10. You already know this, but it’s worth repeating --- read, read, read. Read books in the same genre as the one you want to write, and while you read, think about what makes the character(s) come alive, what makes the pacing work, what are the major and minor plot points, etc. Every time you read a book, you are learning something about writing, even if you don’t realize it. Reading is NOT wasted time. If only we could say the same about cupcake baking.
9. I also think it can be helpful to read some books on craft. Most teens who write to me seem surprised that you can get books at the book store or the library about writing a novel. Here are just a few that I’ve found helpful:
HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL by James N. Frey
WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maas
SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder (a screenwriting book, but I find it immensely helpful)
8. Before you start writing, try to get the premise of your novel into a short paragraph. If you can get it down to one sentence, even better. Yes, I do realize this is not at all easy. Too bad, says the evil author with a sly grin. This exercise helps you to cement in your mind what your book is really about. A couple of examples of descriptions I came up with in the early days of writing these novels.
The Bridge from Me to You (forthcoming w/ Scholastic, 7/29/14): In this small town story of learning to follow your heart, newcomer Lauren meets star football player Colby and, despite the obstacles in their way, help each other through a tense few months.
I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse, 2008): Fifteen-year-old Ava is heartbroken over the death of her boyfriend, Jackson. But it isn’t long after his funeral when she discovers while he may be dead, he definitely isn’t gone.
7. It can be very helpful to have a road map of some kind so you know where you’re going in your story. You don’t have to do an outline, necessarily, as I realize outlining a novel can seem like an arduous task. But without some kind of road map, you are likely to get lost. Some people enjoy this - venturing out with no plan and figuring it out as you go. The longer I do this, however, the more I see the real benefit to having *something* to help you as you go.
You might find a 9-step plotting tool helpful, which you can read about here. Or maybe you decide to write a one-page synopsis. Or perhaps you use note cards and jot down your plot points in a more casual way. There are lots of options here - play around and find something that works for you.
6. Your main character will be the heart of your story, so get to know him/her before you start writing. Write down what you know about your MC --- likes, dislikes, fears, background information that might be useful but won’t make it into the story. Think about how your past has made you the person you are today. This will be true of your characters as well. Some authors like to interview their main character, or fill out a character sheet, which you can find by doing an internet search.
5. Eventually, you must begin. You must start writing. This is the hardest part for many. The fear of doing it wrong wins out, and so nothing is done at all. Here is the most important thing to remember --- write the story for YOURSELF. Don’t think about anyone else. Write the story because YOU want to know what happens. No one else is reading at this point. This draft is for your eyes only.
4. Don’t be afraid to play around in those early pages with voice, tense, format, etc. Pretend you are in a sandbox and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do. This is your book. There is no right or wrong way to write it. When it feels right, you’ll know!
3. Some pages will flow like water and others will only come with a lot of sweat and tears. That’s how it is. Writing a book is not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. The best thing you can do is make a goal to write something every day. 100 words, 500 words, 1,000 words --- it doesn’t matter. But set a goal and stick to it. This goal makes you open the document and dive back in, and that’s half the battle!
2. When you get stuck, and you will get stuck, backtrack and see if you took a wrong turn somewhere. As you write, there are places you make choices --- either this happens or that happens. Sometimes you write your character into a corner. It’s okay! Pages might have to be deleted, and yes it’s a little sad, but if it’s the best thing for your story, you have to do it. One step forward, two steps back is better than no steps at all! Another reason you might get stuck is because you have no idea what happens next. If you haven't done any plotting up to this point, now might be the time.
1. Finally, remember this --- a first draft is NOT going to be perfect. I know, it's so unfair. But it will be far, far, FAR from perfect. It’s a draft. It’s you getting the bones of the story down on paper. Give yourself permission to write badly. Just write. Almost every book on your bookshelf started as a badly written first draft. Keep writing and try to enjoy the process. When the draft is done, you will have to revise. A lot. No one said this was going to be easy, right?