This week marks the final module of the six-month long Write Your Novel course that I am undertaking with the Australian Writers’ Centre. But it’s not time to crack open the champagne just yet, I still have a long way to go.
When I began the Write Your Novel course back in March, I brought in a second/third draft of my current WIP. I knew it needed work. A lot of work. And then as we started workshopping I began to see the holes. Some were big, gaping holes that I knew existed, and others were new ones pointed out to me. But on the flip side, I’d also written some stuff that was decent. I was given props for my use of dialogue and emotion – something that made me smile indeed.
The final feedback we received on the climax and resolution (ending) of our novels, was probably the most important. This is the part where you want to satisfy your reader and do justice to the story and characters. And I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with the feedback. What I thought was total rubbish (writer’s self-doubt anyone?), wasn’t as bad as I thought.
So for any of you budding writers out there I thought I’d do a little round-up of what I’ve learned from the course.
6 Things I’ve Learned from the AWC Write Your Novel course
1. Writing takes time
That’s the thing about writing a novel. It takes time. Loads of time. And this course makes you realise exactly how much time it is going to take to get a story from good to the level where it could be considered ready for agents/publishers eyes. Not only is it time writing, rewriting and editing, but time polishing and repolishing. And then once you put it out there for query, you again have to be patient. That can be a process in itself.
Take-away: If you are not willing to MAKE the time to write your novel, then maybe this pursuit isn’t for you.
2. Writing is a roller-coaster
I knew this before I started the course. After all, it’s what draws me to the writing process. One minute you are living the writers’ fantasy – tapping away furiously at the keys, the words flowing like a torrent, the plot falling into place before your eyes – it’s oh so wonderful! But, the next minute you are smashing your head against that keyboard, sobbing and asking yourself “Why? – Why I am I doing this?” At that point, you may even walk away, vowing never to write again. But the allure of that first feeling is too tempting and it draws you back. You’re hooked.
Take-away: You have to take the bad with the good, and realise there will probably be more bad than good!
3. A writer needs 3 core attributes
Self-belief: You need to believe in yourself and your writing every step of the way. Because at this point if you don’t believe, neither will your characters and neither will your story. And ultimately, neither will an agent, publisher or reader.
Self-discipline: If you don’t make the time to sit down and write your novel you will procrastinate forever and your story won’t get written. Something or some things in your day have to give. Whether it’s your TV time, your Sunday afternoon or, in my case, sleep. And you need discipline to put your butt on the chair, fingers on the keys and eyes on the screen – even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
Desire: You’ve got to want it. Stat.
Take-away: If you don’t possess these three ingredients, a master-chef you will not be.
And now for some more writing specific take-aways.
4. Create engaging backstory by attaching a memory or emotion.
One of the hardest tasks for writers is knowing when and how much backstory to give your readers. As a writer, we know our characters back the front and we sometimes feel our readers should too. So how to do this without large sections of long-winded, boring info dumps? Attach an emotion and show via a flashback or memory. When our tutor said this, I was flawed. Of course! It all made sense. Not that it’s easy to do, but at least now I know how.
Take-away: Show your characters backstory to your reader on a need-to-know basis and do so with emotion.
5. Follow your character’s gaze
Another issue for a lot of writers when they sit down to write a novel, is point of view. Head-hopping (switching from one character’s POV to anothers mid-scene, even chapter, is a big no-no. It confuses your reader and takes away from what is happening. By putting yourself in your POV character’s shoes and looking around, seeing things from their perspective, it is so much easier to write in-the-moment from their POV. Although I’m still working on this, I have improved out of site by using this technique.
Take-away: Decide whose POV is pivotal for the scene you are writing and follow their gaze completely. PS. Also a great technique for drawing setting into each scene too!
6. Resolutions should be short
My first attempt at my story’s resolution could have been another entire book. I’ve learned that after the climax of your novel, the resolution, or part where you wrap up loose ends, needs to be short. Sounds easy right? Wrong! As a writer invested in your characters, it’s hard to know when too much is, well, too much. Drawing things together consicely is more satisfying for the reader and ultimately will leave a longer, more positive, lasting impression.
Take-away: Pull the most important story lines and themes together as quickly and neatly as possible.
So what now?
I’m off to do another rewrite. I’ll take on board all the feedback (good and bad) and suggestions from my tutor and fellow classmates and I will begin another draft. I now know where I need to make the changes. I know where I need to make the plot stronger, how I can make the stakes higher and develop character and setting further. There’s lots to work on, but I have a renewed confidence that I can actually do it. Although the finish line is still way off in the distance, it’s no longer around the corner.
Are you writing something at the moment?
Have you considered a course to help you write your novel?