Novel Writing Isn’t for Beginners

Some Novel Advice

by Deborah Owen

There’s no use in attacking me. I already have 100 beginners beating on my door. By the time you arrive, there’ll be nothing left but a greasy smear and a bloody pair of shoes – but you could extend your sympathies to my husband.

Like most writers, I thought I could write a book without taking so much as one writing class. It took ten years, but I did it. When I had finished it occurred to me that I had no idea how to market it –- and what were those things called query letters and cover letters? Where did they fit into the picture? Thus, I began to see my ignorance.

I shared this story with a 15-year-old who responded, “Just because you couldn’t make it, doesn’t mean I can’t.” That little gal has a lot to learn, and like me, she’ll learn it the hard way.

If you can be the first person to successfully write and sell a novel without learning a thing about writing, please let me know. I’ll buy a copy and send you a medal.

Does a kindergartner toddle down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance and start high school that fall? Would you hire a mechanic who has never worked on a car? Would you go to a doctor who has never attended medical school? Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if he didn’t know one size wrench from the other?

Thank goodness there are some areas of life that don’t require profound expertise. Writing a novel just isn’t one of them. Most writers break into the field by writing articles and move up to short story writing. Later, they may try novel writing, but one thing is sure, the odds of writing and selling a book without previous training are almost nil.

Why People Write a Book

Most authors write a book because they have a story to tell, knowledge to impart, or they want to help others, but the brutal, searing fact of life is this: total strangers don’t care about you or your life unless it can be of practical value to them.

But let’s suppose that you’re still not convinced and are determined to write that book without committing yourself to a writing education.

See How You Fare on This Quiz

  • What is a hook and how do you make it? (Hint: we aren’t talking about fly-fishing.)
  • How do you build a 3D character?
  • What are 2D characters?
  • How many words are in the average line? Average paragraph?
  • What is a theme and how do you demonstrate it?
  • What is a plot and how do you structure it?
  • What is the acceptable percentage of passive sentences?
  • What is the difference between active and passive voice?
  • What are warts?
  • What are red herrings?
  • What is verbiage?
  • What are polysyndeton, asyndeton, onomatopoeia, epistrophe, and anaphora?
  • What are parallel sentences?
  • What is an arc and where should it fall?
  • What are resolutions?
  • Name three methods of discovery.
  • When should you not send a query letter?
  • What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?
  • How do you analyze a magazine?
  • How many chapters does a publishing company usually request?
  • Can you properly craft and sell a 2,000-word short story?

If you don’t know all of this and a whole lot more, you’re wasting your time writing a book, unless you do so for genealogy purposes or as a hobby.

Maybe you’re wondering where to learn these things and how long it will take. Start with the three basic writing courses in this order: Dynamic Nonfiction (whether you like to write it or not), Creative Writing 101 (or Mechanics of Grammar), and Short Story Safari. Each course will take about eight weeks. Although it takes years to become a seasoned writer, you can be selling nonfiction within two months. It’s a beginning.

Some folks might also need a Punctuation Review course, but punctuation is covered in all classes to some degree, so you might not need it. But if for some reason you can’t take these courses, read every article you can find on writing and take notes! Subscribe to The Writer Magazine, which (in my opinion) is the best writing magazine on the market. Find experienced writers and ask questions.

Join writing groups. I like Writing.com. They have a five-star rating system where you can rate each other’s work. Before you join any writing group, determine that you will accept 95% of the suggestions you receive, and won’t wear your feelings on your sleeve.

This is good, sensible advice and it will save you years of needless labor, but make no doubt about it, learning to write is very much like learning to play the piano. It takes years to become a professional. Why not start today?

If you’ve attempted to write a novel, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to swing by  www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into our creative writing courses!