5 Rules for New Authors
When I meet new people, and they find out I’m an author, it’s amazing how many of them say, “I have this great idea for a book, but I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write it yet.” Usually I just say “you should” and leave it at that. But if we get into a deep conversation on the subject, I’ll try to gently let them know that writing a book is not as easy as it sounds.
Constructing a full length novel is a lot of work, and for many people the first book takes years to finish. That’s probably because storylines have a way of going into unexpected directions, so they get complicated very fast, and eventually the manuscript is such a convoluted mess that it gets set aside for weeks or months before the author has the stomach to tackle it again…if ever. Very often, he or she intends to work on it at some point every day, but it’s much easier to put life’s necessities first, and there’s never time to get back to that book.
So, if you’re working on or intending to start a first novel, here are a few basic rules to follow if you hope to have a finished and marketable manuscript at any point in the foreseeable future.
- Schedule a regular time to write. Make it every day, week or weekend, but stick to it. Tell your family and friends that this time is important to you, and they need to respect it.
- Use an outline. If you want to “wing it” with later books, that’s fine. But once you realize the value of an outline, you probably won’t. The key is to ensure that your outline and manuscript are in alignment at all times. Modify the outline every day if necessary to correspond with any changes you’ve made to the book. Allowing the two to get out of sync will be a nightmare. Believe me. I’ve been there.
- Understand POV. If you’re writing in third person, read everything you can about point of view (POV), and get the rules down before you start. For example, every chapter or section should be written from a single POV, and you cannot describe any other character’s thoughts or feelings. You can only write what your POV character’s observations or beliefs about the other person’s feelings may be. Nothing more.
- Pick a tense and stick with it. Most third-person narrative is written in past tense, but you’ll see first-person in present or past. I’ve read manuscripts as a favor for people, and it amazes me how often the two are mixed together. The only exception, of course, is dialogue, which is always in present tense because you’re regurgitating what was said at the time.
- Use an editor. No one – not even the best-selling writers in the world – can produce a viable manuscript without an editor. Ideally, this is an industry professional who not only points out story plot failures, inaccuracies and awful passages that simply must go, but who also identifies typos, grammatical mistakes, repetitive words, passive versus active descriptions, etc. Not everyone can afford a professional at first, so at least find someone who is very proficient in English like another budding writer, but they must be brutally honest with you. Then, trade favors or see if you can get by with taking them out for a nice dinner. You do NOT want to self-publish or submit a book that is littered with mistakes. It’s the surest way to kill a writing career before it even starts.