Anybody Can Write a Novel
Joseph Blake Parker
Beginning to Write
Section 1 – Introduction
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
―Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Within the many styles of martial arts, there are powerful moves unique to each—whether it be footwork, punching, blocking, kicking, or the countless weapon styles among them. Yet none is objectively perfect, nor does any reach the maximum of human potential. Should a martial artist wish to create their own style, they derive it from an intimate knowledge of other styles. In other words, they must become a master of others in order to gain enough understanding in order to competently make one of their own. Similarly, there is no magical secret to writing, no ultimate writing style, and no ultimate guide. You become a master by learning from others. You read the works of successful authors and you practice the technique they demonstrate, in order to eventually develop an ultimate style of your own.
Anybody Can Write a Novel, is a guide to teach one style of writing a novel, as well as a tool for beginning and intermediate writers alike to learn to dissect and analyze the elements of a good story. It is the collection of writing techniques that I have learned through the years, my experiences with them, and an account of my success/failure with each. It is designed to give guidance to those who are lost in the process and need some direction, as well as to give other authors various ideas that they might not have considered before. And there are some key elements that this particular writing style requires of you, in order to work at its maximum potential.
Element 1: A belief that you can learn to be a proficient writer.
Most people who start off with an interest in writing are very often discouraged by others who tell them that it is impossible that they could become a writer. These are often supposed teachers, snobs, or insecure writers who have a compulsive need to feel inherently more special than everybody else. These toxic personalities hold the belief that you need some sort of innate magic within you to be a writer, or else they are pseudo-intellectuals who get off on making themselves feel smarter by stepping on others. Writing, just like any craft or art, is a difficult and multifaceted skill that can take many years to learn. However, it can be done so long as you believe it can and can put in the hard work. So let go of whatever voice in your head tells you you’ll always be amateur and second-rate; those voices that will cause you never to aim for anything higher than failure. Give it your all. You CAN do it!
Element 2: Acceptance that writing can be learned apart from natural talent.
Just like there are people who can jump higher than others or hear musical notes that others have to study for years to learn, there are people who are naturally better at writing than others. However, people with an advantage, no matter how significant, are not the ones who become the Stephen Kings or the Shakespeares of the writing world. It is those who work hard to make their dream and passion a reality who create great stories worth reading. Remember that every great story is made out of chapters, chapters of pages, pages of paragraphs, paragraphs of sentences, and sentences of words. Each of these can be broken down into basic elements, analyzed, studied, and reconstructed—all it takes is hard work, passion, and dedication to do it. This guide is meant to raise your writing level, no matter where you fall in the scale of talent or formal education.
Element 3: Time spent in writing practice.
You cannot become great at anything unless you practice. In writing, this will mean a lot of time spent on writing hundreds of pages of material that will be so bad that you will be unable to ever publish any of it (except for maybe as a guide for teaching others through your own mistakes). You will likely have a dozen complete rewrites and redrafts before your novel is presentable, but compare this to the hundreds and thousands of doodles and even just geometrical shapes that a visual artist must draw before they’re ever able to create a masterpiece. Be prepared to spend some time every week, if not every day, in writing practice. And I encourage you not to become discouraged when the beginnings are rough. Almost all of us, myself included, started at the lowest point of writing ability, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Element 4: Time spent reading.
Good movies and quality television shows are wonderful—and many of them can teach invaluable lessons about storytelling. However, to use these as your sole source of education would be like trying to become a martial artist by only watching Jackie Chan movies. In order to study the art form of turning words into worlds, people, and plots, you must become familiar with the process of doing so. By reading other authors you can look at what they did right, what they did wrong, and what strengths and limitations exist in each style of writing. Then you can think about how they affect you as a reader so that you can use all of their strengths in your own writing. I will be recommending a lot of books, movies, and shows which will hopefully give you some kind of balance between the three.
Element 5: An understanding of structure and form.
