Hands up who wants to write a novel! Now, hands up who’s started a novel but never finished it. Finally, hands up who’s waiting around for inspiration, for lightening to strike, for someone to say to you, “here’s how you do it. Here’s how to think up a juicy plot, here’s how to develop a character, here’s how to write dialog that zings off the page like Chandler’s. It’s all here in this little book of tricks. All yours for $5, postage and handling extra.”
I spent a dozen years waiting for someone to tell me how to do it. Then I figured out that no one was going to. It was up to me. And it’s up to you too.
Don’t buy into the nonsense they tell you in the how to write a million seller in three months books – let me translate a few of the well worn phrases that we’ve all seen, and we’ve all been intimidated by:
“Write what you know” – this is the biggest myth of all. Okay, so John le Carre was a real life spy. And he tells a mean, if wordy, spy story. But Tom Clancy was an insurance salesman. Then he goes and writes The Hunt for Red October. Somehow I don’t think Clancy was writing policies on secret Soviet submarines.
“A writer writes everyday” – Nonsense. A writer with a few million in the bank writes everyday. For the rest of us it’s a slog to get the time. We’ll do all sorts of things, pretending that they’ll make us settle down and write. Take a cottage by the sea, a months leave of absence from work, a road trip… It’s all nonsense. We’ll write it when it’s ready to come out, and not before.
“Outline the story before you start to write it” – Yeah, right And you’ll never ever finish the outline, let alone the novel. Just start. Chapter one, page one, indent, “it was a dark and stormy night…” Go from there. Whatever comes into your head. Pretty soon your story will take on a life of its own – it’ll end up writing itself. Just remember to stop at around 95,000 words, or no one will want to read it.
“Read all the published writers in your genre” – Before John Grisham began A Time to Kill, he ordered up the New York Times fiction top ten to see what was selling. Let’s face it – writing a novel is way too much hard work not to get paid for it. Maybe you’re an artist, someone who writes for the simple private pleasure of it. Someone who’s motivation is internal. If so, good luck to you. Enjoy your hobby. For the rest of us, it’s a job that we aspire to. A well paying job if we can do it right. So write what people want to read. Anything else is sheer vanity.
That’s enough for now. I hope you’ll come back and follow my blog. It won’t always be about writing, but there will always be something to think about, laugh about, maybe even write about.
Oh, and if you want to buy my novel, The Puzzle Master, follow the links on the left hand side.