Lesson 3 for novel writing

Novel writing requires serious and sustained effort

Here is the promised stern message.  At the end of this lesson you must ask yourself if the game is worth the candle.  If, after serious and sustained effort you cannot do what is required of you, then ask yourself now if you have other things you would rather be doing.  The writing profession is overcrowded so, without shame, you can go and do something else.

Supposing then you are rising early and writing daily, you need to set yourself another, additional task.  Set another time during the day when, abandoning everything else, you will sit down once more and write.  For some this will be 9 a.m. (when everyone else is out!); for others it will be after the day-job at 4.30 p.m.; or even instead of watching TV, at 7 p.m.  The time itself is not the matter; what matters is the commitment.  At this stage, what you are writing about is not an issue, but it should be coherent and readable.  You are not, let me remind you, teaching yourself how to write but rather how to become a writer.

To do this, you need to train two different people, two separate parts of your writer’s personality; the skilled artisan who sits down at his or her loom and weaves, and the imaginative artist who designs the fabric with style and spontaneity that your alter ego is now weaving.  This is not a case of ‘split personality’ but rather the two facets of your individual personality working writer’s hand in artist’s glove.  Think of this as a useful working metaphor.

Novel writing demands a writer’s mind

Fine, you have got this far.  Your body is trained.  What shall you do now to cultivate the complementary writer’s mind?  You will need to train and tap your unconscious mind.  Can this be done?  Yes; and it is part of encouraging and enhancing your own imagination.  Your worldly, practical, physical self is building up your stamina but also building a layer of protection from the outside world of that imaginative writer in you, which can be too prone to react adversely to ignorant criticism.  So, while your hard, practical shell is growing, it is best not to boast idly about how you are a writer, or to relate in detail what you are writing.  Instead, use the time you have bought to create good writing.

There are two reasons for this attitude of mind and course of action.  First, all of us can too easily be deflected, not least at the start of a project and, second, talking too much, if at all, about what you are writing has the disadvantage that when you set off to do the actual writing those ideas will not seem so spontaneous; they will have been exposed to comment that will have blunted their originality.  So, don’t say to anyone, “I’m writing this play about a young man who has just lost his father, and seen his uncle marry his mother, and he’s all at sea emotionally.  I’m going to set it in Denmark.”  Just sit down and write it.  Maybe you can show your tutor the first draft but, until then, the best is silence!  Until you have such a thing as a completed first draft, share it with no one.

At the end of this lesson, here is a reminder of Rule 2 from Lesson 1.  Writers are readers and need that nourishment on a daily basis.  It might not be a good idea to read Harry Potter while writing your own story about youngsters with supernatural gifts but three helpings a day of nourishing prose is what feeds the mind and the body.  Keep a diary of the books you read and see if you can get it up to around three dozen books (minimum) a year.

In the next lesson, we will work on enlarging and strengthening your imagination.

Continue to Lesson 4 for novel writing.

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