Got what it takes to write a novel? Here's what you should know before you start

Originally published at: Got what it takes to write a novel? Here's what you should know before you start | Boing Boing

I’m currently trying to get a book published. This almost felt like a targeted ad.

It is. You’re the target. You’re that guy. You’re the reason BB has been increasingly inundated (yes I know “inundated” already implies maximum capacity but my God have you been keeping track lately?!) with these ridiculous schlock-for-dummies ads. I don’t know why they want you but they do. And as long as you resist we will be subjected to these increasingly embarrassing attempts to sink a hook into your unknowable desires. Just give in, dammit. Buy the $1500 Java training suite for $9.99, turn on the magic Alzheimer’s-erasing light bulb, wrap yourself in some billion-thread-count bamboo sheets and let the rest of us move on!


Oh how I wish you were right. But its like the lists of suckers that con men sell each other, or the deliberately bad-English, obviously fraudulent African prince emails-- they aren’t trying to sell stuff, so much as establish lists of gullible people for later harvesting. BoingBoing is almost certainly being marketed to advertisers as a good pool of techno suckers (nerds, amirite?), and what we are seeing are just fishing expeditions.

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Don’t be so naive, Rob. Or should I call you GospelX? Your prideful one-man (two-name) rebellion against the forces of exploitative commercialism is wrecking this once-proud site!

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There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

  • Ernest Hemingway

How to be a writer lesson (I provide it for free):

  1. Read a lot. Read outside you preferred writing genre. Keep reading. Yes, read that, too. Don’t stop. Read more. Audiobooks are fine, that’s reading. Yes, your lover reading to you in bed is reading. Read!

  2. Sit down and write. Don’t stop writing. No, no bathroom breaks for you. No food. Write! Keep writing until your fingers are too numb to continue. Then write some more. Did the mice start nesting in that huge pile of papers you put to the side after you printed them out? Great… now add to it! Write!

Honestly, I have no way of judging if these courses are any good. I’ve taken quite a few, and by far the best one was an in person, one week intensive called Viable Paradise. And what I got out of THAT was a group of friends who keep me wanting to write and are hugely supportive.

I CAN recommend these books if you want to write, they helped me (and most can be found cheaply second hand):

  1. On Writing - Stephen King
  2. Bird by Bird - Anne Lamont
  3. The 10% Solution - Ken Rand

There’s a lot more I’ve read that helped, but those three were key for me. Now to get back to writing my fourth… wait, third?.. well, whatever the count, my NEXT novel.


Having good social support sounds key so many situations, so it makes sense that it works well for writing as well. I’ve been averse to reopening the world up too soon, but finding people to form a group would actually be something to look forward to.

Thanks for suggesting books on writing. I’ve read King’s, but the others were new. There’s always more to learn about writing. But what I really want now is how to get published…

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Stephen King’s On Writing is an interesting read, but the advice isn’t for everyone. Apparently he’s a complete psychopath who can sit down and just write for hours every day like Jack Torrance except writing more than a single sentence over and over.

I can’t write much unless I have real inspiration. I’ve had stories I’ve written in one sitting and other stories I’ve taken six months to squeeze out.

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If you’re working on short stories: check out the Submission Grinder for up-to-date markets you can submit and sell to. Key resource for me (I was using a spreadsheet before I was told about it, which was a major hassle). Most sites have detailed information on formatting and submitting to them. Shunn Manuscript style is the most common formatting.

For books, there’s more to deal with. There’s writing good query letters, synopsis, finding agents to rep your work, etc. But if that’s your goal, I can recommend a few things there, too.

EDIT: The group was instrumental in keeping me going. We’re all over the country, so we don’t meet in person, but we keep in touch through Slack and other social media. I would have quit if not for those folks. Online groups (check on Reddit for writing subreddits) can be a good place to start.


Sure. I’ve taken years to complete some stories. Others, like the one I worked on this week, I finished in a couple of days. But I try to write some every day if possible. Whether it’s a few dozen words, or a couple of thousand, I sit down every morning and make some time. And if a story is not working, I work on another one.

But everyone has to find what works for them, and what I do (and what King does MORE) isn’t “the one way.” You do what makes you happy, and it’ll never be the wrong thing to do.


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