Advice on Writing a Novel

I got an email from a woman today asking for my advice about writing a novel.

Here’s what she wants to know:

“I have wanted to write a novel for some time about my college experience, but I haven’t figured out how to tell the story in a way that would be interesting to other people. Some [news] events of the past week have cleared my blocks and, I think, given me a good story…. I think for this to sell, it would need to come out fairly quickly. I’ve got a good outline, and I think I can write a chapter or two a day, so the first draft would be finished in three to four weeks. Do you think I could start shopping it around before it’s finished based on the content? Or would I need to go through several drafts and get it perfect before I tried to shop it around?”

My answer to her might be useful to you, too:

1. As you will soon find out, writing a novel isn’t as easy as it seems. To write a really good one takes more than a few weeks and will probably require much rewriting.

2. There’s no need to rush your book onto the market because most book production takes a year from getting an agent and book deal to actual publication. It can go faster, of course, if you self publish, but you will have to do ALL of the promoting, and you won’t be able to get into most book stores because they have a bias against self-published books.

3. Even though the events prompting you to write are fresh and in the news now, the story you’re writing will, no doubt, contain universal truths that will continue to be relevant long after the news story fades from memory.

4. Don’t start shopping your manuscript until it’s finished. For works of fiction, the manuscript has to be completed. That’s because not all “great ideas” are well executed, so no one is going to want to take a chance on an unknown writer.

5. I mentioned rewriting. One mistake new writers make is that they try shopping their manuscript too soon. They wrongly assume the first draft is “good enough.” A wiser approach is to accept that your first draft will suck. Then loop back and read it fresh — and critically — after it’s had a chance to marinate. Once you’ve reworked the manuscript, give it to a few people who will give you honest feedback about what works and — more importantly — what doesn’t. You may think you’ve written clearly, but you won’t know for sure until someone objective tells you that you haven’t.

6. Only when it’s as good as you can get it will it be time to look for an agent. And it’s the agent route that I suggest because agents have relationships with publishers and can get a publisher to read your manuscript. Approaching a publisher directly is usually futile because they don’t have time to read it — and they probably won’t.

All that said, I don’t want to discourage you. I think it’s wise to take something that really happened to you and fictionalize it because it will be a much more compelling story and you’ll be able to delve more deeply into the psyches of your various characters.

One thing I’m doing with my new-found freedom from CNN is being a writing coach. I do one-hour one-on-one tutorials via Skype on the writing process. One session is “How to Write a Novel in 15 Steps.” I’m also a manuscript editor. I do nit-pick copy editing, plus assess the story and how it’s being told.

So…… even if you don’t utilize any of my services, I really want to encourage you to run with your idea. Run hard and strong with it and, most importantly: Have fun with it!


About admin

I'm a former Senior Copy Editor on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" and the author of three mystery-suspense novels: "Fast Track," "Bluff," and "Troubled Water." Book four in the Lark Chadwick mystery series, "Bullet in the Chamber," will be published October 15, 2016 by Strategic Media Books.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Advice on Writing a Novel

  1. Russ Moran says:

    Hello, John. You may recall staying at my house in East Islip for Jason and Emmy’s wedding a few years ago. When I got to your site, I thought I wound up on my own blogsite – – It’s the same wordpress theme. You have excellent taste!

    I enjoyed reading your post on advice about writing a novel. No, it isn’t easy. You were too shy with the woman asking the question. You should have insisted that she hire a writing coach, editor, proofreader. Having just written my first novel, The Gray Ship, I fully appreciate your statement that it’s not easy. I found it harder than writing two non-fiction books. But it was also a lot more fun. I self published it (I’m too old to put up with the agent hunt). The book took me over a year to write, and I think that’s a reasonable amount of time. It came out at the end of August, and seems to be doing fairly well.

    I’ll be visiting your site more often. Hell, it feels like I’m home!

    Russ Moran

    • admin says:

      Hi, Russ……. Sorry for the late reply. Your comment got buried in a pile of spam I get regularly here and have to wade through. GRRRRRRR!!!!! Congrats on the book! JD

Leave a Reply to admin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *