Do you have what it takes to become a great fiction writer?
In this article, I want to share some important ideas and steps you can take to become an accomplished novelist for those who are willing to put in the work required to achieve greatness.
Becoming a great fiction writer requires an enormous amount of study and practice. You have to study in order to learn how others have written great stories before you so you can model them, and you have to constantly practice so that you can combine your newfound knowledge with experience.
Write Better Fiction
Anyone can write a story. Young children often write stories before they are ten years old, long before they ever master the many rules and nuances of English usage, grammar, syntax and spelling.
Many adults write stories, too, but few of these stories ever turn into a published book.
Less than 1% of fiction writers ever get a traditional book publishing deal.
Why do so many fiction writers fail to get published after spending months or even years to write a book?
There are many reasons human beings fail to achieve big goals in any area of life.
Why Writers Fail
Here are some of the most common reasons why writers fail to become great novelists:
- They give up when things get tough (and things always get tough at some point in life).
- They get discouraged by rejections (the road to success in publishing is paved with a lot of rejection).
- They are afraid of what others think of them, and this fear stops them from being truly creative and expressing their own voice and ideas freely in their writing (great writers all share one thing in common—they stop caring what others think of them at some point, even if only for a few hours while writing their book).
- They think they know how to be a great writer already, and so they don’t listen to criticism or try to improve (meaning they keep making the same writing mistakes over and over again).
- They are afraid of making mistakes when instead they should be focused on learning and improving when they make mistakes.
- They are motivated by external goals instead of an internal calling (if you “have to” earn $5,000 a month as a writer and fail to hit your goal, you will give up, whereas a writer who sees writing as their mission and life purpose will keep writing consistently even after they earn billions of dollars like J.K. Rowling).
- They have bad habits and fail to implement good writing habits (their most precious time is squandered on tasks that don’t help them achieve their goals and won’t produce long-term results).
- They fail to think long-term and so they waste their time chasing short-term dollars and “easy money” instead of creating work that has long-term value.
- They fail to set meaningful goals (instead of focusing on earning a certain amount of money, you should focus on creating something that matters and makes a meaningful impact in a way that is important to you and your values).
- They fail to seek help and advice from others who have come before them, and so they miss out on the most important lessons and ideas from leaders in their field.
How to Write Fiction Successfully
Writing great fiction requires far more hard work and effort than most writers are willing to put in.
If you really want to become a successful fiction writer, you have to take an honest look at yourself and decide if you are willing to truly commit your life to it. If you’re not willing to treat your fiction writing as a life calling and serious long-term business venture, then you should expect to get the same results you would from any other hobby – a little bit of fun and fulfillment, but not a lot of income or fame.
You have to ask yourself a simple question:
Do you really want to write a great book, or are you just trying to get a book published without putting in the effort required to make it as good as it could be?
You might think you are dedicated, committed and hard-working, but how much effort have you actually put into writing your book?
Have you plotted the entire novel or series?
Do you have a written timeline and storyboards for your story?
Do you really understand each of the characters in your story and what their motivations, strengths and weaknesses are?
Have you edited your book at least 50 times by yourself after the first draft was finished?
After you edited your book at least 50 times, have you gone through further rounds of editing by hiring a professional developmental editor, a professional copyeditor and a professional proofreader?
Professional writers who already have several published bestselling novels do all or most of the above. They don’t take shortcuts or expect instant results without putting in the work.
If you’re a first-time author with no experience writing fiction, you’re going to have to work really hard to compete. Harder than you have ever worked in your life.
Here’s what you should do if you’re serious about becoming a great fiction writer…
Keep a Journal
Buy a journal or notebook specifically for taking notes on the craft and business of writing. When you listen to an interview with a bestselling author, read a great book, learn something about writing from a reader or from any other source, jot it down in your writing journal.
Keep a record of all the great ideas you come across. As your writing journal grows so will your writing skills.
Once you have your journal ready, it’s time to start studying.
Let’s begin with reading…
Study these Books on Writing Fiction
Plotting and planning your novel is a crucial step that far too many authors skip. Developing a great system for plotting your book can save you literally thousands of hours by stopping you from writing scenes or even entire books that don’t make sense.
As least half of the novels submitted to TCK Publishing suffer from a fatal flaw – the complete lack of proper plotting and planning. The author wasted time and pages writing scenes that don’t move the story forward and don’t create a compelling story. No amount of copy editing or proofreading can fix such a book. Instead, you must rewrite most of the book which can often be more difficult than just writing a new, properly plotted book.
Every story has the potential for greatness – what really matters is how you write the story you wish to tell, not the story itself. Plotting is how you structure a great story and ensure that only scenes that are important to the story are left in, and every unnecessary scene is excluded.
Don’t let this short, simple, affordable book 2k to 10k by Fantasy author Rachel Aaron fool you. It is hands-down the best book on writing I have ever read. Although the book is written specifically for fiction writers, I have found Rachel’s system for plotting and planning to be incredibly helpful for writing absolutely anything – from fiction to non-fiction books and even important emails and documents.
