Charlie Laidlaw is an author and creative writing tutor at Creating Writers
A dictum commonly attributed to Mark Twain had three rules for writing. The first was “Write,” the second was “Write” and the third was “Write.”
Another dictum involving a rule of three is attributed to Somerset Maugham. “There are three rules for the writing of a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”
Both are equally right. If you want to write a book, you have to write it. But novels come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the rules for writing them.
I wish there were just three rules for writing a book, but it’s not as simple as that. A good book has complexity of character and a creative story. Yes, twists and turns. It should have sparkling dialogue and captivating narrative.
Most importantly, it must give readers a reason, or reasons, to keep turning pages.
But if I had to condense down the writing process into three rules, it would be: read, practice and persevere.
Learning to write creatively doesn’t happen overnight. We may know how to write, but writing a book is something else altogether. The best way to learn is to read, and absorb how other people write.
How a book is structured. Think how the characters come alive. How the story unfolds gradually, to keep you turning the pages. How the pace of a book can change from fast action to more contemplative passages.
Books are your best teachers. So, rule number one is keep reading!
And not just in the genre you prefer to read, or the genre you hope to write in. Read widely and forensically.
To write a book, you have to understand how all the components of a book work together. The best way to do that is to keep reading!
My second rule is to practice. You don’t become a Wimbledon champion without years of practice. Likewise, to be a writer you also have to practice, practice, practice.
Maybe, if your dream is to write a novel, make a start on it. Don’t worry if it feels clunky, or just plain bad.
The more you read and practice writing, the easier the process will become. In time you’ll find a ‘voice’ that’s yours.
It took me a long while to find a voice that I was comfortable with. But I kept practicing and experimenting until I knew I had a style that was authentically mine.
Always remember that your writing will improve the more you keep at it. Then you can go back and edit your clunky or bad bits. Many authors spend as much time editing their work as actually writing it.
So don’t be afraid to write badly. Some wise words from Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Most budding writers who start to write a book never finish it. Other things, like family and work, get in the way.
The best advice I can give is don’t give up! It doesn’t matter if your book takes years to write. Just accept that it’s not going to be started and finished next week or next month.
A big mistake that novice writers make is to rush things. To scribble furiously because the book must be completed.
Believe me, a rushed book is usually a bad book. A good book takes time and careful thought, let alone editing and re-editing.
So don’t set arbitrary deadlines or feel that you have to write 2,000 words a day.
The important thing is not to give up. Finishing that book will be an achievement you can always be proud of.
Creating Writers runs two creative writing courses – an introductory course and a Diploma course. The first will give you a feel for the writer’s craft; the second is immersive, with a real qualification.
Both courses are online, but with lots of facetime on Skype. Both courses are designed to give you the confidence to get started.
We also offer an editing and appraisal service. Every published book goes through an editing process, and we can help make your book the best it can be.
Questions? You can contact us here.
Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash