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Perfecting Your Craft

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I’ve done a lot of fiction writing, and have even had people pay me to publish some of it. I’ve also completed a few novels, but I’ve never published any. That said, I have opinions. I know – shocking! So when someone asked a question, I was only too ready to answer.

Advice to Aspiring Novelists 1: Perfect Your Craft

Originally published 8 Jul 2009.

I promised a while back to make a post about my thoughts on publishing a novel. it was in response to a comment/question from Brad: “. . . what advice would you give for someone who wants to write novels?”

I’m not a published novelist, so this is an amateur’s take on the situation based on this amateur’s previous attempts to get a novel published.

This kind of grew beyond what I intended. For this post, I’m just going to look at my first piece of advice. I’ll be back with more later.

The first thing you as an aspiring novelist need to do? Perfect your craft. That craft, of course, being writing. Which kind of leads into the question, how does one perfect one’s craft? I would suggest writing, critiquing, and reading.

Write as much and as often as you can. Any kind of writing helps, but to perfect the craft of writing a novel, you really need to flex you novel writing muscles. That means, write in the novel format. It doesn’t mean you have to always be working on finishing a novel — though if you want to publish one, finishing many is kind of important — but it does mean you should be writing for a novel length project that may or may not ever see completion.

You should be involved in a critiquing group. An in-person group is the best, but Critters is the next best thing. And, of course, you could do both. Critiquing another’s work is a great way to learn what does and does not work. By critiquing other writers’ works, you will improve your own. And by reading other peoples’ critiques of your work, you will improve it. Just remember to provide constructive criticism, and do not take criticism of your work personally.

If you don’t have a thick skin, grow it before you join a critiquing group. Occasional evidence to the contrary, writers need to learn to accept criticism — even that which is not constructive — gracefully. This doesn’t mean that you need to accept everyone’s criticism, it means you graciously receive it and don’t fight or argue with the person providing it.

When you get criticism of your work, consider it thoughtfully. For me, that means I need to read it, get upset (they don’t understand my work! The Philistines!) then come back to it in a few days and evaluate it dispassionately (huh, look at that, they’re right, this doesn’t work). Some criticism you’ll accept, some you’ll reject. In the end it is your work . . . at least until someone pays you for it!

And read. Read novels in the genre in which you write. Read novels in genres in which you don’t write. Read non-fiction, especially when you are doing research. Read short stories. Read scripts. Read the instructions. Read cereal boxes. Read, read, read. Reading inculcates the rules of writing into your subconscious. If you read enough, you will learn proper usage. You will expand your vocabulary. You might even learn a few tricks.

Don’t always read as a novelist. Read as a reader. There are times when you do want to read as a novelist, when you want to dissect the work of other writers and see what makes it tick. Why does this novel work? How does this writer build tension? Why are these characters so compelling? But you also want to read as a reader, to enjoy the novel, to lose yourself in it.