Are you about to read The Five Secrets to Writing a Bestselling Novel by Linda Cassidy Lewis? I wish. We both know I don’t have the experience to write that. (Yet!) No, I’m going to tell you five things I discovered about how I write a novel. Five things, though mostly contrary to what I read in how-to-write manuals, that work for me. (Your mileage may vary.)
No, the novel of which I speak isn’t published yet, but it’s a good story, and feedback I’ve received from several other writers confirms that I succeeded in crafting a solid beginning, middle, and end. Nevertheless, as you read my five secrets, you’re welcome to have your grain of salt ready.
- Write what you know: Never take this to mean you can only write about a subject if you’re an expert on it. You can learn about almost anything through the internet, books, interviews, documentaries, etc. However, it’s hard to convey feelings convincingly in your writing that you haven’t experienced—at least in some way. I believe that if you make yourself feel the emotion you’re writing about, your reader will feel it too. If you have an idea that moves you, excites and interests you, write what your heart is telling you to write. You can research the details.
- Outline: You must outline; all the books say so. Ummm … no! I did not outline. The closest I came to outlining was creating a scene list. I wrote a one-sentence description of a few “big” scenes in advance, but mostly I listed each scene after I wrote it. I also wrote character sketches though, of course, these people revealed quite a bit more of themselves as I wrote and one character changed completely.
- First draft: I know the books say to get the story down fast, write straight through, don’t stop to edit. No can do … and didn’t. I see no reason I shouldn’t edit as I write. My story wasn’t quite complete when I thought it was, so it grew and changed through further editing, but my “first draft” was not “shitty.”
- Feedback: I read advice not to seek feedback until I completed and edited the novel. I didn’t listen to this either. Maybe someday I’ll have more confidence in my plotting skills, but for this one, I needed to know if the storyline that made perfect sense to me, also made sense to others. However, I started with a pretty good grasp of my story’s beginning, middle, and end … even if I hadn’t written it all yet. Only once did all my critique partners agree that a plot point needed serious revision, but often they let me know when I needed to add or clarify something. I preferred making those corrections while I was still writing the story rather than after I’d gone forward with more story that connected to what I had to cut or change thereby necessitating revisions to all those later scenes too. For me, receiving in-progress feedback was both confirming and motivating.
- Editing: I’ve read reams of how-to’s on editing. Most of them advised the method of going through your manuscript looking for one thing at a time: plot holes in one pass; grammar and punctuation in another pass; excessive use of adjectives/adverbs in yet another; etc. Though I tried, I found it impossible to focus on just one thing at a time, so I corrected whatever I saw as I read. Of course, I read my manuscript straight through at least three times (once, aloud) and through each of its three parts separately at different times. Eventually, I covered all the editing concerns I had listed.
So, that’s what works for me. Maybe you read these five “secrets” and shook your head, sure that I can’t possibly have written anything publishable. Maybe you read them and thought, Well duh!
I say, do what works for you—just write!
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