You’re quite a lot to contact me for your first novel: how to finish it when you’re suffering from writer’s block, which publisher to aim at when you’re done, how to go through the first selection phase and not have it end up in the thrash without even being read, and which mistakes to avoid in general, whether you’re still writing or ready to send to a publishing company.
I have therefore compiled the most common questions as a list of things not to do for your first novel (and the following, but chances are you won’t do the same mistake twice!), and I have cut this list in half because of its length, and the fact that it touches upon the ‘before’ (novel still in writing) and the ‘after’ (novel ready to publish).
Let’s start with the mistakes to avoid during the writing phase!
THINKING YOU NEED TO PLAN EVERYTHING
It works well for some writers, and others (like me) sometimes don’t even know how their novel will end. Some need to create character cards, development steps for the story, and to plan the end, and others let the story carry them, getting to know their characters along the writing process, the story revealing itself while they progress.
Finding your functioning is more important than following a set or rules, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ to the writer’s costume.
But be careful, not following a plan doesn’t mean you don’t know where you’re going, which bring us to the next point.
NOT KNOWING WHERE YOU’RE GOING
You don’t start a novel (which means an average of 80 000 words at least…) without having an idea of the story you want to tell. You need a minimum amount of matter, for example, a context, two characters, and a finality. I’ll take a very simple example, which, while not qualitative, shows what I want to say very well : Harlequin novels. Two characters in a precise context, with the finality that they must end together. Same with crime novels: a crime, a character who is guilty, one who plays detective, and in the end the second one finds the first. Personally, even if I tend to go with the flow of my writing because I love to be surprised by the development of my own story, I never start without those prerequisite.
WRITING FOR MONEY
Added to the three criteria above, you also need to know why you write. And yes, there are good and bad reasons.
Writing for money is completely unrealistic, because writers making a full living out of their novels are very few (not more than 40 in France). It’s utopian to believe you’re going to be the next J. K. Rowling.
WRITING FOR EGO
I have to admit that, unfortunately, this is a case I’ve met very often on fora/Facebook groups about writing: the writer who feels invested with a talent that doesn’t suffer criticism, who thinks their book is a best seller in waiting, which only needs to be published for their dream life to begin.
Deception assured with that: writing with the sole purpose of getting praise shows an egoism incompatible with sharing a story, feelings, in short, no sharing out with the reader is possible since this writing based on ego dips into a pond of self satisfaction.
NOT WRITING/NOT HAVING DISCIPLINE
As I already wrote in a previous article, to finish a novel, you need to write!
We don’t all have the chance to choose our timetable, and when you’re working all day, it’s sometimes difficult to sit in front of your keyboard and work again. Of course, writing is a pleasure (otherwise, you’re a masochist if you do it and you don’t like it!) but it’s still work to take seriously. The goal is to send to a professional publisher after all, they won’t read total amateur writing.
And therefore, you need to self discipline and write. Not only to progress in the story, but also in a blog, articles etc to improve your writing.
If you dream of a career as a writer, and even while having a salary job still, you will never develop your activity if you don’t treat it as a real job as well, not just a side hobby.
THINKING YOU ONLY WRITE A NOVEL ONCE
All the novels I have under my thumb asked more editing work than the writing itself. Once the story finished, it’s when the hardest begins: removing cumbersome bits, rewriting confused parts, cut into heavy dialogs… and once it’s done, you still need to track down typos and grammar mistakes.
Moreover, and this happens a lot for first novels, the writing can dramatically improve between beginning and end. It can add more rewriting work so everything is on the same level of quality.
WRITING SEVERAL NOVELS AT A TIME
This is a mistake I’ve done often. I piled up ideas, wanted to write them all, and I ended up with four novels in the works. And even if I did progress on each of them, I understood that only one would catch my full attention at a time, others being set in the background. Mostly because when you commit to a story, you’re so engrossed in it that switching from one to another while keeping the same commitment for all is impossible. That’s without counting on the fact that the editing work that follows requires total focus, and can sometimes get boring, so if you have to do that several times in a row, it gets even more boring. Finishing a novel, then editing, then starting a new one, then editing, is a better pattern than write, write, write, edit, edit, edit!
NOT SHARING YOUR WORK UNTIL YOU’RE DONE
Getting your novel read while still in writing, even if it can be scary, is useful. Not necessary for more seasoned writers, but for a first novel, I strongly advise it.
It helps seeing flaws in the development before you’re too far in and need to rewrite a lot, and it’s also a good exercise to deal with criticism, which is inseparable of the writing career.
WANTING TO DO PRETTY
Writing is telling a story, not making figures of speech. A good writer is an author which style is recognizable, but whose writing doesn’t divert the reader’s attention from the story. There’s nothing worse than to notice the writer’s efforts to show off what they can do. So, you tone down, you make simple, you don’t try to impress, it will annoy the publisher as much as the reader (and, that being said, there’s little chance that a novel heavy with metaphors, alliterations and other fuss gets from publisher to reader).
COPYING WHAT’S TRENDY
There are trends in literature indeed, the fantasy sagas for example are proof of it, but writing in a category for the sole purpose of selling is probably the worst idea of all. First because trend doesn’t make up for talent, and second because the time taken to write… the trend could as well be over!
Be yourself, write what you really want to write, in short, put your heart into it instead of calculations, it will always be the best strategy.
Next week, we’ll review the mistakes to avoid once your novel is finished, when you’re ready to send it to publishers!
HAVE YOU EVER COMMITTED ONE OF THOSE MISTAKES?