Writing a Novel: 5 Lessons learned.

So I wrote a book…

Did I mention it before? No? Click here to buy it!

Well, I guess I should say that I finally finished a book. The Longest Night was my third effort at writing a novel. The first attempt when I was sixteen, the second came at twenty-four, and I wrote the first ideas for The Longest Night at twenty-eight. Looking back over each attempt, I feel like there are certain mistakes I made that I can tell you about, so that you too, hopefully, can write something someday.

Quick note: I’m going to stick to talking about writing a novel, but all of these tips should be applicable to writing pretty much anything!

1) Make Time.

A person drawing the hands on the face of a clock to read 10 to twelve.
Maybe not this late…

Let’s face facts.

As you are now, reading this, your day is already full.

If you want to write a novel, you have to fit it into the day and routine you have. Many things fill up your time. Sleeping, eating, work or school or college, daily boring household chores (But this can be a blessing: see tip 4!), playing/feeding/washing/tidying up after your children, gym, walking the dog… And I haven’t even mentioned having a social life or watching TV!

What you need to do is decide how important writing that novel is, and sacrifice something else in its stead.

One day my partner and I were talking about the future, and he pointed out that as long as he’s known me, I’ve always said “When I’m a published author…” but that I never really wrote. He was right. How can you expect to get a novel written if you never actually write?!

I ended up giving up a few tv shows and video games and started getting up earlier. Every day I woke up an hour earlier than I used to and wrote. Speaking of every day…

2) Write every day.

It’s really hard to find an appropriate image for these concepts.

I found that writing for an hour or so every day works better than writing for seven hours once a week. The days I didn’t write I found it much harder to return to writing afterwards. There were certainly times where weeks went by and I didn’t make time for writing. Then when I finally did return it was difficult. I eventually got into the daily habit thanks to NaNoWriMo.

Novel attempt number 2, and the first draft of The Longest Night, both came from something called NaNoWriMo. This is an abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month and happens every November since 1999.

The basic idea is simple. If you can start and finish a 50,000-word manuscript done in 30 days you win small prizes such as free software and services (all to do with writing!).

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is it drills the idea of writing daily into you. It is intense though! It’s like a marathon but at a sprinting pace! But it got me into the habit of writing on a regular basis.

Obviously, those 50,000 words aren’t going to be good enough to publish and send off into the world so I quickly learned that…

3) Writing is not just writing.

This person is clearly writing a novel, there's red pen all over this page!
It’s this, with lots more of this.

It’s reading and reading and reading and wondering if that word makes sense and then reading again. Then cutting that chapter. In school, we’re often told that you should write a first draft, then a second draft, and then publish.

This is a filthy lie.

Just one of my chapters went through fourteen drafts. The whole book went through at least three, with certain sections being constantly rewritten. After I hired an editor, Erin Young, she actually suggested I cut out three whole chapters and write new ones from scratch. These were chapters that I had spent some amount of time on, but they were not serving the story. In fact, they were slowing down and dragging out the story.

When I got to the final stages of writing a novel I was making small changes here and there. These changes were like ripples throughout the whole novel. A small change here forced a smaller change later on. This second change necessitated another change which actually forced a new character to emerge! All of this from rewriting!

Thankfully I kind of expected all this because of all the advice I got from…

4) Surround yourself with the professionals.

A shelf full of books, are any books about writing a novel?
If I can ever fill one shelf with books I’ve written I’ll die a happy man.

We are in an era of Web 2.0 many years now. This website is proof. Anyone with any device and an internet connection can contribute to the growing wealth of knowledge on the internet. I listened to podcasts while driving to work or at the gym. I watched video essays on writing while folding and ironing clothes. I read books about writing, I attended free online courses and webinars (Web Seminar).

I got as much advice from as many sources as I could find. Search yourself and try to find as many different sources of tips, advice and information that you can. Be careful not to fall into the trap of doing this and nothing but this! You still have to have time to write!

I’d also recommend finding and joining a writers group. Think about your schedule and see how it fits. I currently am in a group that meets monthly. Check out the Irish Writer’s Centre for a list of groups.

My experts…

Here are some of the experts that I learned from. I’ll do a full review post on the rest someday.

  • Podcast: Joanna Penn – The Creative Penn.
    • Hosted by Joanna Frances Penn, Jo talks about Writing, publishing and marketing ideas for books. Jo herself writes fiction as J. F. Penn and non-fiction for writers as Joanna Penn. Jo has been working as a self-published writer for over 10 years now. On the Podcast, she talks about any relevant publishing news, her own writing updates, and then interviews a guest on the podcast. With ten years of a backlist, there is nothing she hasn’t interviewed someone about!
  • YouTuber: Tim Hickson – Hello Future Me
    • Tim is a content creator who writes, narrates and publishes excellent videos about writing and story-telling. His videos fall into three categories mostly. One category is “On Writing”, where he discusses interesting topics like “How to kill your protagonist” and “How to write exposition”. His second section of Videos is “On Worldbuilding”, where Tim explains how to realistically develop a fantasy/fictional setting. Finally, Tim also has a section of videos where he discusses characters, motivations, settings and unique aspects of particular films and tv shows he is a fan of, like Lord of the Rings, Avatar: The Last Airbender and How to Train your Dragon. Tim also wrote a book about Writing and Worldbuilding, and I cannot recommend it enough.
  • Book: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
    • I refuse to “introduce” Stephen King. He was reportedly hounded to write a book about writing for years, and he finally caved in 2012. Most of the book is a memoir of his life, including his early years of writing, how he literally threw the novel Carrie in the bin, and even a near-fatal car accident in 1999. It’s a great read in general.

I fully intend on reviewing these, and more from my writer’s toolbox at a later date!

5) Balance everything.

Stones on a beach balancing on one another
Not this type of balance, but you get the idea.

This is probably the most important. You can’t write all day every day. You also can’t write one day a week for the whole day and then relax. Trust me, I tried. You have to find balance.

Write, and write daily for the best results, but maybe only write for an hour, or two. Then relax. Do the rest of the things that I mentioned in Tip number 1.

Most importantly, fill the “Creative Reservoir”. Creativity is, despite popular belief, not an inherent trait. There is no muse who comes and gifts you with the words and talents to make your art. Instead, it is a skill and a resource. But it is not an endless well. It’s more like a reservoir. You will only take out of it whatever you put in. Consume. Find books, tv shows, video games, films, art, plays, comics, hang out with friends, go on walks with magnificent views, travel, visit museums/art galleries. All of these things and more will help you. A lot of imagery, small moments, and situations in The Longest Night came from the inspiration of lots of other books, a film or two, and even a video game!

There’s more…

There’s so much more I want to share with others so that my experience can make your experience better. I hope that these tips helped. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below, or better yet, share some of the lessons you’ve learned!

*****

Did you like this post? If so you might like my Writer’s Review of the classic 80’s movie The Goonies!

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