If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the writer was blessed with an other-worldly talent that lets them sit down at their computer and sees magic stream out of them and onto the page. I mean, imagine how cool that would be! But I do know better. And as someone who teaches introductory novel writing, I try to get my students to understand that no matter how talented a writer they are, there are mechanics involved in writing a novel. A lot of mechanics. Which means there are few shortcuts to greatness, even if you are Wally Lamb or Jonathan Franzen.
I’ll bet those two guys wished magic flowed effortlessly from their fingertips—that they just had to sit at the computer, close their eyes, and their fingers would start typing all this great stuff (who wouldn’t wish for that?). And while perhaps more magic flows from them than the rest of us mere mortals, there’s a heck of a lot of work behind said magic. Which is probably one of the reasons why it takes those gentlemen a few years to write their superb novels.
I always urge my students to put the hard work in before they start writing their “magic”. And by that, I mean hammering out the premise, a working title, genre, the character and plot outlines, the setting, POV choices–as many of the details as they can.
By doing that preliminary work (which sometimes feels like drudgery), it helps ensure they won’t get writers block, because they know what’s going to happen next. It also keeps them in the driver’s seat and hopefully following the roadmap they’ve meticulously laid out, as opposed to going off on meandering side trips that suddenly leave them (and the reader) lost.
So writers, do yourself a favour and learn the mechanics of writing a novel before you start writing chapter one. Even the greatest athletes in the world, after all, have to first learn the mechanics of their sport before they jump off that diving board or pick up a hockey stick. Take a course or read some of the plentiful how-to books out there. Not only will your novel be better for it, but you’ll save yourself a lot of aggravation and frustration later on.
The other piece of advice I give my students before they set to writing their novel is to read a lot of fiction, particularly in the genre they want to write. Try to figure out how the masters do it, why they are so successful, and try to mimic the hell out of their winning formula!
All this preliminary work and preparation is part and parcel of becoming a “real” writer, and is the DNA upon which all that later magic is given life. So stop sitting around hoping for the angels to bless you, and get to work learning the mechanics.
You really can write a novel!
Tracey Richardson is the author of seven romance novels with Bella Books, two of which (“No Rules of Engagement” and “Last Salute”) are Lambda Literary Awards finalists.
Twitter: Tracey Richardson @ trich7117.