Saturday, June 26, 2010

Advice for the Budding Novelist

My step-daughter (the vampire obsessed one) recently told me she’s writing a novel. When she was brave enough to have me read what she’d written so far, I started thinking about the best advice I could give her. I’m still in the process of perfecting the craft – and always will be – but I’ve learned some things along the way that helped me tremendously.

The most valuable lessons I've learned so far:

Write, write, write! Sounds simple, but many writers get hung up on learning the craft and forget to ‘just do it’. (Thanks for the borrow, Nike. I’ll give it back.) You can’t learn tennis simply by watching others play or reading a book about tennis. Similarly you’ll never be a great writer simply by reading other novels and books on craft. Start writing, keep writing. It will likely stink at first, most first drafts do. But, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Don’t edit right away, just let the words flow.

Minis are always in style. And not just if you have great legs. Try short fiction, micro fiction, flash fiction. Whatever you want to call it, step away from your novel occasionally to stretch your creative muscles. Think of it as cross training for your brain. The best tennis players run, train their core and do yoga to make sure they are fit and well rounded. I joined a flash fiction critique group early on and not only had a great time, but got in the habit of giving my writing a daily workout. I responded to bi-weekly prompts and the stories started flowing like wine. Then I joined another and pretty soon I had some publishing credits to my name. But, more importantly it trained me to 1) write every day and 2) learn the fine art of brevity 3) finish something I started.

Don’t fear the ‘Cowell Scowl’. Some of the most helpful critiquers of my writing attacked it with Simon Cowell intensity. Grow a thick skin when it comes to critique. Join a critique group. (Online is great because you don’t have to look someone in the face as they shred your work). Your friends and family may tell you your work is great. “Send it to a publisher right away,” the say. “Oh my gosh, it will be a movie staring Kate Hudson, I just know it,” they say. Roll in the praise a bit and then push it away. Other writers will give it to you straight (most will). Plus, you’ll learn a lot in the process of critiquing their work as well.

Read, read, read! Again, sounds simple but your writing will improve exponentially the more you read. And, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Read classics, read outside your genre, read books on craft. Even if you read something that isn’t what you’d consider high quality prose, you’ll learn in the process by recognizing what works and what doesn’t.

So, go, write that novel that’s been scurrying around in your head like the family of mice in your attic. And have fun!


P.S. If you had just one piece of advice to give a new writer, what would it be?


  1. You blog looks beautiful!

    The 'Cowell Scowl' made me laugh. I have that scowl - sorry!!

    I can't agree loud enough: read, read, read; write, write, write. Don't stay in your genre, and don't stay in your comfort level - in either.


    Corra x

    The Victorian Heroine

  2. I think maybe at first she should write in her comfort level until she gets her sea legs but don't wait too long before taking risks and venturing out. I like your idea of writing short stories. For me, they're harder but maybe for other they're easier.


  3. Corra: Thanks! I was getting bored with the old background ; ). And, you’re FAR better looking than Simon LOL. Seriously, when it comes to a helpful critique you’re a star.

    Clarissa: Good point about shorts – they can be more difficult, but for me it helped with my need for instant gratification. ; ). As you know all to well, writing a novel can be a long and arduous process and it really helped me stay focused by having some stories I could call ‘complete’. Even if they were only 500 words. Thanks for the read!

  4. Dump your brain!!! Dump Dump Dump!!! Make sense of it later. We all have amazing stories inside. But there's a log jam preventing it from pouring forth. What is the dynamite that will break up the jam for you? It took a layoff from work for me. Once the story started to flow I found myself typing from before sunrise till long after the sun set. I looked in the mirror and said, "You are a writer. Now go write some more."

    Great blog, Cat!

  5. You're so right, Don. Once I got going I couldn't stop - nor would I want to. ; ). Guess another good piece of advice would be to not let anything stop you if you're really passionate about it. Not your own self-doubt or external voices. Thanks for reading, Don! (And, yes, you are a writer and a very good one ; )).

  6. Cat
    Even your blog sings beautifully with your prose!
    It is impressive.
    The write write write and read read read is advise from your experience - everything you write now is a delightful read.
    keep it up so more can benefit from your writing.

  7. Great advice. Interestingly, someone asked me today, the question you asked at the end. My one piece of advice to a new writer would be to take time to learn the craft of writing. No matter how good we may think we are, there's nothing that substitutes for learning how to write. It's not something we can learn overnight. I don't believe writing is something that anyone ever masters, but learning how to write to a certain standard takes time, patience and persistence.

    BTW, love the look of your blog.

  8. Momma-
    Thanks for asking all your friends for advice! I just now got a chance to look over it all and take it in. Slightly overwhelming, but all good to know. Still have lots to learn but the pages of my book are multiplying by the day :)