Often, people who have been hurt by the cutting and destructive criticisms of literary snobs begin to grow a resentment toward all elements of high literature—structure, tedious exercised, forms, and the works and ideas of the old literary masters. However, many of these tedious things do not exist to hinder your potential for creativity and artistic liberty any more than Beethoven’s work, and their usage in teaching beginning musicians, exist to squash rock and roll. Structure, tedium, and classical principles of literature exist because the old masters found them to be the methods by which they could tell the story they’d always dreamed of telling, just like we want to do. And we still use many of them because they have been time-tested, and proven to still help create modern works.
So begin thinking of structure and form not in terms of elements to limit your creativity, but as constructive boundaries that will challenge you and give your ideas a more complex form that will add to a reader’s appreciation of them. You don’t even have to enjoy them or agree to the usefulness of each and every one. I only ask that you consider trying those things which you haven’t in the past, and keep an open mind as to whether they have a positive effect on your writing.
Element 6: A writing partner, beta-reader, or someone else to read and critique your writing.
This is one of the most difficult parts of being a writer. And it’s not just the feeling of putting your heart into a story and then being told all of the terrible flaws in it, but actually finding someone who is similarly trying to improve, who has the knowledge required to give useful feedback, and who has the tact to be honest while also trying to be constructive and uplifting. However, finding someone like that is a necessity as we are all (even myself) blinded by the mistakes in our own work. Because of the way our brains fill in gaps of information, it is a challenge to see what we have actually written on a page, as opposed to what we imagine should be there. Additionally, by critiquing another person’s work and helping to teach them to refine their style, we gain a more deep understanding of how to fix our own. In this version of the guide there will be folders in my group for members to post exercises (designed to leave you with a complete novel if you complete every one) and get feedback on their writing from other members. Additionally, feel free to use the comment section of this page to find others who might be looking for a writing partner to work one-on-one with.
Element 7: The ability to take criticism and kill your darlings.
During the course of the guide, I will be blunt about many cliches and flawed conventions of writing. Additionally, whoever critiques your work should be freely pointing out the flaws in the characters and story you hold so dear. If you are asking them to do this, you must be willing to nod and accept criticism. Of course, you should feel free to ask questions, to discuss the problems, and even to respectfully disagree. But such discussions must be based on objective standards that affect the quality of the story, not the emotions that come from having them poke at something that is dear to you. Remember that you will be redrafting, which means that even your favorite characters, scenes, or ideas are above change, improvement, or even elimination.
Element 8: Dedication to your story.
There will come a point for you—as it does for most writers—when you will want to give up on your story. When you’ve completely rewritten your first novel ten times, it becomes tempting to give in and either tell yourself that it is no good and has to be thrown away, or that it is finished and you should self-publish immediately. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing, but it is something that should happen only after you and a reasonable yet harsh critic agree that your work is ready. Love your story enough that, even if you need to take a break from it from time to time, you will not give up and throw it away or put it out into the water without a hope that it can swim.
All of that being said, this process of research, practice, and learning is a journey for me as well. I’ll be sharing samples of my work and showing my personal progress as evidence for my methods. However, this means that all of the content within it can be respectfully discussed, disagreed with, and rationalized to a better answer. I think the kind criticisms and ideas given by my readers are what have already made Anybody Can Write a Novel unique. But on the plus side of learning from someone who is also trying to find his own writing voice, you can rest assured that I will recognize and address difficulties that masters of the craft cannot see, due to their having long since bested them. This will allow me to provide a dialogue about a different array of problems than would be addressed in other guides. Finally, my goal is to give you the skills you need to get a head-start on your journey to find what style works best for you. So use this guide for its intended purpose or feel free to pick out the tips you think would work best for you in your own study of the craft.
Weekly Recommended Reading: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King—for the purpose of understanding what it takes to be a writer and to learn to tell a good story.
Write-a-Novel Exercise 1.1
To be a writer and write a story of quality, you should know why you want to do so—to know what will drive you undertake this journey. Write about why you want to be a writer, and what you hope to accomplish by your writing. This exercise does not have to be of any particular length, just long enough so that you can move on to the writing of your novel with a clear intent. Interact with others’ posts by encouraging them and by finding others with similar goals who could be ideal Writing Partners for you.