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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Tools You Need to Keep You Going: Resources for Aspiring Novelists

When I was young, my best friend Josephine cried at my teen-romance stories. "Oh, Alice," she would say dabbing at her eyes, "You write so well. That was great."

From age eleven on, I thought I was the next Great American Novelist. Josephine said I wrote well. Although she did give me the confidence I needed to continue with my passion for fiction writing, she also made me think that I was talented--no matter what.

Probably all of us have had someone like Josephine in our lives. Somewhere along the journey a grandmother, a father, or a teacher believed in our potential.

However, too many times writers think that passion and the love of stringing words together is enough. For me, if Josephine cried, then I'd written effectively.

There comes a time in our lives that we need to push a little harder.

There are six tools aspiring novelists need in order to build their craft with perfection and get published.

1) Novelists Need Practice

What do a violin player, a ball player and a ballerina all have in common? If they want to improve and compete in their areas of expertise, they have to practice! Writers need to practice at their craft in order to move from writing the tear-jerkers of our youth to adult novels with developed characters, scenes that move the story along, and dialogue that sounds like real people talking.

Practice comes by sitting down and writing, rewriting, editing, and reading your piece aloud. A critique group comes in handy. With a group, you have people who share your passion for writing and want to help you polish your work to a beautiful shine. A writer needs a thick-skin to handle the feedback from other authors. Grow one; listen to what others in your field have to say about your fiction.

2) Novelists Need to Read

Read good novels, ones that keep you thinking about the characters long after you turn the last page. Ask yourself: Why did the story mean so much to me? Chances are, it was the way the story was told or the voice in which it was written. When you read a novel you don't like, analyze it. Why didn't it work for you? Was the plot too sappy? The heroine too perfect? What made it boring? How could the author have improved it?

When you find an author you like, read everything he or she has written. I did this with Elizabeth Berg. Reading all of her books helped me to get a better grip on finding my own voice for my novel Rain Song.

Berg's honesty in her works inspired me to sit at my computer and write. Good writing does that to us. Upon returning from a Monet exhibition, my young artist daughter spent hours drawing. Inspiration often produces inspiration.

3) Novelists Need Discipline

Yes, you have to write if you are going to aspire to get your work published. I don't say this as a joke. For the longest time I thought that just wanting to be a writer would make me one. That's like saying if you sit in the kitchen long enough you will produce a tasty chocolate cake. No, you must follow a recipe and making sure you have the ingredients needed for the cake sure helps, too.

Carve out time to write. Keep at it. Every job has aspects about it you don't like. Writing is no different. You may want to watch that special on TV or go out with friends. Then tell me, when will you write? Make time. Writing has to be a priority. If you wait to write only when there is nothing else to do, you will have nothing to show for it. Trust me; you have to guard your writing time. Set a goal. Want to have fifty pages completed by end of the month? Have a query letter for your novel out to an agent by the first of next year? Get busy!

4) Novelists Need to Share with God

Have you ever poured out your hopes and dreams to God? Have you ever sat in church and asked him to lead you on the writing path he wants for you? James 1:5 tells us not to be afraid to ask for wisdom. Ask, believe it will be supplied, and don't doubt. Then listen and God will guide you. As with every part of our lives, God needs to be the Overseer of our writing.

Bring God into your writing dream. He is, after all, the Giver of Talent. Your creativity is a gift to you from him.

5) Novelists Need Other Sources

I am amazed at the number of aspiring authors out there who have never purchased Writer's Digest or The Writer. These magazines and others that have valuable information about honing your skills are vital to the writer’s toolbox. Subscribing to online e-zines will also increase your writing potential.

There are a number of Christian writers' conferences held every year. Agents, editors, and authors are often on the faculty and their workshops and expertise can inspire you along this journey.

If you are serious about getting your novel completed and sent to an agent, you need to know about the process. A wealth of books sits on shelves, and purchasing a few at the bookstore or borrowing from the library will help to build your creative muscles.

Here are a few I recommend to help improve your writing as well as those on finding agents and how the publishing world works. You need to be prepared because you certainly don't want to be clueless when your big break happens and an editor wants to buy your novel.

* Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novakovich
* Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier with Frances Spaz Leighton
* How Not to Write a Novel by David Armstrong
* The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon
* The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander

If you want to be under the tutelage of a pro, take an online fiction writer’s class or a continuing education writing class at your community college.

6) Novelists Need Encouragement

Yes, yes, we don't want to belittle any of the encouragement we can get! Let it come from our friends, groups, those who have read an essay or piece we wrote for the local paper--the more praise the merrier.

We must also remember that not everyone is going to love everything we've written or that we will write. So, once again, develop that thick skin and know that the motivation to continue on has to come from within. You are your best motivator.

So set yourself at your writing place, turn on some music, block out the rest of the world, and write.

Keep all of these tools handy and use them often. Let your mantra be from Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

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