Sunday, May 9, 2010

What Does It Take to Write a Novel?

This is a big one for many would-be novelists. Time. There never seems to be enough of it, does there? It takes time to write a novel, sometimes a lot of time. And you don't have any. Well, you're going to have to find it if you ever want to finish writing a novel. Keep in mind that novel writing is not a sprint, but more of an endurance race. With the exception of some experienced and self-trained professional writers, the simple act of typing out a novel can take months or even years, and that's not including time spent plotting, coming up with characters, etc.

But you can find the time. Even if it's only five minutes a day, you can write a novel. It might take you a year, but so what? At the end of the year you will have your novel.

Try to set yourself a reasonable goal. If you're starting out, I'd suggest begin by trying to write for only 15 minutes a day. Or perhaps set yourself a length goal by trying to write just 500 words a day. If you can keep this up day in an day out, eventually you will have finished your novel. If you can manage to write 1,000 words a day, in a few months you will have a decent length for a novel, and in a year you would have a really long novel.

It can be done. Work at finding the time. Everyone can find a free ten minutes in their day.

Along with time, you also need focus and patience to write a novel. That book isn't going to be written over night. For some writers, focus is easy to maintain because they have a natural love for their topic that is strong enough to see them through. Other writers, while still loving their topic, are sometimes distracted by other ideas for stories, real life and a thousand other things.

The key here is to work at remaining focused. That's one reason I suggest beginning novelists should try to write every single day. It helps to keep that focus. The repetition builds familiarity, and soon you will sit down to right every day without even thinking, "Hey, do I have time to write today?" You'll naturally make the time.

You also need perseverance to finish a novel. I consider this separate from focus because you can remain focused for short periods of time, but perseverance is the key to longer projects, such as writing a novel.

How do you achieve this? A big part of it can be that repetition I mentioned above. Write every day, no matter what. Also, keep the excitement alive. How do you do this? Force out thoughts of other writing ideas. Join a writing critique group. Talk with some close friends about your big project. Just don't let talking become all you do. Make sure to write.

The basics
Here I'm talking about things like spelling and grammar and punctuation. If you don't know these, learn. That might sound a little harsh, but it's also the truth. You don't have to be the next Shakespeare, but you should at least have the basics down pretty good.

One reason to write is to be read. No one is going to finish reading your stuff if they can't ... well, if they can't read it. All those language rules you learned in school might seem silly, but they are important for writers because they allow the writer to share a common vision with potential readers.

And once you become an expert? Then you can break the rules, mainly because you'll know when and how. But wait until you're an expert.

Sounds like something out of religion, right? It is. But I'm not talking about forgiving others (though that can be important, too). I'm talking about forgiving yourself. For what? For making those spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes.

If that sounds hypocritical of me after I mentioned those things above, it's not meant to. You need to know those basics. But you also shouldn't be a perfectionist when it comes to writing.

Yes, you want your writing to be perfect. That's what editing and proofreading are for, things you need to be doing once you've finished the writing part of your novel (you didn't think that was all there was to it, did you?). Don't worry so much about your mistakes while you're doing the actual writing part. Just remember to catch those mistakes later.

After you've written a fair amount, perhaps once you've finished your first novel, you'll naturally pick up a system for editing that works best for you. But in the early days, I'm suggesting you take it easy on yourself. But also keep in mind you have that editing work to do. Don't think for second you can shrug that work off onto someone else.

Writing, not publishing
In this article, I was strictly taking about writing a novel. Getting a novel published, whether professionally or if you become a self-publisher, takes a lot more work. Maybe I'll write about that another time.

Good luck with your novel!

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