For years my goal was to write faster, but I made no effort to write better. Though I did improve, my progress was gradual.
When I got serious about improving as a writer, I had to force myself to slow down and be more deliberate. Now after many years of focusing on the craft, my speed has returned and then advanced even more.
But I lost a couple of decades focusing on quantity instead of quality. If I could have a do-over, I’d focus on content first and not worry about speed.
After writing regularly, the second most valuable thing I did was to get feedback on my writing. It was scary at first (and sometimes still is).
But to get feedback from our family or friends doesn’t count. They love us and will only tell us good stuff. Or even worse, they’ll say our writing is good when it isn’t.
Instead, get feedback from serious writers and readers. But don’t request feedback from someone who doesn’t write or read in your genre; they’re not qualified to give valuable input.
Here are some ideas for getting feedback:
Join a critique group, either online or in person.
Work with another writer to provide feedback to each other.
Hire an editor or mentor to help you hone your words.
Something that’s important to me when I give and get feedback is to “speak the truth in love.” I’ve worked with some editors who gave me good feedback, but their delivery was so caustic that it made me ill.
The one single most important thing I ever did was to make the commitment to write every day.
This principle to write every day, however, is shorthand to write regularly. At first, I wrote five days a week, Monday through Friday. Then I made it six days and eventually seven. Now I’m back to six. It’s a rhythm that works for me in this season of my life.
Through all these variations, the one constant is that I get up every weekday morning and shuffle off to my writing desk. Whether I feel like it or not, I sit down and write. I commit to at least an hour each day, but my goal is to write longer. Usually, I make it.
Until I began to write regularly, the writing was ancillary. Now it’s central, and that’s made all the difference.
To write a novel, first, start with short stories. Many of the elements required for short stories carry over to longer works. In addition, it’s better to experiment on a 1,000-word short story than an 80,000-word novel. Once you’re comfortable with short stories then you can move on to longer works.
Short Story Tips
Writing short stories lets us experiment. We can have fast successes and failures. I’d rather try something on a short story than commit it to a whole novel only to find out it wasn’t working once I finished writing the entire thing.
As you hone your skills and find your voice with short stories, voraciously read novels. Read classics and contemporary works. Read in your genre and outside your genre. Read for enjoyment but mostly to learn. This will give you a sense of what works and what doesn’t, as well as to identify what you like and don’t like. This will pay off huge when you go to write your novel.
Start Your Novel
Now you’re ready to plan your novel. Whether you are a planner (plotter) or a discovery writer (a pantser—you write by the seat of your pants), you should have some ideas before you begin to write a novel.
I like to start with a list of characters, their bio, a story arc, the key elements, and a chapter outline. After all, if I’m writing that many words, I don’t want to waste effort.
For others, this prep work would stifle creativity, but it motivates me. Pick the method that works for you and start writing.
By the way, many novelists admit to writing several novels before one is good enough to publish, so don’t expect your first effort to write a novel will be a success. If it is, that’s great, but be prepared to crank out a couple before you find much interest.