When I began my journey as an author, I was very unsure of myself. I wondered what makes an author, and did I have what it takes? Could I write a good book – after all, no one wants to write a bad one! What I didn’t realise at the time was that I already had the basic requirements for becoming a fiction author—a love of books and a good imagination. They’re not enough by themselves to make an author, but they’re what you need to start with, and if you don’t already have them, you can develop them.
Reading comes before writing.
I still love picture books, and as a child, before I could read the words, the illustrations drew me into another world, the world of the imagination. A book was never far from my hands. I devoured them from the time I was very small. Nothing felt better than immersing myself in imaginary worlds that were so much more exciting than my own. I soon found myself making up my own stories and play acting them out. Reading about other worlds was great, but so was making up my own world.
Through books I learned not only about different worlds, but, perhaps more importantly, about different people. I lived lives I could never have lived and met people I never would have met without reading. Books can educate and entertain, but they can also engender empathy in the reader for people that are not like ourselves, because they can show us just how much they are, in fact, like ourselves.
This is a great grounding for an author. Reading gives you a wider range of experience to draw on in your writing than just your own life; it’s as if you have lived all the lives of all the central characters in all the books you’ve read. A common suggestion for new authors is to write what you know, but if you read widely, you know about a great deal more than your own life.
It’s not too late
Even if the grounding of reading a lot is not in your past, it is something you can do now. Ebooks are cheap and can be read anywhere, so really there is no excuse; just make sure that you choose good books. When I was a young adult, I read a series of depressing novels about boring characters who consistently made the most incredibly stupid decisions. I thought the books were dreadful, but they were highly critically acclaimed and had even won major Australian literary awards. I was so disgusted that this was what people considered great fiction that I stopped reading novels for about fifteen years. I read a lot of non-fiction during that time, but it was only when my daughter started reading the first Harry Potter book, and I decided I should read it too, that my love of fiction returned. Thanks, J.K.
Reading novels again was what made me realise that I had an idea for a novel simmering away inside me, and gradually the thought formed that I should at least try to write it down. I wasn’t sure if I should write in first person or third until I read The Old Kingdom Series by Garth Nix. Apart from helping you to decide how you want to approach writing your story, knowing what books your novel is similar to is helpful when you come to pitch it to agents, publishers, reviewers or readers. It’s good to at least know your genre before you start, and reading widely will help you to make that decision.
If you want to write a novel, then reading them is the place to start, especially if you haven’t read one for a while. And if you ask yourself why a novel holds your attention or why it doesn’t, you can learn a lot.
Reading is an imaginative pastime. The words tell the story, but the imagination is what brings it to life. I always see the world of a story in my mind, like a movie, and with my stories, it’s as if I’m the characters living their story in their world. In fact, scenes from my unwritten novels tend to invade my imagination without permission and play out in full colour and sound, and when I’m working on an author’s book as their editor, I try to see their world and get inside their characters in exactly the same way.
If you find yourself living, seeing or experiencing the stories you read in some way, then you have a good imagination, an important part of what makes an author.
This kind of imagination can be developed by imagining yourself as a character in a scene. Try to smell what they smell, see what they see, hear what they hear and feel what they feel. When it comes to writing, the more you can imagine yourself in the scene you are writing, the better your writing will be.
And if you find yourself dreaming up your own characters, worlds or stories, you have the kind of imagination that is a major part of what makes an author.
What makes the difference between a reader with imagination and a potential author is the desire to make your own stories.
Of course we need more than a love of books, an active imagination and a desire to make your own stories to turn a potential author into an actual author; we also need to study the craft of writing.
I wrote the first draft of my first novel without having done any writing study, and that’s fine because at the first draft stage we don’t need to concern ourselves with technique because the point is just to get the story down. When I realised that the novel wasn’t very good, however, I felt pretty miserable. Suddenly the whole idea of writing a novel seemed daunting, and my confidence plummeted. I gave up the idea, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the story and the characters, it was as if they were demanding that their story be written.
Eventually I realised that I could learn how to make it better—and you can do that too. Five years later, through intensive study, professional help and an unflagging commitment to my story, I’d turned what had started out as a pretty terrible book into a quality product that an agent thought good enough to want to represent. The day I heard from that agent, I danced around and jumped up and down with happiness! But it wasn’t all luck; it was also the result of my dedication to writing the best book I possibly could. I was ruthless in my criticism of my own work—a very good quality for an author to have.
In the same way, if you’re willing to learn how and can put in the time, you can turn your first draft into a successful story—and I can help you do it.
The good news is that you don’t need to do a degree in creative writing or even a writing course because there are plenty of books available on writing and lots of free information on the internet. The kinds of things you need to learn about first are all those things listed in my Novel Revision Checklist—plot elements and structure, pacing, scene structure, character story and emotional arcs, character creation, description, dialogue, world building, point of view, info-dumps and backstory. Search for information on each of these elements and read up on them, then use the revision checklist to write your second draft. After that the quickest way to find out what you still need to learn is to book a professional manuscript appraisal from someone who will give you some solid direction.
I got a manuscript appraisal for my first novel and thought it a lot of money at the time, but it was a vital step in my writing journey because it showed me what I didn’t know and so had to study. Only someone who can see what we don’t know can point that out to us.
What turns a potential author into an author is studying writing craft and having the inspiration to actually write. Without inspiration, there is nothing to write, but with it, words will flow from your fingertips. If the inspiration is strong enough, as mine was, it will inspire all your study and keep you at the project until the end. Being able to keep the inspiration alive through many revisions and editing passes is an important quality that determines whether or not your desire to write a book will result in you actually bringing one to publishable standard.
If you don’t have it, develop it.
If you don’t already have a grounding in reading and using your imagination, and if you haven’t already done some writing study and don’t have any inspiration, don’t despair; all these things can be developed. We may be born with the qualities needed to be an author and/or have a good childhood grounding, but it’s what we do now that will turn the potential author into an actual author.
I did it, and you can too. I can help you get there.
If you don’t have any inspiration but know you do want to write a novel one day, just keep reading, review the books you read and study the craft of writing. One day the inspiration will come.
If you have inspiration but you aren’t sure if your idea is good enough to warrant following through on, then consider running it by me and the other authors in my Story Sculpting Facebook Group. Download my Novel Revision Checklist first to be eligible for the group.
This is the start of a series of blog posts on how to write a novel. It won’t just cover the technical details, but also the emotional journey we take and the personal challenges we meet on the road from potential author to author. Join the journey now, and don’t miss a post, click here to sign up to get the revision checklist and the articles sent to your inbox.
I can also mentor one or two authors for a monthly fee if anyone is interested in having personal assistance. The fee would include a monthly Skype session to discuss your book. Let me know if you’re interested. You can continue it for as long or short a time as you wish.
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