these tips in mind, along with my personal motto: If it means that much to you, do it.
So, hang on to your hat, good luck and I wish you every success with writing your novel.
Sandi Wallace’s author website: www.sandiwallace.com
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Writing Novels in Australia