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I remember it was around this time last year when Nick Forster asked me if I thought he was ready to tackle writing a novel. He’d participated in several of my 4-week workshops (mystery and suspense, sci fi and fantasy, young adult) but tackling a 75,000 word novel is a much larger project than a 3,000 word short story.
Well, I encouraged Nick to take the Write Your First Novel Now workshop because I knew he could write in sections and I knew he was able to write without letting fear get in the way too much.
Before the workshop was over, he’d written the first draft of his novel Marine Space: The Fury of Xero Nekton. It was so much fun reviewing his sections in the workshop, and everyone loved this high-action space opera romp through the galaxy.
I'm thrilled to say that Nick’s book is now available on Amazon. He went from a story idea to a first draft in about 10 weeks, and now the finished story is out there in the world.
It’s time to celebrate… congratulations Nick!
I asked Nick if he would share his novel-writing experience with the group... here's the interview:
What inspired you to try writing a novel?
I have a lot of ideas that I wanted to share. A novel is a good way to do that. Nobody else is going to tell me what to write, just me. Although I started a book in 1999 called The Tired Guy, it was not until a couple of years ago that I decided to start writing again. I started another novel but very quickly wrote myself into a corner. It was then that I saw an ad for one of David’s science fiction short story workshops. I promptly signed up, and after enjoying it so much, took a few more that year. I was going to continue with short stories for a while, but gambled on the novel workshop instead, even though I doubted my abilities. In fact, even after signing up and starting to write, it wasn’t until I was well into the first draft that I really started to believe I could actually do it.
What was the hardest thing about writing a novel?
The hardest things about writing a novel were overcoming doubt and finding enough time to write. Days off writing tended to take the story from my mind and made it harder to return. It was in these times that I doubted myself and the story, whether it was good enough, or if I was wasting my time. Sometimes I would hit a rough patch, a poorly-planned section, and it would be very difficult to write. That’s when the self-doubt would kick in. Also, a few days off meant re-reading everything you’d already written to get back into the story.
Can you describe the habits or things you did that helped you finish your story?
Stick to it! I started getting up early and writing for at least an hour before work. This got easier because I found I would wake up with ideas and want them to get them down before forgetting. Also, I replaced bad habits with good, writing instead of watching TV, for instance. Replacing weekend chores with writing also helped tremendously, as getting two or three sections in a row really helped build momentum. Luckily, I don’t have kids, so I have more time for this kind of thing. Heh heh. It sounds pretty cliché, but the more I did, the easier it got, and the faster I became. I also had mini deadlines for myself. Like I wanted to have the first draft done before the workshop was over, and I also wanted to have the second draft done by July 1st. I luckily had a week off work in June which helped me accomplish that, but it was mainly by getting up early anyway. The more I wrote, the less I was able to sleep, which also helped with the getting up early part. The help, feedback, advice, and encouragement given by fellow workshoppers was also a very key piece of the puzzle.
What advice would you give to those who are thinking about writing their own novel?
Think of an idea and do it. Planning is key. Know your characters. Invest time in the plot/section planning. Invest the time daily. My biggest stumbling blocks occurred when I came across a poorly-planned or vague section and had to come up with 1250 words on it. A well-planned section practically writes itself, and I could do the first draft of it in one session. But my biggest advice would be to have fun. Pick something that interests you and will enjoy spending time thinking and writing about because it takes a lot of time! But if you like it, then it is like recreation, not work, so it doesn’t matter that it takes time. Also, don’t dwell on quality when you are writing the first draft. Speed helps (not the pills :). Type fast, get the story down in black and white. Fix it later. Get involved in a workshop or group of writers and meet regularly to help each other.
Some sound advice on getting that first novel written... thanks Nick!
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One of the more common things I see new writers do is to try telling the reader every single detail about a scene or a character or a theme. They think the reader “won’t get it” if they don’t include all that information. This implies the reader isn’t clever enough to understand your brilliance, so you have to insert yourself into the story and walk them through it. But readers don’t like this.
I'm not talking about Kurt Vonnegut inserting himself as the creator in a story to make some metafictional point. That is something different. What this is about is the belief that unless you explain things to your reader in great detail, they won't recognize your brilliance.
I don’t think writers intentionally do this, but I know there are times when we all want to show readers how brilliant our prose is, or how sharp our plotting is. Sometimes, we can’t help ourselves.
Why not trusting your reader is problematic
The problem with not trusting the reader is two-fold: first, it insults them. As readers, we love to figure things out, to make our own connections, to visualize what the characters look like and so on. One of the reasons why mysteries are so popular is because the reader gets to figure out who dunnit too. By telling readers too much, writers take that level of engagement away from them.
Second, it breaks the flow of the story. Readers know when you’re inserting yourself into the prose to teach and preach. And if the flow of reading is broken, your reader engagement is lost. When readers become disengaged, they put the book down and may never pick it up again.
How to identify when you’re not trusting the reader
Sometimes it’s difficult to notice when you, as a writer, aren’t trusting the reader. It’s like everything else with our stories: we become attached to them, and blind to the errors we’ve made. So the best thing to do is to make sure others read your story. If they’re honest and sincere, they will tell you when they recognize a certain preachiness in the writing.
Whenever the narrator or a character goes over the top explaining something, you know you’re not trusting the reader. As a writer, you may think you’re doing the reader a favour by telling them how all the dots join up, but readers don’t like this. We like to figure things out on our own.
So, if you find your explaining too much or getting preachy and teachy, that’s when you should have a close look at your prose and start cutting words out.
The story is never finished until it’s read
Lastly, trying to tell or explain to the reader everything that’s going on is impossible. As a writer, you may have a certain idea in your head about what’s going on, but every reader will pick up something a little different that you never thought of. It’s because each reader brings their own personal and unique experience to the story when they read it. They create the theatre of the mind based on places they’ve been, and people they know. In fact, the reader completes the story you began writing.
Because of this, it’s impossible for a writer to portray exactly everything they want in a story. It’s why describing someone as a “tall, brown-eyed woman with shoulder-length hair” is far more effective than describing every single detail about what she looks like and what she’s wearing.
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