Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to write a great novel

I must confess that when I titled my last blog entry, I did so nervously. "How to write great dialogue" is a line begging to be shot down. But so far so good. In fact, I have had some very positive responses. Having got away with that one, I have decided to follow up with an even more audacious title.

When I was first published and out doing talks and book signings, I was surprised by the number of people who came up to me and confessed that they too wanted to write a novel. Such an admission was usually preceded by a furtive glance, to make sure that no one else was within hearing range. "I've got a really great novel up here," they'd say, tapping the side of the head "I'm going to write it one day."

It makes me wonder whether people approach members of other professions and callings in the same way. "You're an architect? Funny thing, you know - I've got a building in me, and I'm going to design it one of these days."

Not that there is anything wrong with this. In fact I admire such empowerment. I'm all for getting rid of barriers - especially the ones we impose on ourselves. The problem is, in my estimation, very few of the people who make this claim actually get down to the task of writing. And of the few who start writing, even fewer push on to the end. Which is sad.

Surprisingly, of those who do write a novel to the end, a fair number do not then send it out. There is always something else to edit. Though they have got to the end, it is somehow never quite finished. Who was it who said: "Novels are never finished, just abandoned" ?

Which brings me to the question implied in the title of this posting: 'How do I write a great novel?' The answer is that you sit down and write and you keep on till it is done. Then you edit. Then you send it out. All of which may be an annoying thing to say, and surely should be an obvious thing to say. Unfortunately it is also true. There is no shortcut to learning the process. You just have to do it.

Happily, writing a novel can be a fulfilling process. Nothing you write is ever wasted. The journey changes you in good ways. So, if you haven't started yours already - why not give it a go?

4 comments:

Barney said...

Excellent post, Rod! It's blooming obvious when you put it like this. I guess we're always looking for a way out of the hard work. We'd like J K Rowling's fame and money, but without having to shut ourselves away in the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh to finish one's magnum opus. But, no, nothing replaces sitting at one's keyboard day after day and churning out the words.

Aw, shucks!

Rod Duncan said...

Oh, but it is such fun to do!

Niki M said...

Spot on and insightful. I love the architecture analogy.

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks Niki,

Any suggestions for other professions who might be approached in the same way?

"You're a heart surgeon? Funny thing you should say that..."

:-)

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