So many people have a book or two in them, but life gets in the way of putting fingers to keyboard. To help you get on track, author Melissa van Maasdyk shares some of the lessons she learned en route to publishing her debut novel, Love Apples.
1 Sign up for a writing course
Without a deadline, it’s easy to put off writing that novel, but investing in a course forces you to commit. Get the impetus you need from courses such as the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York, the SA Writers College, or even sign up at a book fair like the upcoming Franschhoek Literary Festival.
2 Start with short stories
You might have a novel idea burning a hole in your mind and ready to set the page alight, in which case, get to it! But if you have a few ideas bouncing around, try writing short stories first until you find one that truly resonates.
3 Mix up what you know with what you can imagine
Revolving around a commitment-phobic food editor, Love Apples draws on my experience working on glossy magazines for 18 or so years, but it wouldn’t be fiction if I hadn’t added a fair amount of imagined drama too (a cyclone, psychopathic fashion director, torrid love triangle…).
4 Read, read and read some more
In order to get in the groove, read novels in a similar genre to yours. You read with a very different eye once you’ve started writing, and will begin to take note of how an author structures the plot, describes things and hooks you in.
5 Take baby steps
The idea of writing a full-length novel can be daunting, potentially resulting in creative paralysis. To avoid this, author Anne Lamott advises against focusing on your final destination, and simply taking things one step at a time.
6 Write even if you don’t feel like writing
Unfortunately, inspiration can’t be turned on and off like a tap, so the only way you’ll complete your novel is by sitting down and writing consistently, whether or not the muse has turned up. More often than not, ideas will eventually start to flow, and you can delete everything that came before.
7 Tell your inner critic to shut the $#%* up
Your first draft should be about getting the story down on the page without worrying about grammar, spelling and eloquent prose. Just let the ideas flow – there will be time for editing later.
8 Get feedback
Writing is a solitary pastime since only you can transfer the ideas in your head to the page. However, it’s helpful to get feedback along the way. Once your manuscript is complete, ask someone you trust to read it, preferably another writer who will give you candid feedback that’s also sensitive to the fragile creative psyche.
While a crucial step in the writing process, it can be hard to erase your carefully wrought prose. It does get easier though, and if you’ve followed point 7 above, chances are you’ll have plenty of cuttable text to work with.
10 Send your book out into the world
If you want to get published the traditional way (first prize), you need to find a literary agent since most publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. As a first step, invest in Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), a directory of agents and publishers. Alternatively, you can look to self-publishing with companies such as Lulu. Who knows – you could be the next E.L. James, who self-published Fifty Shades of Grey through Lulu before making it big.
Melissa van Maasdyk’s foodie romance Love Apples (softcover, R258.10, e-book, R95.27, Lulu Publishing) is available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu, www.loveapplesnovel.com.
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