Let’s start with accepting the fact that writing a novel is not easy – it takes more than an idea, more than good writing abilities, and passion. It takes a combination of these factors, and a strong back bone.
The idea is not enough. You could have the best idea in the world, but unless you can represent that information clearly, leaving enough mystery for the reader to cling onto, you’re going to lose them. When I write my stories, I never plan the whole thing from beginning to end. Why? Because I start with a basic idea and as I write, the characters expand and the story naturally grows. In my experience (and this may not work for everyone), if I plan every aspect, my enthusiasm for the story reduces and I get bored – very quickly. And the truth is simply this, if you – the writer – are bored, and the reader will be skipping pages, or putting your book down.
There are some rules you HAVE to follow, the rest, are not cast in stone. In my experience, before I grew confidence in myself, and my writing, I took every piece of advice given to me. What happened? I was dissatisfied with the end result and honestly, it was a disappointment. The main rules I believe you HAVE to follow are to have correct grammar (because no matter what you write, grammar is universal. Unless your MC hasn’t got a good grounding on it, but that’s a risk an experimental writer may be willing to take.) I don’t follow every rule that is rammed down your throat. Never use passive voice, always show – rarely tell – but you know what? I’ve read published books that do these things and it works. I get so drawn into the story, and those things don’t bother me. If you’re a member of a critique website, you’ll be familiar with people who force their opinions onto you and change your writing style into theirs. The hardest thing to learn as a writer is to learn to say no, and stick to your gut. I know if a reader misunderstands an aspect of my story in chapter two that is fully expanded in chapter eight, I would rather wait and have that reveal at full suspense. You need to keep some suspense, there’s no need to explain everything right away. You have a whole novel to expand ideas, just keep in mind what is essential to give and when. If you’re waiting on a big reveal, don’t lose that magic by revealing it too soon.
Honesty hurts. The key is to trust your story with people to give you honest but constructive feedback. Bottom line, some people are cruel and harsh with comments, they discourage you. When you let these people win, that fire inside of you that keeps you fighting dies. You can always rely on someone to rip your story apart and you know what? Let it go. An avid Stephen King fan won’t be a fan of a sappy romance story. An avid sci-fi fan may not be a fan of a deep family drama with emotional tension that brings you to tears. Know your target audience, and know who you should listen to. It takes experience to learn what to listen to and what to ignore. Never let someone destroy your story because they don’t understand your genre, or storyline.
Writing the story is only half of the story. Editing is the real trouble. You can work with a rough first draft, not an empty page. The rough draft is always a good place to start, but the magic happens when you read it back, make your own notes, and find those “hang on a minute” moments. I know just recently, I forgot what last name I have one of my characters. There only way to fix these things is the read from the beginning, make comments, and then edit the first draft. This is often when you’ll think “what the hell does that even mean?”, “that sentence makes no sense,” and the worst “this is absolute crap.” There are times you’ll slave over perfecting a paragraph for it to be scrapped in a brutal edit. Follow Stephen King’s advice and leaves your story alone for a while before you edit. You can edit brutally, and honestly. Your readers won’t be soft on you. They will point on what works and what doesn’t. Why not save yourself to bad reviews to spot those elements yourself, then fix it, or scrap it if it can’t be saved?
This only covers some of the factors that are involved in novel writing, but it is not easy. It is painful. You will find yourself stuck on an idea so you have to stop writing the story and wait for a rush of inspiration to fill the gap (or is that just me?) It’s painful, but it’s worth it. The best person to please with your writing is yourself, your target/ideal reader, and the majority of your audience. You can’t please everyone. Don’t let bad reviews get you down.
What works for one person may not work for another person. What works for you, may not work somebody else. Two people can read the same paragraph and interpret it in a different manner. That is the nature of writing, and of art. It’s all subjective. Some will love your work, some will hate it, but are you brave enough to take those risks?
I’d love to hear about your experiences/advice for novel writing. Experienced or not, writing is a very personal thing and there is no routine that fits for everyone. Experiment, find what works for you. That’s all you can do. Don’t be afraid to break the conventions that are forced upon you. Some of the best writers do this, and they do it well. Have faith in yourself, and your characters, and you can overcome anything any critic throws at you.