You’re a new author, and you want to write a novel — a good novel. Perhaps you’ve already started writing.
You’re excited, and nervous. So far you’ve managed to shout down all those voices in your head which tell you that writing a novel is hard, that you don’t know enough, that you don’t have time… and on, and on.
Take this to heart: baby steps.
New author: want to finish your novel? Take daily baby steps
Nothing blocks a new author as quickly as the knowledge that he’s “writing a book.” Avoid thinking that.
Here’s why. Even a short novel contains at least 40,000 words. At 250 words a page, that’s 160 pages, give or take. A year from now, after you’ve written a book (or two books, if you catch fire) 40,000 words may seem easy-peasy. A stroll in the park.
However, for a new author, when the realization hits that you’ve written five pages and have 155 more to write, the thought of writing all those pages makes you cringe.
- Tell yourself you’re creating a title for a book you may want to write one day, or not…
- Describe a character, who might appear in your hypothetical book, one day;
- Imagine your new character in his daily life. Close your eyes. Can you see him? What’s he doing? Write it down.
Think “baby steps” — and write every day. It took me many years to stop thinking about “writing a novel”, and chunk a novel down into simple and easy daily tasks. Baby steps help you avoid drama and procrastination, and make writing easier.
Here are some tips to help you to write those words with brio.
1. Have fun: if you don’t have fun, readers won’t either
Many years ago, when I was writing my first novel, I though that writing was hard. Nevertheless, I love to read, so I was convinced that I could write a novel.
It took a multi-book contract from a major publisher before I realized that:
- If I wasn’t having fun, or was bored, it came out in the words, which meant red slashes from my editor’s pencil, and rewrites; so…
- I decided to have fun — to entertain myself.
Not only did the writing flow more smoothly when I was writing to entertain myself, I got far fewer slashes from the editorial pencil.
Moreover, I was eager to get to my desk to write each day.
2. Experience your novel, so that readers will too
In a similar vein, think of your novel as a series of experiences. Readers read to experience your novel.
In my career as a ghostwriter, occasionally someone asks me to write a horror novel, or a serial killer thriller. I refuse, because I can’t read those genres with pleasure. Why would I want to put myself through those kinds of experiences?
You’re a new author, so you’re very focused on the words of your novel. Make it your goal to get beyond the words as soon as you can. Aim to put your readers right into your novel, seeing through your main character’s eyes, to experience what he experiences.
3. It’s all about the characters: what’s your main character’s flaw?
How many people do you know who are perfect? No one’s perfect. We all have flaws – many of them. So characters in fiction need flaws too. Creating a flaw which works can be a real challenge, especially if you’re new to writing fiction.
While all characters are based on aspects of their creator, if you’re a new writer you’ll create characters who are Mary Sues or Marty Stus: idealized people, representations of yourself, and your counterpart of the opposite sex.
To avoid this, focus on a character’s flaw.
Here’s my favorite list of character traits. Pick a flaw (one or two for each character in your novel) which you can SHOW readers.
4. Ramp up the tension (you may not be able to do this in your first draft)
As a new author, your primary goal is to keep readers reading.
Here’s how. Use open loops.
Open loops are psychological strategies used most often as copywriting tricks. They’re hooks and unanswered questions. You can and should use open loops right throughout your novel.
Many novels use a rapid cutting technique of a series of cliffhangers — open loops. The author places a character in a tough spot, and leaves him there for a few scenes. When the author returns and rescues the character, he’s closing that loop, so he immediately opens another one.
As we’ve said, until you’re an experienced author, you’re unfamiliar with this strategy of writing to keep readers reading, so be happy to make this a goal when you write your second draft.
Also, in your reading, watch for open loops, and how authors use them.
And of course — have fun. 🙂
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