Thirty years ago I really wanted to write a novel, but I didn’t know how to do it. I just started, wrote a lot and tried a lot. Thus three novels were born, but no publisher wanted them. Now I know why, too. Because I made the classic rookie mistakes. So have many others. I’ve been imparting my knowledge of novel writing in my workshops and coaching for about fifteen years. I’ve seen many manuscripts before and realized that we all make very similar mistakes in the beginning 🙂
But at the time I didn’t know what the problem was. Of course, I was completely frustrated by the cancellation. Nevertheless, I kept writing. My fourth book was finally good enough that a publisher wanted it! The thriller was then published by Aufbau Verlag in 2012.
I want to spare others this disappointment. Trial and error takes too much time! So that you don’t make the same mistakes that I have made myself and that I have seen in many manuscripts, I list here the most common beginner mistakes. Interestingly, there are just a few mistakes that are discovered over and over again, and that can eventually lead to having to completely revise the manuscript.
1. A good novel comes from an omission.
The most common mistake: beginners tend to tell several stories in one book at once. It’s like combining Harry Potter , Spirits and Romeo and Juliet into one story. It can’t work. A good novel is created by omissions. So my most important piece of advice: in the planning stage, ask yourself what is the essence of your story. What is most important to you in the story? Concentrate on the main thing and put everything else aside.
2. Write a novel, not a biography.
Every story has something of the author in it, too. But your own experience should be subordinate to the story. It’s hard enough to write a book. It’s even harder to write an autobiographical novel. So my advice: eliminate the autobiographical reference to your first work. Write a purely fictional story; it’s easier to start writing that way. Later, when you’ve already published a few books, it’s too early to take on an autobiographical novel.
3. Write a book worth reading
You don’t want to write what everyone else is writing, do you? Do you want to write something completely different? Finally write something that no one else has ever written? That’s why you don’t care about craft and reader expectations, because then you’ll only be writing what everyone else is writing, won’t you?
A little example from music. Because what writing, music, and painting have in common is that they are not only a craft, but an art. What would you think of someone who would tell you that he didn’t learn to play a musical instrument? That he can’t read sheet music and has never studied music theory? But now he wants to revolutionize music and compose something of his own that never happened before? For unique geniuses, this may be the right approach. Not a unique genius? Then I would recommend that you do the craft first. It helps a lot to write a book worth reading.
4. The Right Entry.
At first, most people just sit down and start writing. This brings a valuable first experience. But self-study takes time. A lot of time. It’s like playing the piano: you can learn to play the piano yourself. Or you can take piano lessons. Both paths lead to the goal. But with support and the right approach, you can make faster progress. So, my advice: get information any way you can. Read guides, watch videos, attend seminars (like my self-study course on writing novels ). Then you’ll have much faster success when writing your first novel.
5. Think about publishing.
Are you writing just for yourself? Do you not necessarily want to get published? If it does work out with a publisher, surely it would be a good idea? I hear this very often in my consultations. But experience shows that when the finished manuscript finally ends up on the table, great is the disappointment when no one but your closest relatives want to read the book. Of course, at first you don’t know if you’ll end up getting published. But if you want to keep that path open, you should ask yourself a few questions ahead of time: literature or mainstream? Which genre should it be? Who is my target audience? The better a manuscript fits people’s reading habits and expectations, the more likely it will eventually find readers.
6. Start writing.
Many beginners want to get it right from the start: take courses, learn the craft, decide on a particular genre, and develop a compelling story with interesting characters. When it’s finally time to start writing – then nothing works. The famous blank page (now probably the screen) does not want to be filled with unique descriptions, funny dialogues and exciting scenes.
The problem: In the beginning, beginners often want too much and too fast. Every sentence should be right from the start and meet your high expectations. But that’s not how writing works. One of the most famous quotes comes from Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft is always crap.”
When we write, we must learn to accept the imperfect. No one writes perfect sentences all at once. We have to allow ourselves to write the very first draft, which is pretty bad. Only when we have a first mediocre draft can we work on it and gradually improve it. The best way to a good manuscript: write a bad first draft. Keep revising the draft until it becomes a really good text.
7. Proper text structure
The book consists of text. Lots of text. Which people should read with pleasure. This is only possible if the text has a good structure. A mainstream novel usually consists of descriptions (scenery, interiors, etc.), a character’s inside perspective (thoughts/thoughts/feelings), dialogue, and action. The right combination makes for a perfect text. That said, a novel should not consist of pages of description, endless character looks, or unnecessary dialogue. Descriptions, inside views, dialogue and action should alternate and the result should be a good combination.
8. Not too much information.
Are you writing a thriller about the global threat of computer viruses? Have you done a lot of research and learned a lot of interesting things? And of course it all has to be in the book? Don’t do that. A novel is not a collection of facts. There are popular science books for that. You have to constrain your knowledge and ask every detail if it really adds to the story. Does it advance the plot? Is it important to the characters? Throw out anything that doesn’t serve a specific purpose. And if you’ve already included detailed knowledge, you should make an effort to incorporate it well into the story. No one wants to read a two-page essay about computer viruses in a detective story.
9. Properly revise.
Finally, have you done it? And now to the publishers with it? But before you do, it’s worth taking the time to thoroughly review everything. Has the text been revised several times? Mostly error-free: no spelling or punctuation errors? Is it interesting to read? Is the formatting correct?
As a beginner in particular, you tend to throw out text too early. Because you’ve been writing forever. But there’s a first draft first, and then the real work begins. Most writers spend considerably more time correcting the text than they do writing the first draft. Because a text only becomes really good when it is revised.
10. Editing goes at the end.
You write the first draft and the editor does the rest? Forget it. In that case, the editor would have to write a whole new book-and then it would be her own text. Editing serves to take the last bit of beauty out of a perfect text. Polishing the diamond, so to speak. An editor doesn’t even start with a rough diamond. She needs a perfectly cut diamond before she can begin polishing.