Last week, I spoke about how to advance your writing career while still writing your novel by devoting some attention to 3 important things:
1. Publishing Short Stories
2. Professional Development
3. Social Networking/Promotion
This week we’ll focus on professional development.
As a writer seeking to become a published professional, it’s essential to become a master of your craft. You can’t just read novels and work on writing, you must educate yourself on the principles, techniques, and profession of writing. There are several disciplines foundational to being a professional writer, namely:
2. Prose form and style
3. Story structure and mechanics
(Though being a professional writer is much more than just these 3 things, these are some of the most basic aspects that you have to understand before moving on)
1. Grammar and Editing
You should already have a solid grasp of the English language and its rules of grammar, and should always self-edit your work before giving it to someone else to look at. If you feel weak in this point, seek out books on grammar, and practice, practice, practice. It’s helpful to find a fellow writer or grammar Nazi friend (we all have one), to read over your practice and point out errors, then learn from those mistakes.
In the process of having each chapter of my novel reviewed by my writing group, I’ve learned a lot about editing and their constant corrections have started to stick. My friends commented the other day that I make fewer errors than just a few months ago.
Grammar is the mortar that holds each of your word-bricks together, making a grand mansion of a story. If the mortar is weak, your story will crumble, and your inexperience will be evident. Make sure you carefully police yourself and make the rules of the English language second nature.
2. Prose form and style
Prose form and style are the ways in which you structure your sentences, how you word things in your narration, dialog, and description. It’s essential to understand the basic structure of quality prose. Though prose is a good place to let your unique creativity and voice shine forth, beware: there ARE standards and rules you should stick to within your own creativity. Ignore them at your own cost.
The best way to learn good prose is to read it. Tons of it. Good sentence structure and form will become second nature. Read the classics, and critically acclaimed works of literature. Beware of best selling genre fiction as a good example of quality prose, however. Sometimes they are great stories, but lacking in good prose.
In addition to reading classics, study craft books such as The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, or On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (more than just about sentence structure, it’s an inspiring tale of one writer’s journey)
3. Story structure and mechanics
I have only just realized how incredibly critical this category is. You can get by with bad editing, your editor should fix that. You can even get by with average prose. Lots of popular books out there are not famous for their prose, but for their compelling story. But if you mess up the structure of your story, if it doesn’t flow in a way that captures the reader, if you fail to make it compelling, then no one will read it or care.
Story structure, the frame that guides the essential elements to any story (such as character arc, plot development, theme, etc.), is universal to every successful story. It’s the way stories work and speak to us. If things are out of order or the structure is incorrect, the whole story be weak and fall apart under agent or publisher’s scrutiny.
I’m in the middle of an excellent, groundbreaking craft book on the subject, which I believe should be on the required reading list of every author. You might understand story structure instinctively. Indeed, many points the book makes I already knew from studying good literature. But when crafting your own story, these are principles you must be consciously aware of as well as proactively apply to your novel if you want it to work.
Knowing these principles will not only make your story better, they will help get the story written by giving you clear blueprints on how the plot should progress, what to focus on in your scenes, etc.
Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks. I would also recommend How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
Believe me, I know how difficult it is to just write a novel. It becomes even more difficult to write that novel while doing everything else. But your novel will end up 200% better at the end of the road if you develop yourself as a professional while working on the manuscript. Just writing isn’t development, you have to proactively seek out, study, and apply the rules of writing and examples from successful authors.
Next week we’ll look at the last category to focus on while writing your novel: social media. It’s hard to sell a book when you have no platform and no one knows you exist. Building all of that WHILE you’re writing, instead of waiting till you’ve finished, will build momentum and make the world ready for your book when you are ready to publish it. We’ll discuss how to do this next week.
How about you? What craft books have you found helpful? What essential rules of writing have you had the most trouble with, or find the most important to a successful story?
Thanks for reading! Please follow me on Twitter @LydiaSherrer, and have a great week!
Your weekly dose of cute: Gizmo, trying to capture my foot from her hiding place under the chair.