Something I’ve come to learn about the craft of writing a novel is that anyone can do it. However to do so there are certain RULES that you must abide by. Break one and you are likely to fall into one of the following scenarios:
- You’ll hit the Writer’s Block wall
- You’ll get discouraged and quit, or
- You may find another way through it
If you fall within the last category consider yourself lucky. By all means, writing isn’t an exact science but certain principles have proven trustworthy to get writers (both novice and professionals) through the process – from original idea to final polished script.
Some tips – such as creating an outline of the story before you start is certainly advantageous but it isn’t necessarily a magic bullet intended to benefit everyone. Some writer’s swear by the outline whereas some will disagree claiming it hampers their spontaneity and creativity.
But some rules are dogmatic to the writing process. Break these and you’re likely to stumble.
RULE #1: Come up with an Idea
Seems simple enough yet many starting writers have a very bleak idea of what their novel is about. If asked what their novel is about they’ll say something like “It’s about a boy growing up in New York.” Okay, but what’s it about? Note, I’d like to make a distinction here regarding what the story is about and not necessarily about how much wording you need to use to convey your idea. If you recall from my last article, a good idea could (and should) be conveyed in as little wording as possible. But in order for a story to work you need to have conflict. A problem is what defines a good story. Without it all you have is a bunch of words and no matter how good a writer you are – you couldn’t keep a reader interested without introducing conflict.
Instead of “It’s about a boy growing up in New York.” try “It’s about a boy in New York running from the law.” or “It’s about a lost boy in New York.” Suddenly your story gains the interest of the reader.
RULE #2: You Must Write
Seems simple enough but you would be surprised at the sheer numbers of aspiring writers who have a good idea for a story but fail to take the next step of writing it.
To do it effectively you must set aside time (preferably each day) to sit down and write your story. Without a good writing schedule you will fail.
RULE #3: Don’t Wait for the Muse
When you sit down to write you must hit the ground running! Inspiration doesn’t come easily. If you wait for that “good feeling” you’ll just sit staring at your notebook or computer screen. No, instead you should begin somewhere anywhere. Start writing and don’t STOP!
Once you have a few good pages – another helpful tip is to go back and edit what you have written. But don’t dwell there too long. Immediately you should start a new sentence and write.
RULE #4: Don’t Edit While You Write
By now you should know that you shouldn’t text and drive at the same time. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. For writing this concept is especially crucial because writing and editing are done via two different brain processes. You can either go into one mode at a time. A good analogy is going for a workout at the gym. For many – myself included – I find it difficult to get off a warm cuddly couch in the middle of winter and drive to the local gym for a workout. I’ll do anything and everything to avoid it. But incredibly, once you get to the gym – what happens? You immediately get into the mood for a workout. Writing is like that too. You either decide you’re sitting on a couch watching tv or running laps around the track – and once you commit yourself – you’re committed.
Say to yourself you’re going to write for an hour straight – or half an hour – or for a time that meets your schedule. Once you begin don’t stop for anything. Don’t even go back to correct spelling errors.
RULE #5: Edit, Edit, Edit
After you finish the writing exercise you will need to go back and edit. In fact, you may need to go back many times to polish your manuscript up. Whereas rules one through four are critical in getting to a manuscript, unless you never plan on submitting your novel to a publisher or agent, editing is the step that will get you to a finished manuscript.
So there you have it. Follow these 5 simple rules and you WILL have a finished manuscript.