Writing well is a difficult endeavor (and anyone who says otherwise is probably not writing very high-quality material). You spend most of your time chained to a computer or pen, and everyone who’s ever written a high school essay (i.e. everyone in the free world) has an idea, suggestion, or tip for you. So let’s cut through the bull and break it down to the basics.
Below are the five tools every novelist needs. Like regular hand tools, there are a variety of each available (e.g. DeWalt, Craftsman, etc.). You’ll have to find the brand that’s the right fit for you, but you need to have at least one of these in your arsenal.
- Memberships: Join a professional writers group. You can find one for nearly every genre (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, etc.) or join a more general group (American Christian Fiction Writers). Find at least one that appeals to you and join.
- Chicago Manual of Style: If you’re writing a book, you need to own this (or subscribe to it online). It’s the gospel when it comes to punctuation and grammar. (Yes, you can hire an editor, but you should be learning as you go too.)
- Paper and pen: At some point you need to write or edit a hard copy of your manuscript. It may seem old fashioned, but you’ll see things on paper that your eyes won’t register on the computer screen. Don’t fight it – just try it.
- Peers: Whether you and a group of writers volunteer to critique each other’s work or you work with a partner, find someone with a similar passion, talent, and goals who will help you honestly evaluate your work. No, your mom doesn’t count, even if she does read a lot. There are so many technical aspects to fiction writing that only another novelist will understand and catch.
- A plane ticket: Or good car or a train ticket – whatever it takes to get you to a writer’s conference. Not only will you learn about writing, you’ll get first-hand experience with publishers, agents, and editors. You can learn how to write from books and classes, but there’s no substitute for the relationships you’ll create and the people you’ll meet.
You may have been expecting different types of tools, but these have been the most helpful tools to my novel-writing career. What tools have helped you the most?