Wednesday 17 December 2008

Five Steps to Writing a Novel

Despite my romantic view of the creative process, I’m pragmatic enough to realise that writing a novel requires far more than just flashes of inspiration and a knack with words. If you’ve always dreamed of writing a novel, either for your own enjoyment or with aim of becoming a published author, there are five simple steps to making this dream come true. They are:

1. Vision
2. Goals
3. Discipline
4. Think Positive
5. Action

Before you can start, you need to have VISION. How is your novel going to take shape? Do you have characters, setting and dialogue in your head? Do you know what your characters are going to do: will they fall in love, be murdered or go on a long voyage?

You also need to have the vision of yourself as A Writer. If you’re simply writing for your own happiness, can you imagine yourself writing those two magic words “The End”? If you’re aiming to be published, are you able to visualize yourself holding your first novel in your hands? Can you feel the weight of it? Smell that new-book scent of printing? Do you dream of the day when you will sit in your local bookstore, a pile of your books next to you and a line of readers waiting for you to sign your name? These are the carrots that keep you writing during the tough times.

Dreams are never enough. You also have to have GOALS.

You need to break your vision down into bite-sized chunks of carrot by setting goals. For example, set yourself long-term goals, medium-term goals and short-term goals. A long-term goal could be something like “Submit final copy of novel to agents within twelve months”. A medium term-goal could be “Finish first draft within four months”, while short-term goals could be “Write a thousand words a day” and "Finish research on the Namib desert as setting".

Goals are only effective when you reach them. If you find you’re constantly missing your targets, take the time to reassess your goals. Are they unrealistic? In what way are they unrealistic? Have you set a goal of five thousand words a day when you have small children to care for or a full-time job? If you still think your goals are achievable, ask yourself why aren’t you meeting them? Are you allowing yourself to be distracted from your writing? As award-winning mystery author Jeff Abbott asks in his comments, do you keep your writing time sacred? Or are you a slower writer than you think you are? Are you avoiding the next phase of your writing, and why? Or do you just lack the discipline to focus on your writing goals?

DISCIPLINE is a harsh word. But it’s a word any aspiring author needs to make friends with. Without the discipline to keep focused on your goals, you won’t meet them. Without the discipline to write when you’d rather go to bed, your story will never get finished. Without the discipline to re-write again and again, your story will not shine.

Discipline is not the same as self-criticism. But it can help with the next step to getting your novel written, which is THINK POSITIVE. You need discipline, and self-belief, to keep yourself optimistic. Optimism doesn’t just happen: it’s a choice. Writers are emotional human beings and, at times, you may find yourself doubting yourself, your writing and even your vision. So how do you overcome that doubt? You can choose to think positively. By being optimistic about your writing, you encourage yourself, and others, to believe in what you’re writing.

As long as you are writing. Nothing can get the novel written unless you TAKE ACTION. Dreaming about your writing vision and planning your writing goals are important, as are discipline and optimism. But these alone cannot result in a completed novel. You have to sit down and actually write the words that will bring your vision into reality. After all, that’s what you’re in it for, isn’t it? To tell a story?

When you’ve finished writing the story, when you write those delicious words “The End”, it’s then that you know you’ve climbed the five steps to writing success. And, finally, you are A Writer.

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