Many people dream of writing the great American novel. It’s a beautiful dream and here are my top five tips for making it a reality.
1. As with any profession or craft, becoming excellent is simple but not easy. The best advice I can give to writers starting out is to read. Read very well-written books in the genre you want to write in. I heard this advice at the very first writer’s conference I ever attended many years ago, as well as the most recent one I attended.
One presenter, who has written dozens of books and is at the top of his field, even suggested that writers starting out should read 100 books of whatever kind you want to write before you even start writing. I heard gasps in the room when he said this. I have a somewhat softer take on that. I think you can start counting down the hundred while you are starting to write.
2. Take classes. It’s helpful to take classes or go to conferences or join a writer’s group (or several until you find the right one). You don’t necessarily need an MFA, but do take advantage of the numerous local, regional, and national conferences and workshops held throughout the year for writers.
3. Join a writer’s group. A writer’s group was incredibly helpful to me when I wrote my first novel, Seeking Sara Summers. I had written children’s novels before, but when it came to writing my first novel for adults it seemed a daunting task. To help me accomplish my goal, I joined a small writer’s group of only six people, including myself. At the very first meeting I told them that I wanted to bring a chapter of a new novel to them (a really rough draft) every time we met, which was every two weeks. This broke the task into smaller, more achievable goals. I kept my promise and had an entire first draft finished within a year.
4. Hire a freelance editor to clean up your manuscript when you’re finished. An editor can do anything from line editing for typos and grammatical corrections all the way up to substantial editing around style, characterization, plot, etc. When you’re starting out, it’s a good investment to get more substantial editing to help you improve.
5. Read books on writing. There isn’t just one book about how to write that I would recommend. There are so many out there. I have a shelf full of them myself. Some can be quite helpful, like Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver. But most didn’t have a huge impact on me.
I can honestly say that what has made me a better writer is to practice the craft every day. Get words on the page (even if it’s just a few), and don’t let anybody or anything, including your own negative thoughts, stop you.
Whatever kind of novel you’re writing, keep at it. We humans love and need good stories, so just do it!