Lesson 1 for novel writing

When novel writing is more than a hobby…

Just two points, but these should be framed and hung above your writing desk:

  1. A writer is someone who writes.
  2. A writer reads voraciously.

To elaborate; serious novel writing is a job of work; maybe not nine-to-five but there is no reason why a serious novel writer cannot keep office hours if s/he wants to, or works through the night if that suits. I’m told Martin Amis used to go off to an office he rented that looked out onto a brick wall; no distractions. Serious novel writing is physically demanding with the risk even of repetitive strain injury or eyesight damage at the extreme. So, as Dorothea Brande pointed out many years ago, if you cannot face up to the physical and mental challenge of writing something every day then best stick to the day job or treat ‘writing’ as no more than a hobby. Sorry; but that’s the blunt truth.

A writer’s imagination is like a vast store of energy. Novel writers construct a dam across the flow of information and experiences that we are all exposed to. However, the novel writer has to accumulate a store of both behind their personal dam to feed through their brain-based turbines. If there is a drought of imagination or a lack of varied experience then there is likely to be a dearth of literary creation and invention. If there is a torrential downpour of information and experience, the surplus can just spill over the dam since the novel writer will always have a sufficient ‘head of water’ to drive his creative engines. Since few of us can follow Colonel Fawcett up the Amazon or Edmund Hillary to the summit of Everest, our sources of inspiration come mainly through reading. Non-fiction is fine for detailed research for your novel about Amazonia but the fiction writer must read, mark and digest a great deal of fiction.

For those determined to do serious novel writing; two books are essential:

Cover of Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, never out of print since the 1930s and which can be bought new, but I just ordered a second-hand copy from Abe Books for £1.74 including delivery!

Cover of How Fiction Works by James Wood.How Fiction Works by James Wood, a highly respected critic’s guide to the main elements of fiction, which can be bought from Abe Books for less than £7.

I shall expect you to have bought both of these or, if you are ahead of the game, reached both down from your bookshelves before we meet again. Novel writing starts here.

Continue to Lesson 2 for novel writing.

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