The short answer is I didn’t know if I could. I had often thought about trying. I had read many articles about first-time authors, explaining their starts, their stops, and their restarts. It seemed a frustrating process and I wasn’t sure I had the time, patience, or ability to even begin.
One day, I was reading excerpts from books that had been submitted to a peer review web site by first-time novelists... and it hit me. For the most part, the would-be authors were well-educated and well-read, yet most of their submissions will clearly never be best sellers, or even reach distribution much beyond their family and friends. But that was not the point. What interested me was they had done it. They took the time and effort to produce a book and to bare their work for others to read and critique. While they may never be able to pay their bills with the commissions from their book sales, they had written a novel. By definition, they were writers.
Motivated by their efforts, in July of 2011, I decided to give it a try. I read as much as I could on how best to begin, concentrating on the words of wisdom from authors I had read and admired. I also found copious websites, blogs, as well as self-publishing and how-to instructional sites directed at first-time authors. As you might expect, the advice was as varied as the sources. But fortunately, there were common recommendations that provided a solid base for me as I began:
- Learn from what you read. Reading is the best preparation for writing.
Admittedly, I had never been a voracious reader. Not until I retired a few years ago did I read more than a few books a year. But now, I read more in a month than I previously read in a year. I've found knowing who and what you like to read helps direct your writing style.
- Write about what you enjoy and know. Your thoughts will flow.
My first novel draws on my 32-year business background. My current work is about growing up in the Midwest in the ‘60s. Both are subjects I am comfortable writing about.
- Know your target audience and keep them in mind as you write.
It is important to know who would best enjoy or benefit from your book. It keeps you focused on common themes and a consistent writing style. After you have written your book, it will be too late to define your audience.
- Outline or storyboard your novel.
While some authors say just dig in and start writing, I found I came to a dead end quickly unless I could see the next scene on the horizon. While I continually revised the outline, having a start, middle and end in mind before I began, kept me moving.
Once I began writing, there were several other recommendations that I found beneficial as a first-time author:
- Describe -- don’t tell.
This is not easy and it’s something I must continually remind myself. It is important for the reader to see the character, the scene, the story in their mind as you describe it. If you tell it, their imaginations are inhibited, and so is their enjoyment. Let the action speak for itself; don’t interpret it for the reader.
- Develop your characters through their actions and dialogue.
Rather than writing, “Bob was cheap and a casual dresser,” the readers could better form their image of Bob by writing, “After thinking twice, Bob pulled two dollars back from the luncheon tip he’d just placed on the table, stuffing the bills into his well-worn blue jeans.”
- Read your writing aloud. It helps you create believable dialogue and interesting descriptions.
If it sounds believable, it probably is. If it sounds dull, it probably is.
Well... it’s a year later, and I have written, re-written, edited, and re-re-re-edited my first novel, CORRUPT CONNECTION. It was self-published on June 27, 2012. I am also well into my second book, UNINVITED VISIONS, with over 50,000 words down on paper... or actually, on my hard drive.
So, where does this put me? It puts me right in the middle of those other first-time authors who motivated me a year ago. I have done it. I’ve written a novel. I may never pay my bills with my book royalties, but I am out there for you to read and critique. Please do.
The initial response has been favorable (but family and friends will lie). I appreciate your feedback... everyone's feedback. I am encouraged and plan for my second novel to be published by the end of this year.