3 Hard Truths I’ve Learned about Novel Writing

Anyone who’s written a novel—or attempted one—can attest to the level of difficulty involved.

Some of you are presently in the throes of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You’re racing the clock trying to complete a novel in one month. And that’s a fun and challenging thing to do.

But here’s my question for you: Why are you doing this? Is it just to see if you can throw together something that looks like a novel so you can feel a sense of accomplishment? And don’t get me wrong—I don’t belittle this at all. It takes real strong stick-to-itiveness (yes, that’s a word!) and a big jar of butt glue to stick you in that chair and write a whole lot of words.

If you get to the finish line, you should be proud!

But that’s just one small aspect of what’s involved with being a novelist. In other words, you may have proved to yourself you can be disciplined and can get the writing done.

But just as with someone spending hours throwing random ingredients into pans and cooking up concoctions, that doesn’t mean the results will be palatable.

In fact, the whole “write fast and hard” to become a successful novelist mentality is really off track. Far from the hard truths that novelists need to face.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned after thirty years of writing (17) novels. Just three hard truths that I hope you’ll consider. Because you can write a hundred novels and do NaNoWriMo every year and get no closer to your dream (if it is your dream) to become a successful novelist.

And by “successful,” I don’t mean making tons of money off your books. Yes, that is a great bonus if you can get there. But there are a lot—and I mean a lot!—of terrific novelists that never make a dime off their novels. A lot of that is luck, great marketing, connections, great timing. So many factors impact monetary success.

But if you are like most writers who love to write stories, you want to have a writing career. You don’t want to say “I have a book inside me.” You want to say “I have a writer inside me.”

So when I talk about being a successful novelist, I want to home in on this aspect of success: the ability to craft a terrific story, every time. Whether you sell that novel or just write it for yourself or family or friends, that novel is a success if it’s a wonderfully crafted story, structured with solid characters, based on a fantastic premise, and showcasing beautiful, impacting writing.

Not a Walk in the Park

Here’s the thing . . .

Whether your goal is to get traditionally published or to self-publish, to write for yourself or for millions of readers, there are some very important things you need to understand.

I’ve learned a lot in three decades pursuing a writing career. To be more specific—a career as a best-selling novelist. I’ve also interviewed and grilled dozens of best-selling authors to know how they “made it.”

While there is always the exception to the rule, what I’ve found is there are some key things these best-selling novelists share in common.

They are the things that I also follow and believe have helped me see success with my books.

I’m not talking about genre or writing style, though those things are important too (and if you haven’t taken my Targeting Genre course or my FREE Amazon success course, think about taking them!)

Some of these things are hard. And I’m guessing you may not want to hear them. But I’m going to go there, with you. And that’s because I’ve heard from many of you that you are struggling.

Struggling to finish that novel. Struggling to get readers and reviews. Struggling to stop procrastinating. Struggling to have the career you long for. To make a good living from your writing.

I’ll say this: becoming a success as a novelist is not a walk in the park. It’s not the kind of thing you do “when you feel like it.”

It’s hard work—like anything valuable worth doing.

3 Hard Truths

While there are plenty of “hard truths” about a novel-writing career, here are three main ones I want to point out.

  1. You have to write—regularly. Whether you write all the time, anytime, or you carve out ten minutes here and there, success is 95% attitude and discipline. Some of the most successful authors I know have little time to write their novels (like me!) So, while it’s easy to make excuses for why you aren’t a success or why you just can’t finish your novel or why you are giving up, if you really, really want to be a novelist and be successful, you are gonna have to dig in.
  2. You need to learn to write fast and write well. You may not want to hear this. But the truth is, if you want to be successful in the monetary sense, you need to put out a lot of books. Two or three a year, every year. Your fans expect it. And you can’t build a brand unless you get momentum going and keep the books coming out. This is a hard one for most wannabe novelists. They keep messing with their first or third novel—for months or years. You need to learn to write fast, write well, and pump great books out. I know some of you don’t want to hear this.
  3. You need to find a niche genre that sells and target that audience. Too many novelists buck this. They don’t want to take the time to find the perfect genre, study how to market to that audience, how to tailor their books to reach that audience. Flat-out, you are going to really struggle with success if you don’t do your homework. That’s why I put together my Targeting Genre for Big Sales online course and why I offer a FREE email course on how to succeed on Amazon.

I’ve seen hundreds of authors flounder, year after year, because they are ignoring these three hard truths. I’m working tirelessly to help authors, to give them—you—every thing needed to reach that pinnacle of success.

And in addition to the hundreds of blog posts I’ve put up here on this site (free content!) on writing a great book and writing for life, I’ve created courses and written craft books and send out bimonthly newsletter blasts—all to help you!

And now I’m adding yet another facet to all this to help you even further.

I just formed a special newsletter group for novelists—the Novel Writing Fast Track!

I want to tell you why I’m excited and why I think you should be too. I’m going to do 2 things:

1) Share with you the keys to a successful novel-writing career (details, details!) and
2) Push you to commit. To setting goals and deadlines and letting me hold you accountable.

Sometimes we need 2 things:

1) a kick in the pants
2) and that kick to push us in exactly the direction we need to go (because we tend to wander lost)

Are you willing to take up the challenge and really grasp that career?

Then join the group! You’ll get some extra emails each month aimed at helping you reach that pinnacle. And tell your friends!

