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.
“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.
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.