The promise of 2k to 10k is that it will help you dramatically increase your daily word count (from 2,000 words per day to 10,000 words per day for the author). It certainly delivers on its promise for any serious writer who applies its lessons, but it can also help you become a better writer, not just a faster writer. And that is just as important, if not even more important.
Written by Jacques Barzon, Simple and Direct is a classic book with a simple message: good writing should be clear, simple and direct. Too many writers hide behind big words, fancy prose and unnecessary tricks instead of simply writing to communicate ideas.
There is a myth going around that great writers must be able to write beautiful language, and that each sentence must be a work of art. Simple and Direct will destroy any wishful thinking that such a belief will make you a great writer. Instead, communicating as clearly as you can in your writing is what will make you great. Instead of aiming to write a masterpiece of prose, most writers should simply focus on writing to communicate.
When a reader gets confused because they can’t understand what you are trying to communicate, you’ve lost that reader, and they will probably never come back.
Stephen King is one of the most famous writers alive today, and for good reason. He knows how to write a good story well. This unique book is part memoir, part advice to the up-and-coming writers of our generation. You have to dig a bit, but there is a whole lot of good advice and wisdom in On Writing for those who are willing to find it and take heed.
Some of my favorite parts of the book are when King selects samples of writing that he calls “good” and “bad” and explains what makes some writing bad and how to fix it. The book is full of great stories from King’s life. One thing is for sure – you will feel different about being an author after reading On Writing. Whether it helps turn you into a better writer or not is up to you.
I highly recommend taking notes in your writing journal while you read this book.
Author Scott Belsky shares some profound lessons and actionable steps you can take to become more creative and actually turn your ideas into a reality. There are many creative people out there who come up with countless good ideas. But good ideas are worthless if you don’t turn them into reality through action.
Making Ideas Happen shows you how to take your good ideas and make them real by getting organized, collaborating with other great minds and becoming a leader. If you’ve ever felt like you have a lot of good ideas but never know what to do with them, this book will change your life and turn you from a “frustrated creative” to a productive author, artist and entrepreneur.
It’s not enough to just have good ideas. You have to learn how to become a great implementer of good ideas.
The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler is based on the work by Joseph Campbell on the hero’s journey. The Writers Journey is more readable and more detailed than any other work I’ve found on the hero’s journey.
It provides a clear picture and insight into the fundamental framework of all great stories. It is a classic guidebook for any writer looking to tell a better story, or any human looking to better understand why and how stories are so fundamental to humanity.
This is the densest and longest book on writing in this list, but it’s worth the effort to read it from beginning to end. Take your time with The Writers Journey and fill your writing journal with the big ideas that catch your interest.
This little collection of essays on writing should be required reading in schools and businesses across the world. You’ll learn the importance of brevity and clarity in writing, and how to communicate your ideas without wasting a single word.
On Writing Well was written for non-fiction writers, but it should be required reading fiction and non-fiction writers alike.
Interviews Every Novelist Should Listen To
Steve Berry has sold more than 19 million novels. He edits each of his books a minimum of 70 times before another human being ever sees the manuscript. That might sound crazy. Maybe you think he’s a perfectionist. But that’s what it takes to do great work – a commitment to yourself to put in more effort than anyone else would ever ask of you.
Listen to the interview with Steve Berry on why he edits his books 70+ times. Take notes. Then get back to editing your book.
You can listen to 100+ free interviews with bestselling authors on the Publishing Profits Podcast show here or on iTunes here. If you are going to become a professional writer, you ought to be constantly studying your craft and learning from other successful writers.
Get Free Fiction Editing from Tethered by Letters
Tethered by Letters is a non-profit run by some pretty awesome writers. They have a free editing service where they will edit a short story up to 6,000 words in length for free, and their editors are top notch.
You can learn more about the free editing program here.
I highly recommend submitting some of your work to the free editing program. One of the fastest ways to learn how to become a better writer is by working with a great editor who can help point out your weaknesses.
Even if you’re a broke writer, you can still get an editor and learn how to improve your craft with this free editing program.
Read Your Readers
It’s shocking how few authors actually read what their readers have to say. Your readers are telling you EXACTLY what they want and EXACTLY what they don’t want every single day on Amazon when they post reviews on the site.
By reading both positive and negative reviews from the top books in your market or genre, you can find out exactly what your readers want. They’ll tell you the characters, scenes and plots they enjoy, and they ones they hate.
There’s a wealth of wisdom sitting in Amazon reviews in your market. Sure, you have to do a little bit of digging to find it, but no one ever said becoming a great writer was easy.
If you want to be a great writer, take the time to learn from your readers. Take notes as you read the positive and negative reviews of the top books in your market, paying extra attention to recurring types of criticism or praise.
Ask for Help
Finally, once you’ve put in all that work, it’s time to ask for help.
Problems, challenges and obstacles come up for all of us constantly. If you can’t find the solution to your problems and challenges in the books, interviews and ideas above, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to get you the information you need to succeed as a fiction writer.
Here’s to your success,
#1 Bestselling author of Secrets of the Six-Figure Author and Founder of TCK Publishing
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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.