Happy National Novel Writing Month! My friends at Hot Key Books have asked me to share some advice on novel writing, particularly things I wish I’d known before starting my first. So let’s start with full disclosure: Although I’ve been published in nearly a dozen countries, won a major American mystery writing award, and had one of my books optioned for film, my first novel lives where many others of its kind do–in a drawer.
This brings me to tip #1: Do not be afraid of your novel ending up in a drawer. The number of published novelists with unpublished first novels is incredibly high. Why? The only way to learn how to write a novel is…to write a novel.
Still worried that your first page, chapter, whole darn novel, isn’t any good? This brings us to tip #2: It matters less whether what you write is good than whether you can make it better. You’ve probably heard this before but great writers are rewriters. In fact, I’m always wary when people think they’ve written something great, especially when it’s an early draft. On the other hand, if you’re the type of self-critical, perfectionist, sad sack who bemoans your stuff ever being good enough, there’s a good chance you’ll make it!
Which brings us to tip #3: Relax! Novelists are like marathon runners—in for the long haul. So keep to a routine but if there’s one day (or two or three) when you can barely put together a sentence or figure out your plot, don’t panic. Part of a novelist’s work takes place when he or she is not actually writing but thinking, reading, dreaming, observing, and generally living life.
One last thing I wish I had known when I started: It doesn’t get any easier. True, I worry a little less now about my novels ending up in a drawer. But I constantly have to keep reminding myself of the rest of these tips lest I give up on the whole, difficult business. Which brings me to my final piece of advice: Don’t write to become a writer. Write because you are.