Learning to Write a Novel

I spent the first year of my writing career hammering out the 600,000-word monstrosity that was the first draft of my then work-in-progress (WIP). Over the course of the following year, I whittled the verbiage down to 300k, the first two novels in a series. Filled with delusions of grandeur, I assumed I would write the next Harry Potter without reading a single how-to or getting feedback of any kind (except from my mother).

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I’m exaggerating a bit, of course. I knew my story had some problems, but stubbornly, like a stomping two year old, I wanted to do it myself. I resisted feedback. I waited an eternity to join an organization and network with other writers. I can’t say I wasted all that time writing alone, but I definitely missed the fast track.

I wonder how many writers start out that way. Loners. Determined to do it on their own. They’ve read a few good novels. They have some good ideas. What more does a writer need, after all, than a paper and pencil (or a word processor)—and a brain? Input a little time and creativity and voila! Out pops the great American novel.

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If only.

Writing a novel is hard. Writing a good novel in isolation is impossible. (I know. I tried.) And then, little by little, I opened up to the community around me. I joined a critique group… and gave up on my first novel after only 5 chapters of their critique. I started new stories and gave up on those as well after a little input. I found an online community of writers at Seekerville… and, for the first time, learned of things like pansters, plotters, and GMC. I participated in Speedbo (writing, in a single month, 50k words with no plot). I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), dragged my feet a bit, then finally signed up for their online critique group, “Scribes.”

Over the course of the next several months, in 2500-word increments, I submitted the entirety of another novel I’d written earlier and set aside. During those months, I made life-long friends and learned valuable lessons about my writing strengths and weaknesses… which finally convinced me to get serious about reading craft books and helped me focus on the content I needed most: PLOT.

Now I can look back at my own personal graveyard of unfinished manuscripts and abandoned rewrites and understand a little better why they needed to be laid to rest. Now I have a basic understanding of the craft as I move forward with my new project, and a greater hope for future success.

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How about you? Where are you on the learning curve? Are you hesitant to step out and join the community? Leave a comment below for a chance to win your choice of a $10 Amazon gift card (for my reader friends especially) or a 2500-word critique (more geared toward my writing friends). (Please specify which draw you’d like to enter. The winner will be announced in one week in the comments below and on the giveaways page.) Also, on May 15th I’ll be offering an analysis and a giveaway of Shannon Hale’s award-winning novel, The Goose Girl… So stay tuned!

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storystorming

Lara Storm spends at least half her life within the musty vaults of her brain, constructing new worlds and engaging fictional friends. Since winning the Illinois Young Authors Contest in middle school, she took a detour through graduate school and spent three years as an instructor of geology at the college level before completing her first novel in 2013. From caving, to hiking, to whitewater kayaking, Lara has been involved in a number of exciting outdoor activities, some of which crop up in her writing. She has written songs, created recipes for brewing beer, and enjoys dabbling in photo manipulation. When she’s not writing (or chasing an energetic toddler around the house)—she enjoys critiquing and mentoring other writers. Connect with her here: https://storystorming.wordpress.com/ https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLCStorm.

13 thoughts on “Learning to Write a Novel”

  1. Hi Lara!

    So good to see your writing journey!

    My journey started when I was reading the books of Kings, thinking what if Elijah really is “subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17)?

    In May I began to write, and by September, the result seemed like it could become a fun story if I got help.

    So I asked a group of Word Weavers to critique my writing. Those generous authors helped me so much that I joined ACFW. I found your critiques in the ACFW emails about a year into my journey.

    Thank you so much! With all this help, 30 chapters are in Beta draft, and 10 are of these are in the critiquing process.

    Dave Parks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh, this is so true. Why do we do this to ourselves? I was in the exact same boat, thinking I could write the next award winning, best seller– all by myself. So glad I opened myself to a plethora of help, including life long writer friends!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting to hear about your writing journey! I am a reader and don’t know much about the craft of writing.., I like to think I know good writing when I read it, but I’m sure that is a bit subjective

    Would love to win the gift card!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree “good writing” is somewhat subjective. No one writer (or writing style) will appeal to all readers… (Hard lessons for a writer to learn.) In the end though, the most important factor for any given person (in my opinion) is whether or not they enjoyed the overall reading experience. That’s my not-so-eloquent way of expressing that you’re absolutely right to say you know good writing when you read it. 😉
      (Authors are invisible… it’s all about the reader.)

      Thanks for stopping by.
      Happy reading and good luck in the draw!

      Like

  4. Lara I love your journey and I have no doubt you are heading the right way. And at least you have all those words to work with. I wrote my first more than 20 years ago. It was a children’s story I was inspired to write after a serious riding accident. 17,000 words. I published it on Amazon and iBooks some years ago, definitely during my writer’s preschool period. Maybe I would have qualified as a candidate for “Writer’s Day Out.” I knew nothing about show don’t tell, nothing about publicity, had never read a craft book unless an ancient copy of Writer’s Market and the iBook and Kindle instructions for self-publishing count. It was a huge mistake which has kept me out of certain writing contests. I want to redo it and republish but that’s another whole learning (or relearning) curve. I will because it’s a good story.

    A big change came for me when Sara Ella, a guest blogger at the old Seekerville, suggested I join ACFW. ACFW changed everything with their scribes group and monthly classes. And the experienced writers on the loop have answered all of my dumb questions. And hey, it’s where I first met you and that is a blessing all its own.

    Good job on a fun post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ha-your story is a lot like mine! Except the 600k part. I still can’t believe reaching out took so long (thank you genesis contest). I’m still learning & ok with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. And the winner of the the draw is… well there are two: My sister, whose name I drew first, and Lucy Reynolds. Please send a note to storystormblog@gmail.com (so I know the email address to use to send the Amazon gift card—since I assume neither of you want a critique).

    Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and remember, there’s an extra post this month (with a draw). Stop back by on May 15th for some writing lessons from Shannon Hale’s “The Goose Girl” and a chance to win a copy of her award-winning YA novel. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you take a stab at the draw. For a sneak peak of my next blog, click here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2375632951?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

    Like

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