OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
I started with writing non-fiction because I needed to change my own life. Writing self-help enabled me to do that.
But then I was freed to write with more honesty. To actually investigate the topics that interested me in a story. I started my first novel, Pentecost, during NaNoWriMo in 2009 and now it has sold over 40,000 copies. My life has been changed even further by my fiction. But I know how hard it is, and so does Ali Luke.
I've known Ali as a fantastic blogger for several years now and I have been so excited to see her independently publish her fascinating novel, Lycopolis. Both of us will tell you that it's well worth pursuing your fictional dream.
I write both fiction and non-fiction, and I can tell you now that the easy money is in non-fiction.
Fiction is hard to do well. With non-fiction, you’ll probably be successful if you just can write clear, simple, direct instructions. With fiction, you need to be able to do far more than string together a sentence.
Fiction is tough to sell. It’s easy to find people who want non-fiction content – companies needing web copy, charities needing brochures or letters, blogs needing regular posts. No-one’s going to commission you to write a novel, unless you’re already well-known.
So why write fiction at all? If it’s hard to do, and unlikely to make you any money in the immediate future, is it even worth bothering?
Yes. Yes, and yes again. Here’s why you should start, carry on with, or finish your novel:
#1: You Enjoy It
Your life probably involves an awful lot of activities that you do because you have to or because you should… like going out at 7am every morning for your day job, or washing the dishes, or refraining from eating three slabs of chocolate cake at a sitting.
But there is nothing wrong with doing something simply because you love it. If you enjoy writing fiction – if it brings you alive, makes you happy, keeps you sane – then that’s a good enough reason. It’s more than good enough. And don’t let anyone convince you that it isn’t.
#2: You’ll Grow as a Writer
It’s much harder to write good fiction than good non-fiction. To make a novel really work, you have to master a whole range of elements, from the big picture of story construction and character arcs to the tiny details of choosing the perfect words for every single sentence.
In the process, you’ll become a better writer. You’ll learn far more than you would if you just churned out easy, mindless non-fiction pieces on topics that you already knew inside out.
#3: You’ll Learn Things You Never Knew About Yourself
You won’t just learn about writing as you go through your novel: you’ll learn about yourself. Fiction is a great way to explore your thoughts, emotions and beliefs. The characters, themes and situations that come up in your work will give you a new take on aspects of your life and yourself.
This one might not always be positive (part-way through writing my novel Lycopolis, I realised that I have rather more in common with my antagonist than I’d like!) – but it can definitely be a great way to get a better handle on who you really are, and who you might want to become.
#4: You Can Reach People in Different Ways
I love writing non-fiction; most of the articles I write are aimed at writers, and it’s always lovely to get a comment or email saying how much a particular piece helped someone. But while a non-fiction piece can be useful or even inspiring, it’s fiction that really has the power to get deep into peoples’ hearts and minds.
I’m sure you can think of novels that have stuck with you for years … perhaps ones that you go back to again and again, when you’re feeling down, or ones that completely changed your outlook on something. Stories and characters have the power to engage our emotions, and by writing a novel, you have the opportunity to engage with your readers in a deep, abiding way.
#5: You Have Control Over Publication Now
In the past, publishing a novel meant either submitting to agents and publishers and hoping for a lucky break, or paying for thousands of printed copies and trying to sell them yourself.
Today, ebooks and print-on-demand have revolutionised the publishing industry. If you can’t find an agent who loves your work enough to represent it, or if you simply don’t want to spend months or years trying to get published, you can get your novel into online stores almost as soon as it’s finished.
Of course, the indie route isn’t for everyone, and traditional publishers are still hugely important. But as a novelist, your options are wide open. If you want to see your novel in the hands of readers, you can write in the confidence that you’ll be able to achieve this.
#6: You’ll Never Know What Could Have Been
If you don’t write your novel – if you let that idea turn to dust, if you leave those first few chapters in a bottom drawer – then you’ll never know what might have been.
Perhaps that novel could have been the first step in a whole new career.
Perhaps it would have been a best-seller.
Perhaps you’d have touched someone on the other side of the world.
Perhaps your novel would still be in print five hundred years from now.
Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, you could look back and see what you’ve achieved as a novelist … or you could look back and wonder what might have been, if only you’d had the courage to keep going.
This week, make time for your novel. Go back to those notes, or those first few chapters. Write the first few brave words, or dive back in where you left off. Make a commitment to finish: you could complete the draft of an 80,000 word novel within a year, writing just over 1,500 words a week.
And if you want some support (or if you want to share your own reasons for writing a novel) then just leave a comment below.
Ali Luke is currently on a virtual book tour for her novel Lycopolis, a fast-paced supernatural thriller centered on a group of online roleplayers who summon a demon into their game … and into the world. Described by readers as “a fast and furious, addictive piece of escapism” and “absolutely gripping”, Lycopolis is available in print and e-book form. Find out more at www.lycopolis.co.uk.
You can also watch an interview with Ali about combining writing fiction and blogging for a living here.
My review of Lycopolis:
I'm not a gamer but I was fascinated by the dual worlds of this novel. I enjoyed the fast paced suspense of the ‘real world' segments of the book but was also interested in how the online gaming part of it worked. I like a supernatural side to my novels and the way the nightmares were enmeshed in the game and the character's real lives was skillfully done.
*What keeps you reading?*
The book opens with the summoning of the demon but it doesn't seem to have any impact. Certainly there's nothing in the real world that changes. But then, page by page, it manifests in different ways even to the physical attack of wolves. You keep reading to find out what happens to the characters, particularly Kay and Edwin, the most sympathetic players. I read this in two sittings so it certainly held my interest!
Image: Flickr CC / Lauren Alyea