Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain was not one of the first books about writing that I read and that sucks. I wrote my first novel (collection of loosely related words mind-barfed onto the electronic page) for NaNoWriMo. To say that I didn’t know what I was doing is an understatement.
First Steps Writing A Novel
I thought my first attempt at writing a novel was awesome. It was work, but not too bad. I followed the advice I found scattered in writing forums and on blogs. If you’ve ever done a google search for “How to write a novel”, you know what I’m talking about. Here are a few that I came across:
- Your first draft is supposed to suck;
- Just write, everyday;
- You can fix it in re-write;
- It’s your story, there are no rules, and;
- Show don’t tell.
I know there are some that I missed, feel free to share your favorite (or the one that frustrated you the most) in the comments.
Awesome Is Just Around The Corner
I’m happy to say that I won my first NaNoWriMo and I’m not going to lie, reaching that 50,000 word mark is pretty awesome. I mean that was it, I had finally accomplished my goal. I had written a novel.
If you spend any time on writing forums or perusing writing blogs you’ll soon learn that agents absolutely hate the month after NaNoWriMo. Some agents even go so far as to stop accepting submissions for the entire month of December.
I didn’t immediately box up my shiny new work-of-awesome and start spamming it through the postal service (or email). I did what every good author-to-be does (more advice from forums and blogs) and let my novel sit and stew in its own juices for a while. I even used the resting period to read up on editing and rewriting.
At last the fateful day came and sat down to begin the rewrite. Of course the process was just a formality, after all I had done the impossible. I had written the best story ever on my first try. Until I started reading it.
Things I Wish I Had Known About Writing A Novel
The writing that I had been so happy with was disjointed and often times confusing. That’s not to say there wasn’t the occasional surprise, that one perfect stringing together of words. Of course you’re supposed to murder your darlings, so that took care of those perfect sentences. Rewriting wasn’t even an option (no really, a fiery death was too good this collection of words).
At some point in the writing process I distinctly remember thinking that it would be great if there was some sort of guideline behind how sentences, dialogue, and paragraphs should be put together, at least most of the time (Hey, you can always break a rule if it works).
Techniques presents the guidelines for constructing readable fiction that feels like it’s moving. This isn’t a formula. It’s the code for the world we live in, distilled into easy to understand language: Action and Reaction. Of course once you get into the details it’s a little more complicated than that.
One of the first things I did after reading Techniques was to pick up a book to see if published authors do anything remotely close to what’s presented in Techniques. They do. Every book I’ve read since follows the same guidelines presented in Techniques. Action and Reaction.
Once I applied this to my own writing I found that not only did my stories keep moving forward, but issues related to point of view and showing vs telling took care of themselves.
So here’s my challenge to you: Get this book. Read it. Then pick up one of your favorite stories and see if that author uses the Techniques of a Selling Writer.
I bet they do.