This is a high-focus group, and I believe it’s going to be a lot of fun and take you far.

Here’s a bit about this group:

  • Free books! Yes, in fact, when you join, you’ll get sent your first email with links to download Writing the Heart of Your Story, the first book in my Writer’s Toolbox series.
  • Other free stuff! Like great PDFs of handouts, worksheets, and tips by me and other great writing instructors.
  • More free stuff! Like personal insights and advice, free entrance into cool courses, and the like.
  • Personal feedback on concerns and questions that I’ll share with the group and respond to. Think of this like a forum, in a way. I want to know what you’re presently struggling with in your WIP, and I’ll talk about it.
  • Monthly contests and giveaways. Yep, I love giving stuff away. Each month I’ll give away some copies of great writing craft books (not necessarily my own), so by being a member of this group, you’ll have chances to win stuff.
  • You don’t have to do anything. I might ask for your opinion on something, or see if you’d be willing to read and post a review of a book, but hey, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.

Heart_of_Your_Story_ebook coverYou can quit the group anytime you like.

There’s always an “update profile” link button at the bottom of every email blast. So just like unsubscribing, you can click on the link and just deselect the group anytime you want out. Or if you hate dealing with stuff like that, just reply back to one of the emails and ask me to take you off the group list. Okay?

And right off the bat, I’m giving you a free copy of Writing the Heart of Your Story.

How to join?

CLICK ON THIS LINK to sign up for my mailing list. You’ll be added to my general list but also the Novel Writing Fast Track group!

If you’re already on my mailing list, you’ve been sent emails and links to be added to this group. If you’re not getting your emails, sign up again. Don’t miss out.

Get in the group and get your first free ebook today! I’m all about seeing you find success in your novel-writing endeavors!

Yes, writing novels is hard, but if you face even just these three hard truths and master their challenges, you will be well on your way to success!

What are your thoughts on these 3 hard truths? Have you learned them? Which one do you particularly struggle with?

9 Responses to “3 Hard Truths I’ve Learned about Novel Writing”

  1. Kelly November 23, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    I’m learning these truths are not as bad as I thought. Maybe I’m just ready to hear and do them? Whatever the reason, I’m excited for the journey!

  2. Fae November 23, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    These aren’t hard truths. They are common sense. I still haven’t figured out why writing 50k in a month is considered hard work, it’s less then 2k per day. I can write that in an hour. I realize this isn’t the case for most people. I even freely admit that just because I can does not mean I do.

    As for the truths, I practice the first two religiously, the third one not so much. I know it, but I don’t particularly care. I write the stories I want to read, they are their own niche.

    Fae

    • cslakin November 23, 2016 at 11:43 am #

      Hi Fae, I imagine your comment will make many bristle. A lot of people can’t write that fast. Maybe you’re super talented or have honed your craft so that you can write that fast. But for most, writing 2k words a day is hard work. I write fast and publish sometimes 5 books a year, and getting a good 2k words down on a page in a day is hard work. Because it’s not just about writing fast; it’s about writing well, good quality stuff. And as I said, if a writer wants a successful career, he or she has to pay attention to genre. Many can gush out thousands of words a day, but that doesn’t mean the results will be worth reading or will sell well to a particular reader looking for a novel to read. It’s fine to ignore my third “rule” if, like you, don’t care if anyone reads your work. But for those who do want readers, they need to pay attention to targeting genre.

  3. Chris Henderson November 23, 2016 at 11:54 am #

    I have no problems sitting & writing daily. I make that commitment. My current frustration is waiting for a response from agents and publishers – especially those I’ve met at conferences. I’d love some tips on how to get responses.

    • cslakin November 23, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

      Waiting on agents is frustrating. I had six agents over thirty year. One took a year from saying yes to actually signing me. I thought I would smash my head against a wall. She later told me she was testing me to see how professional I would be. Sheesh. Though she was a top-listed agent, she hardly did a thing for me. Actually not one of my agents sold any of my novels, and the nine novels I sold to three traditional publishers I got by pitching at conferences directly to the publishers (well, the third I actually met via Twitter, and she offered to represent me via Twitter). That said, if you are set on getting traditionally published since almost every author friend I have also got their agent or publishing contract by pitching at a conference, I would suggest you focus on attending big conferences that have pitching sessions and/or have a number of agents or acquisitions editors there that are ones you’d like to pitch to. Otherwise, figure it can take up to five years for an author with a terrific novel to get an offer (after a lot of effort), and then it can take years or forever (like, never) to get that manuscript sold. That’s why so many of us authors are now self-publishing, either exclusively or as hybrids. It’s so nice to finish a book, put it up for sale, and start selling within an hour!

  4. Mawr Gorshin November 27, 2016 at 2:14 am #

    I always have to struggle against the laziness of not writing constantly, especially writing fast and getting lots of content out in short periods of time. But targeting genre is also hard…I want my genre to be erotic horror, a combination of the sexy with the scary; I’m sure there must be an audience out there for it, but I don’t know how to link up with them.

  5. C.L. Cahrleswith December 7, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    Writing daily is a challenge when you work a 9 to 5. I get up at 4am! Thanks for posting this. I always find your blog helpful. I will make an effort to hit a writer’s conference in 2017 as well.

  6. Matt January 29, 2018 at 3:09 pm #

    Great article and I’m excited to have found your site. Question: do you have resources for helping people learn to write and produce fast?

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