Recently I received an email from a college student and aspiring writer. It’s a humbling experience to have someone reach out under the assumption that I’m going to know what I’m talking about and have the ability to provide accurate advice for where that person is in their writing process. Because it is a process. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that the learning curve for writing extends into perpetuity. That’s simply something that every author has to get comfortable with if he or she intends to keep publishing.
Therefore, it is with an enormous grain of salt that I publish my response to the aforementioned email. If you are a new writer, someone who is hoping to crack into publishing, this might be perfect for you. If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ll recognize some of the advice, because you’ve heard it and you know it works. Even for the veterans out there, this may serve as a concise but good reminder of what we must do, which first and foremost, is approach every project with a “beginner’s mind” as Goldberg famously said.
If any one piece helps, great, run with it. Possibly some will be more than you need. That’s fine, too. Same for the things you’ve surpassed. Regardless, it all comes back around, so you may want to bookmark 😉 Share widely if it resonates, and happy writing.
I can give you thousands of suggestions, but some of those depend on where you are in the process and what you need to consider. Right now, I would say that in addition to writing your novel, you should be journaling (it helps to clear your thoughts); you should be reading as many novels that match yours as you can; you should also be watching any TV series or movies that also fall into that genre and analyzing their structure (yes, you have permission to binge watch). All of this will clarify your thoughts about what you want in your novel and what you don’t, as well as help you structure your plot turns and foreshadowing and the climax. Certainly read any book on craft that appeals to you as well. On Writing, Bird by Bird, and anything by Donald Maass are worthwhile.
For your novel, the best thing you can do is finish the first draft. Just write it. Do not care if it’s garbage. It will be. All first drafts are terrible, especially mine. There isn’t an author I know whose work is great in first draft form. Once it’s done, walk away from it for a couple of months. Do not look at it. Then, when you’ve kind of forgotten about it, go back and read it like you are a reader, not the author. Mark it up. What works? What doesn’t? Be brutal. Have others read. But ones you trust will provide authentic feedback, and not, “This is the greatest!” Beware of those people. They’re not being honest, they’re being kind. You want the former, not the latter when it comes to your writing.
After that, cut, revise, redo, completely unravel the novel and write a second draft. Repeat the above process for this draft.
Do it again.
Then, and only then, might you want to go anywhere with it. At that point, I could give you many suggestions for that process. However, right now, finish, and then put your writing through the process. It works.
I am currently completely rewriting a 300-page manuscript from scratch. This will be the third draft. It’s better than the other two could have ever dreamed of being. This is the work if you want it.
Now, that’s a lot to take in, but please don’t hesitate to ask me any follow-up questions or seek clarifications. I wish you the best of luck. Writing is one of the best things in the world for me. Publishing is a business, however. You’ll know where you stand once you’ve gone through all of the above. Have fun!