“How can I get started in novel writing?” Someone recently asked me this question, and my mind swam with a myriad of thoughts and questions. Such an elementary question forced me to stomp on my mental brakes and flash back about thirty years to the days when I filled notebooks with all sorts of strange tales with my childlike, loopy handwriting.
What the questioner really wanted to know was, How can I publish novels? But the answer to that question—and what a big question it is—is only part of the journey.
So let’s start at the beginning. Before anyone should seriously pursue novel publication in any formal sense, I believe he or she should first ask the following five questions:
1. Do I love fiction?
To be a great writer of fiction, you must first be a great lover of it. I firmly believe that. You’ll need extraordinary perseverance not only to finish a novel but also to actually get it in a state publishers will notice. If you don’t truly love stories and the people who populate them, I doubt you’ll ever reach the finish line.
If I visited your home or apartment, would I find sagging bookshelves crammed with the novels you love? Do you love reading stories? If so, that’s a good sign.
2. Do I love writing fiction?
There’s a big difference between loving fiction and being someone who enjoys writing it. I’ve met plenty of folks who say, “I just loved that novel, but I could never write something like that.” I’m not saying this is a bad attitude; it just doesn’t fit a novelist. It’s difficult picturing someone with that attitude slogging through a ninety-thousand-word novel from start to fiction.
A love of writing is essential. For some of us, fiction writing is a compulsion. Point me to a story idea I’m wild about, and my fingers can’t type fast enough. Does that sense of urgency describe you?
If you love to write, what do you like to write? If it isn’t fiction, chances are, you should be writing something else.
3. Do I have the ability to write?
Look back at your college days (unless of course you’re in college now). What type of grades did you get in English or writing? Did writing term papers come easily for you?
In college I took four semesters of English history for my history minor. My professor gave me the option: take objective tests or write subjective essays (usually eight or so pages in fifty minutes). I chose the essays and breezed through them. It was probably one of the easiest classes I took. Why?
Writing has always been easy for me.
But what does this have to do with fiction writing? you may ask. While you may love reading and writing stories, that doesn’t guarantee you are good at writing them. And before you write stories, you need to master writing itself. English and grammar should be second nature to you.
You may come up with the greatest stories in the world, but if you don’t possess a certain aptitude for writing, you’ll never catch a publisher’s eye (that is, unless you can afford a top-notch editor). Publishers seek not only fascinating stories but also authors who can write them well.
4. Have others recognized my writing?
In other words, to write for publication, you must write for others, not just for yourself. Yes, that’s hard at first because most of us are people pleasers and slaves to what others think. And we hate even the whisper of rejection.
During a college expository writing class, I had to read my story “Carousel in the Storm” aloud to my class and then listen as my classmates critiqued my story. Not easy, especially since not all the comments were positive.
So to be a published writer, you must have thick enough skin to let others read your stories and critique them. If you can’t do that, forget publishing a novel for the world to see. Family and friends will say only good things—that’s a fact. You must be willing to stick your neck out and risk failing miserably. Yes, this step is hard—perhaps the hardest in your journey to publication. But you’ll never achieve success until you try. Success typically comes with plenty of failure along the way, so prepare yourself for it.
Start by submitting a short story to a recognized magazine; that’s how I got started. My first short story, “Posters on the Wall,” was published as a take-home Sunday school paper. Nope, I didn’t make much money, but just to have my fiction published gave me a sense of accomplishment no money can buy.
It also gave me the affirmation to keep writing.
Two of the biggest affirmations that I might have a future in writing came when I won two writing contests, one in high school (creative writing) and one in college (extemporaneous essay). Some judge read what I wrote and said, “This is better than all other submissions.” It was just the encouragement I needed.
So I kept writing. I persevered. I’m still persevering.
No, the journey isn’t easy. But if it’s the journey God has chosen for you, you must be willing to walk it. Which leads us to #5.
5. Has God called me to do it?
Writing takes dedication and time. To be successful at it, it must be a high priority in your life that will require sacrifice in other areas. Your friends may go to a baseball game while you stay home and write. Unless you feel God has led you on this path and wants you to seek publication and make the necessary sacrifices, perhaps He has something else for you to do.
What about you? How did you answer my questions? Do you have questions about the journey to publication?
- Winner of Book Giveaway Contest
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