This is the first in an occasional series about the nuts and bolts of fiction writing. The process of writing is also a process of constant learning, and – believe me – I’m still learning. These are some of the things I’ve picked up while writing the seven novels currently sitting on my hard drive. Yes, seven completed novels before I sold my first one. So…
Never give up. Never surrender.
Some of us have a natural gift for language and story–born writers–the rest of us learn the hard way, trying and failing, trying again. We experiment with words, with story forms. Sometimes we like what we write, other times we think it sucks like a big sucky thing. But even when it sucks, we still write.
The important thing is that we write. Write and finish what we write. Don’t be one of those people with six novel beginnings on your hard drive with no middles or ends. (Did you just blush then? Did you?)
There’s a theory that if you are aiming to be a novel writer, you should hone your craft by writing short stories. That may work for some people, but novel writing and short story writing are in many ways different crafts. Some people naturally write short story length and have to really stretch themselves to produce a novel. Others have a tendency to write long. If novel-length is where your writing style ‘wants’ to be, don’t fight nature. Write what you want to write, not what others tell you you should be writing.
I’d written two novels before I wrote and sold my first short story.
The production of a finished piece – of whatever length – goes through two stages: writing and rewriting/revision. Or if you’re anything like me that can be fifteen stages: writing the first draft and the fourteen rewrites and polishes. For many of us the first draft is pretty abysmal. It may have some good stuff in it, but between the gems are the clunkers that on subsequent passes will be consigned to the trash can in the sky. You may decide to rerstructure the whole piece, add scenes, delete scenes, change points of view, experiment with tenses, cut out characters or combine the roles of two characters into one, take out explicit sex or add it in. You may start in a different place, change the ending, or raise the stakes for your characters.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s OK as long as you don’t throw up your hands and exclaim that it’s unfixable. There’s no such thing as an unfixable manuscript, even if 99% of it is eventually changed.
There is nothing you can write that can’t be improved by thoughtful revision.