Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eight Things Every Aspiring Author Should Have

The first draft of my first novel is complete. I am excited beyond words! It is a feeling I want to share with other aspiring authors. I want them to experience it for themselves. And so, as a gift from me to you, I've written eight things all aspiring authors should have.
Keep in mind that this is an article from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old writer who desires more fame than his knowledge can back up. You've been warned. Take my advice with mountainous piles of salt.

Perhaps the most obvious quality a wannabe-novelist needs. How can one have his/her name slapped on the cover of a best-seller when he/she couldn't finish a book if his/her life depended on it? Plans and plot outlines can only take you so far. It's determination that gets the book written and edited to be sent to agents.

A Critique Group
Find a group of experienced authors and share your story. Critiquers will be stern and truthful without breaking your heart. They expect the same from you, and you should treat them and their work with respect. By doing this, you not only make critique partners, but also friends. Strong bonds are formed when both people share a common interest.

A Fanbase

“I wrote a whopping 2,500 words last night,” says the aspiring author.
“Cool! Did your main character find the Staff of Diligence yet?”

This sounds a bit strange, but bear with me. One’s perseverance can only carry him/her so far. You need people who take an interest in what you’re doing. It provides a strong sense of fulfillment when you call a buddy in the middle of the night and yell, “I just finished my novel!” It provides an even stronger sense of fulfillment when they answer, “Awesome! When can I read the final draft?” You get the idea. By talking about your story, you stay on track and constantly rekindle the desire you had when you first decided to write it. It’s conversations like the one above that make an author feel he/she is doing something useful with their time.

Careful Planning
I did not plan very much. I knew the ending and I knew the beginning. The middle was all written off of the top of my head. Thus the whole novel suffered. Before your fingers strike the keyboard or your pen touches the pad, plan! Write character sketches, question your antagonist’s motives, question your main character’s motives, flesh out the setting with sketches and world-building activities, write from another character’s perspective, and, for the love of corn, plan each chapter with care!

A Love of Reading
Have a scene in mind? Can’t seem to bring it from your brain to the computer screen? Close the laptop and pick up a book. Read, study other writers (who, mind you, are more successful than you at the moment), and analyze how that author makes his/her scenes work. Read as much as you can and if you truly think about each writer’s work, you’ll slowly become an expert.

Knowledge of the Craft
You don’t need to know how to spell. We have spell-checker for just that reason. However, you do need to know how to write. If you can’t learn from reading other novels of the same genre, there are hundreds of alternatives. Take English classes and pay close attention, attend keynotes and book signings, or buy English Grammar for Dummies and read up. There are plenty of ways to learn. All one needs is the drive.

Ties with All Forms of Media
This one isn’t a necessity, but it does help. All writers need inspiration. Ideas don’t just come to one in his/her sleep. They must seek those ideas out with a resolute curiosity. Inspiration can be drawn from anything. Music, movies, news reports. Or more abstract means that require a bit of thinking to form a complete idea. Construction sites, a busy intersection, a man who drops his cellphone on the subway, a calender with a picture of a different flower for each month. If this sounds ridiculous to you, that’s okay. You’re brain responds well to the straightforward ideas of the music and media. I could go both ways: I was heavily inspired by the song “American Pie” by Don McLean. I was just as much inspired by the dense forests behind my house.

Our worst critics are in our head. Self-explanatory.

And there you have it. My list is complete. Questions, comments, concerns? Leave them and I'll happily respond.
Alex Gartner


  1. I love the way you write! I actually started laughing at one point (good thing I'm home alone ;) Cant wait to see your novel!


  2. You did?! Aw, that's awesome!

    Thanks, Kit :)

  3. You have a very mature way of thinking, Alex. Your parents must be proud. I can feel your enthusiasm through the screen. Nice job.

  4. Hey Alex, congrats on the move to blogspot (I'm a wordpress fan myself, but that's ok -- vive la difference).

    Sorry about losing your comments and followers, though. I've signed up, and will re-direct readers on my article about your "lessons learned" posting to this new site.

  5. Congrats on finishing the first draft! And this is an extremely accurate list, many authors (both aspiring and published) should take a look at this-- it would do them some good.

    Great post:)

  6. I love this post so very much. I've linked to it on my blog, and hope to send some followers your way!


  7. My wife and I would like to add patience to your list.

  8. Hey nice blog! I found you through YALITCHAT. I'm new there but I've had a blog on blogspot for about 2 months now. I'd love to be a fan of yours! Your 8 things are ON SPOT! I actually found my beta-lover on my blog thanks to my fanbase. And I got a tons of feedback on my query the other day. I think passion is another key thing. If you are forcing yourself to sit there and write everyday, forcing the ideas, then your work is gonna appear forced. I think you need to be passionate about what you are writing and not just making it what you think others want to read. I think the best feeling is not being published, but that moment when you complete the first draft and you have all of your work sitting in front of you.

    CONGRATS on completing your first draft! Hope we can be blog friends :)

  9. @Bryan: It's really no problem. I think Blogspot is great. It's like the original Star Wars trilogy compared to LiveJournal, the newer trilogy. I hope this makes sense! :)

    @bclement: You really think so? Thank you so much!

    @StuartC: I agree. Patience is of the utmost importance, and I've learned it the hard way. Great contribution to the list!

    @T.J.C: Yes, passion is incredibly important. The moment I finished my first draft was great, so I can see where you're coming from. Of course we can be blog buddies :)

  10. Master Alex,

    It's great that you finished your first draft. You need to celebrate! I bet that was a lot of work, but fun too. I love to write short stories and I always end up with more than one draft.

    LOVE of reading would be my favorite on your list. Oh, and confidence is next. I would add one more thing....sense of humor.

    Count me as a FAN!

    Young Padawan

  11. Young Master Skywalker!
    I'm glad you liked it, young Padawan. If you like writing, always remember one thing: your work is important. Don't let anyone dissuade you from that fact. Follow your dreams, my apprentice!...

    I'd love to read one sometime. Give me a heads up and I'll do a critique for you. If you want it, that is.

    And, yes, I am Obi Wan in this relationship. Which makes you the apprentice. Anakin or Luke, it's your choice. Will you stick with the light or venture to the dark side of the force? *Evil, riotously nerdy laugh*

  12. Obi Wan,

    I have one of my short stories posted on my blog. See my April 27 blog post. Our assignment was a story about the Easter Bunny. Yeah I know. Just remember, I am 10.

    Critique away Master. Be honest.

    Anakin in Texas

  13. Anakin it is! Goodness, you're an awesome kid. I'll check it out right now.

  14. This is fabulous! Hope you don't mind that I linked it on my blog.

    Congrats on your first draft! Wow...I wish I'd have finished anything at 15, much less a first draft of a whole book! I just finished mine last week (many years after leaving the wise old age of 15!).