So you’ve suffered through a grueling, lonely journey and have a first draft novel to show for it. Now what do you do? Hell, if I know. I’m still trying to get my first novel published, but I have learned some things along the way that new writers might take note and see if it works for them.
Understand the Rules – Some have said that you have to be unique and that coloring within the lines is a cookie-cutter form of existence. There is some truth to that thinking, but for a new writer you need to know what the rules are, so you can later bend and, at times, break them. A good reference book is “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. The book is less than a hundred pages, but it’s packed with the basic rules for writing the English language. If you know where the lines are, you can artistically draw over them and not make a mess of your art. Remember: Writing is just painting with words.
Cull Out the Passive Voice (As Needed) – I thought I understood what people meant by write in an active voice and avoid the passive. It wasn’t until I had someone ( other than a family member) read a few chapters of my first draft. She asked if my novel was a literary work. When I told her no, she explained in a polite way that I had used a lot of passive voice. After recovering from the embarrassment, I started looking at ways to identify the passive voice. The best passive example I’ve heard is, “The road was crossed by the chicken.” The active version being, “The chicken crossed the road.” The passive voice is something people from a technical background like myself, have a hard time recognizing and killing from their prose. Look for these word patterns: “was” or “is” followed by a verb ending in “ed” or “ing” You can use Word to help you look for the pattern. A friend showed me this trick using wildcards:
In Word, open the Find window. Select the “More” button. Then check “Use wildcards,” and type the following wildcard in the “Find what:” line:
Then repeat your search using two question mark wildcards, then three, etc. Repeat the whole process again looking for the (ing) verbs.
Understand that the passive voice has its place. If you wish to convey doubt or uncertainty of a fact, the passive voice works, so don’t remove all of it.
Stop Repeating Yourself, Avoid Saying the Same Thing Twice, and Remove Repetition (You get the point) – Repetition is a problem a still struggle with in my writing. I would make a statement in one sentence and then follow it up with saying the same thing in a slightly different way. What I realized was by repeating myself, I demonstrated a lack of confidence in what I had written. It showed me I needed to make one strong sentence and whack the other.
Join a Writing Critique Group – You cannot write successfully in a vacuum. The whole idea of writing is to get people to read it. Having your family read your novel is a start, but you need to get feedback from others who fall outside your immediate circle of influence. These are people who don’t care if they hurt your feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to be a sadist and belong to a group of jerk wannabe writers. It’s about finding a group of other authors who have a variety of experience and learning to see your work through their eyes. Carol Woods is the lady who runs the critique group I belong. She calls herself, “The Benign Dictator,” and has been a big help to me in understanding my writing style and ways to make it better. My fellow members each bring a different POV to their critique of my work and I to theirs. Over a nine month period, I read to them all the chapters of my first novel. Afterward, I sifted through all my critiques, took some of their suggestions, ignored others, found a ton of typos, and when finished, I had a much cleaner, tighter manuscript. She explained that those that actively participate in a critique group significantly escalate their pathway to getting published. Most groups are free and others require only a nominal fee to join. Search the web and visit. Look for a group to call your own. You’ll know when it’s the right one.
Edit Edit Edit – Writers need to edit their manuscripts multiple times looking for the basic typos, the grammatical errors and the structural story disconnects. You would be surprised at the number of typos you can find when you read your work out loud. The Benign Dictator suggested the people who read out loud and in front of a mirror get the best results. The process of verbalizing your work allows the opportunity to feel where the words struggle and where they flow.
Read Read Read – Writers need to read. Not their work, but others. For the same reason you can’t write in a vacuum, you have to read another author’s work to feel what pacing is, what prose is, and all the other things you’re trying to emulate. If you are writing YA, then read YA. If writing Romance, then you need to read Romance ( But read other things too, ’cause reading that stuff can make you go bald, I’m told ).