I explained in my last post why I didn’t start writing fiction till my late 40s. Sometimes I think my life’s motto should be, Better Late than Never. Anyway, once I decided to give this whole making-up-stories thing a try, I had to figure out how to get started. Just put some words on the page? Well, OK, but as I said in my last post, creative writing is a craft. And crafts have to be learned. So, how does one learn to write a novel? Especially if one has a day job and doesn’t want to spend a couple of years and many thousands of dollars earning an MFA?
How I got started writing fiction
As I mentioned in my last post (Have I plugged that thing enough yet? Maybe my life motto should really be, Shameless Self-Promotion for the Win), I literally started by Googling “how to write a novel.” Yeah, I know. I’m an academic librarian, a professional searcher with the universe of published knowledge at my fingertips, and I started my creative writing career with a lame-ass Google search. Truth be told, I wasn’t very serious then. I did that search on a whim.
That whim and that search led me to the Snowflake Method by self-proclaimed Snowflake Guy Randy Ingermanson. By pure luck (or fate or law of attraction or whatever you want to call it), I found an approach that meshes nicely with how my mind works. I read through Randy’s pages, and the magical phrase that has so often sent me on life adventures clanged through my work-addled brain:
I can do this.
Learn the craft
I’ve said it before, but it’s important enough to repeat: Creative writing is a craft. Not magic, not some gift that only a rare few people are blessed with. And crafts can be learned. But they aren’t learned automagically or by osmosis or by standing under a full moon at midnight and sacrificing a live chicken. They’re learned through study and practice.
So that’s my first piece of advice if you want to learn to write fiction: study and practice. What does that look like? Here are 3 suggestions:
- If you want to write, you have to read. If you want to write romances, read good, successful romances. Ditto for thrillers or mysteries or whatever your chosen genre is.
- But reading other people’s stories isn’t enough. After all, you can’t learn to knit just by wearing sweaters. You have study the craft itself. So get some good books on the craft of fiction writing and start reading. At the end of this post, I list the books I found most helpful as a brand-new writer, but your mileage may vary, as your approach may be different from mine.
- Practice. For me, practice took 2 forms:
- Doing exercises in writing books. They help you apply techniques right as you’re learning.
- Working on my own writing. I started planning, then drafting, my first novel right after I discovered the Snowflake Method. As I read books about the craft, I tried to apply what I’d learned to my own work.
Books for Getting Started
There are a zillion books about fiction writing with a zillion different approaches. You may need to read widely to find a few that work for you. The ones listed below worked for me. The first two can help you structure your novel and get started writing it. The third will help you avoid common newbie mistakes so your writing sounds polished and professional. Note: these are Amazon Affiliate links that will throw a few pennies my way if you use them to purchase.
- How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method – Randy Ingermanson. The book that started me on my journey. It’s for people who want to impose some structure on their novel but don’t want to make a detailed outline. This process worked very well for me as I planned my first novel.
- Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between – James Scott Bell. Like the Snowflake Method, Bell’s approach is a compromise between hardcore outlining and winging it (or plotting vs. pantsing). He provides enough structure to help you get started without overwhelming you.
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print – Renni Browne and Dave King. And if you want even more books to read, check out The Best Books on Writing Ever, a recent blog post from Browne’s Editorial Department blog.
How about you? Are you new to writing or an old hack? Do you have any favorite resources to help new writers get started? Share them in the comments and help out your fellow scribblers.