Guest post by Hend Hegazi
My writing journey began about eleven years ago when I first decided to make writing a priority. When I wrote “The End” at the end of a certain short story, I said to myself, “You’ve always wanted to write a novel; why not turn this into a one?” And that’s how my first novel began.
Here I share with you some tips which I’ve used to write Normal Calm, Behind Picket Fences, and my two yet-to-be-published novels. This advice is geared toward fiction writers, but non-fiction writers will surely be able to execute many of the points as well. May it be of benefit to you.
Calling yourself a writer will do two very important things. First, it will shift your perspective to help you take your writer-self seriously. This will help you remain committed to your craft, working at it regularly and researching ways to improve. Second, it will make those around you see you as a writer as well.
Put in the time!
Many writers give themselves a daily word-count minimum. Others commit to writing for a certain number of minutes or hours per day. Still others commit to remaining seated in front of their writing device (computer, notebook, etc.) for a certain time, whether or not the ideas and writing are flowing. Just make sure to turn off all distractions during the time you’ve committed to your work.
Even though I know that outlines are wonderful, worthwhile tools, I personally don’t use them. I have my own system of organizing my thoughts, and that works well for me. If you choose to outline, just acknowledge that it is simply a guide for you to begin; your story may very well take turns which your outline didn’t predict. Allow yourself to experiment with those ideas. You must learn to go with what works best for your story, even if that ends up being different from your original plan.
Begin with an idea and a character.
The idea tends to come naturally, it’s what made you want to write this book to begin with. The character may be a bit trickier. Before you begin your book, you should know every intimate detail about your character. Sit and chat with her. Ask her about her life. Ask her about her goals and why she has them and what she hopes to accomplish with them. Uncover all her layers just as you would a new friend you’ve recently met. Only then will you be able to present her in an authentic light.
Keep in mind your WHO and your WHY.
Your WHO is your audience and your WHY is the reason you’re writing this book. Knowing these, writing them down and keeping them visible as your work, will keep you on track. It will help you choose an appropriate plot, and appropriate vocabulary. Remember: If there is a mismatch between your target audience and the language you use, your readers won’t relate and will get bored. Avoid that sinkhole by always being mindful of your WHO.
Don’t censor yourself.
For the first draft, write everything in its purest, most crude form. Write the scenes and the language that make you uncomfortable. When you go back to edit, you’ll have a chance to change or delete things, but don’t begin your piece by limiting yourself. You never know, some of those scenes may end up being paramount to your story. Remember: your first draft is for you, so make it as raw and authentic as possible.
Commit to the long haul!
Understand that it will take several drafts to get your manuscript right. Vigorous self-editing is one key to that. Read and revise, read and revise. Don’t forget to read out-loud; this is an essential part of the self-editing process. It will help you discover typos and grammatical mistakes as well as those of content.
As you edit, be on the lookout for anything that does not serve your story: anything that does not reveal something about your characters or setting or move your story forward. Anything that falls into one of more of these categories MUST BE CUT.
That witty line you love so much? Sorry to tell you, but that has to go. And that secondary character that doesn’t really support or antagonize anyone? Yup, she’s gone too. This is a difficult part of the writing process because we become attached to our words and to the characters we’ve created. But if you want your manuscript to shine, you have to be staunch in editing any non-essential elements.
Stay away from friends and family!
Okay, so I don’t mean that YOU have to stay away from them. I mean that you have to keep your writing safe from them. Once you finally have a “final” draft, send this to beta-readers. Good betas are other writers, even if they write in a different genre than you. They will look at the book from a writer’s perspective; they will analyze it, uncover plot holes, and give you that oh-so-valuable negative advice.
Remember: it’s the negative advice that will help you improve, so encourage it and accept it with grace. Opting for friend or family beta readers will put you at a disadvantage because:
- They may not want to be brutally honest with you, fearing an emotional reaction; and
- They won’t be able to dissect your writing and find the faults that a seasoned writer will catch.
Understand that not everyone will like your work.
That’s perfectly fine. Everyone has their own tastes. And not everyone is your target audience anyway!
I could have listed this first, but as it is an ongoing activity, I decided to place it last instead. Read, read, read. Always. Read the bestsellers and classics in your genre. Read at a higher level than you currently write to learn from those authors’ techniques and styles.