I am very sceptical of adverts inviting me to ‘learn how to write a novel’. How exactly? Yes a writing course can help to brush up on grammar, sentence construction and such like, but I don’t believe the ability to write wonderful stories is something that can be taught.
Until I started writing Dory’s Avengers, my first novel, I had absolutely no idea how I would go about it. Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads offer the opportunity to interact with fellow authors, and I never tire of hearing their opinions and anecdotes. However, authors are unique, individual human beings with unique, individual writing techniques, and those techniques can only be developed by trial and error. Detailed planning works for a lot of top quality authors, but it wasn’t long before I discovered it doesn’t work for me.
I did actually make a plan for Dory’s Avengers before I started writing. This plan has long since disappeared into the murky depths of my computer, which is a shame as it would probably be quite hilarious to read it now. Give or take some characters’ names, it wouldn’t bear any resemblance to the finished novel. Through socialising with authors and reading their blogs, I’ve learned that many favour creating character biogs before starting on their novel, so I decided to give it one more try with book number two (unimaginatively entitled ‘New Book’ at the moment). Waste of time! Already the characters are swapping roles as the story develops; the protagonist’s best friend has gone bad, her boyfriend is not all he seems, the antagonist may or may not remain an antagonist; I can’t say for sure because I really don’t know yet.
It’s probably fair to say that my writing ‘technique’ is far too haphazard to even qualify as a technique. In fact, I just write. The ideas come spilling out of my head and I write them down as quickly as my rather limited typing ability will allow; then I read back, reject the rubbish and edit the rest into something fit for public scrutiny. No one reads my unedited work except me, and authors who favour planning would baulk at the size of my ‘rejected chapters’ folder, but this ‘write it and see’ method is the only one that works for me. I’ll wager it’s not a method any ‘writing by numbers’ course would advocate!
So to return to my original point, how exactly can a course teach someone to write a novel? I’ve picked up advice from blogs and discussion forums, and I’ve passed on advice to aspiring authors, but there is no magic formula. There is no ‘Just add water for an instant best-seller’. Actually, I think reading too much advice can be counter productive. How stifled would my writing become were I to put into practice everything I’ve learned from other writers? If you were born to write, you will find your style naturally. If you weren’t, no amount of qualifications will turn you into the next JRR Tolkien, Emily Bronte or Roald Dahl.