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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