Every once in a while, an aspiring author reaches out to me to ask how I did it. How did I manage to accomplish the seemingly Herculean task of becoming a published author of a series of bestselling novels? While the voices of these authors are different, the sense of incredulity and exasperation are all the same. I can tell, through inference, that they’ve asked this question before of countless other authors. I suspect they’ve also received the very same answer I give them. But, it’s an answer they don’t like.
To become an author, you write, write, then write some more. And when you feel as if you can’t write another single blessed word, write two instead.
“Yes, yes,” they say. “We’ve heard that a million times! But how did you do it?”
The exasperation these aspiring authors are expressing tends to break down into two questions:
- How do you finish a novel in the first place?
- How do you get better at this whole writing thing?
I’m going to answer those questions here. They’re short answers. But I’m going to place nice, bold section headers here to make it look all official and stuff.
How To Finish (writing) A Book
Here’s Nat’s Simple Guide to finishing a (1st draft) Novel:
- Write words. Preferably words people want to read.
- Keep writing words until the words become sentences.
- Keep writing sentences until the sentences become paragraphs.
- Keep writing paragraphs until the paragraphs become chapters.
- Keep writing chapters until you’ve written all the chapters.
This isn’t offered to sound condescending or to brush off the question with some cutesy answer. It’s offered to demonstrate a well-kept secret among authors: if you just keep going, you’ll eventually get there. Just keep going.
However great the accomplishment of finishing your first draft is, it’s not sufficient to becoming a better writer.
How To Become a Better Writer
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question (or most questions about writing, for that matter). So, I’ll focus on what I do to become a better writer.
When I knock off a 1st draft, I celebrate. It’s a celebration-worthy exercise, after all, because it represents accomplishing something that 99% of the human population will never accomplish. Sure, a lot of your friends and family will say things like, “I’ve been meaning to write a book, I just can’t find the time.” You can feel free to laugh at them behind their backs, firm in the knowledge they have no idea what actually writing a book takes.
But, after the celebration, the real work begins for me. I then go into an extensive revision cycle that takes multiple passes through my manuscript. You can see examples of what I’m talking about in Revision Checklist Part 1 and Revision Checklist Part 2. I’d like to offer some perspective on this, especially for those of you who have yet to finish a 1st draft, much less revise one. It took me a mere 90 days to write the 1st draft of Necromancer Awakening, which weighed in at 160k words. I spent the next three years revising and improving it until it was publication-worthy (and down to a svelte 118k words).
Why so long?
Because, not only did I want my book to be publishable, I also wanted to improve my craft.
I revise my drafts until they represent the pinnacle of my achievement. Only when I feel that I can bring no more to the table, skill wise, do I send my draft out to beta readers. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not suggesting that I hold onto my drafts until I feel they’re perfect. Far from it! I only hold onto them until I feel I’ve given my all. That the draft in question represents the “state of the art” of my craft. As Chef Gordon Ramsay would say about his food, it’s “me on a plate.” This serves an invaluable purpose, as you’ll soon see.
When feedback starts coming in from trusted beta readers, the gap between where my skills are and where they need to be becomes readily apparent. I then tackle the problems, one by one, until they are all solved, regardless of the time and effort it takes. Sometimes, this will involve multiple passes by beta readers. Sometimes this takes multiple years. But, following this process allows me to incrementally improve my craft. It virtually guarantees that my writing will get better with each subsequent book I publish.
And that’s how I do it.
Again, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. And there are absolutely no short cuts. Everyone needs to find their own path on how to become an author. Just rest assured that no matter which path you ultimately stumble upon, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and emotional honesty.
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