“Can I write a novel?”
If you’re a writer, that’s a question you’ve probably asked yourself thousands of times, whether you’ve vocalized it or not.
Whether you admit it or not.
And it’s no surprise that this question keeps popping into our minds. It’s a manifestation of the sorts of doubts that creep in any time humans contemplate tackling big goals.
In writing, what bigger goal is there than writing a novel? For most of us, it represents the pinnacle of commitment and achievement (though that’s a shifting scale — the more you achieve the higher that peak in the distance rises).
The good news is that the answer to “Can I write a novel?” is usually “yes.”
You can write a novel … but only if you have a few items under control first.
To that end, here are the five prerequisites for writing a novel:
A Grasp of Grammar
If you can’t string two sentences together in a coherent fashion, please do yourself and the world a favor — hold off on those novel aspirations until your grammar is more polished.
Sorry to be blunt, but there are already enough poor quality novels and stories on the web and in e-books to last any of us several lifetimes. We don’t need more crap.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be a master wordsmith in order to write a novel. You don’t, and none of the world’s greatest books came out perfect in first-draft form. Whatever you write will take plenty of editing and re-working to make it as good as it can be.
Most writers are just fine in this area, but it never hurts to do a gut-check before you get too far down the road.
Just be honest from the outset about your skill level.
A Story Idea
This is a “duh” suggestion if ever there was one. Of course you have to have a story idea in order to write a novel!
But you might be surprised how many writers sit down at their keyboards expecting a novel to spring from their fingertips just because they’re ready to write a novel, even though they don’t have a solid plot idea to start with.
You don’t need to have every detail worked out, but if you don’t at least know a few of your characters, a few tension points, and a few possible endings, it’s going to be tough to get from blank first page to THE END.
Once you have a story idea, you need to have a solid plan for executing it.
Now, some famous authors like Stephen King are celebrated for their ability to “pants” their way through novels. They sit down with some vague story idea (see above) and start writing. Their characters do some things, other stuff happens, and the author is led magically on a path that leads to a complete and enthralling story.
But most of us mere mortals get lost when we try the same sort of stunt. Our plots meander, our characters melt into each other, and the center is lost. Usually, the novel just dies.
What we need instead is a solid roadmap to take us from point to point along the way to a completed novel. That can be a simple outline, a set of story beats, or even just a page or two of written-out synopsis.
Try a few different methods, and one will click with you.
And, you’ll move through your novel much more seamlessly.
Writing takes time.
And writing a novel takes a lot of time.
For instance, if you can write 1000 words an hour, you’ll have to devote 50 hours during the month of November to “win” NaNoWriMo and finish a 50,000-word novel.
That’s a healthy chunk of time, right?
More than just knowing you have to spend the time, though, you need to schedule your writing time and commit to keeping those appointments with yourself.
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you need something like two one-hour blocks each day to get it done.
If you plan to write a 100,000 novel over the next six months, you need to find 100 one-hour blocks in that half-year (again, assuming 1000 words per hour).
But if you aren’t able or willing to commandeer that time for your writing — for yourself — then you indeed cannot write a novel.
“Passion” is often used as an alibi for not finishing a novel.
“It’s a passion piece, man. It can’t be rushed!”
That’s bunk, of course, but passion itself is an absolute must if you have any hopes of writing a novel.
You have to love writing.
You have to love your topic.
You have to love your plot.
And you have to love the thrill of accomplishment that waits for you at the end of it all, when your completed novel sits staring you in the heart, coaxing you to start the next.