‘How to a Write a Novel’ and What it Did for Me

Posted By Ashley Stokes

‘Comprehensive, Instructive and most of all, Enjoyable’

Jacqueline Harmon talks about How to Write a Novel Online 

I’ll admit that I was in two minds about taking the course and that’s typical of me, I’m very good at talking myself out of things. It’s a confidence thing, of course; the ever present fear of being shot down in flames. However, I knew I’d reached the point where I had to either step up or give up and, after receiving an encouraging response from Stephen Carver (how nice to be able to contact the tutor for advice before the course), I took a deep breath and booked myself in.

Right from the start it was clear that I’d made the right decision. I found the course to be comprehensive, instructive and most of all, enjoyable. Steve’s level of commitment can’t be faulted and the feedback I received, both from him and fellow students, was invaluable. Divided into four modules, the tutorials covered everything from concept and planning to publication and marketing, the latter being something I knew nothing about.

The exercises were challenging and forced me to really think about what I was doing and why but, at no point, did I ever feel overwhelmed. In fact, I felt excited by the prospect of what I was learning and looked forward to our twice-weekly discussions.

In terms of what I’ve personally achieved over the three months, first and foremost I’ve made significant progress on my novel. It now has all the required parts, in one form or another, including both a title and an ending. I’ve also discovered a whole new writing strategy, one that really works for me and has already resulted in less stress over the story arc and more words on the page. The benefits of character biographies, story maps of scenes and events, and the creation of a flexible outline plan have been a revelation too.

One really major change came after I tackled the group of exercises that involved experimenting with different narrative points of view. Doing these provided me with a raft of new ideas and led to my switching from third person limited to first person. It turned out that, not only am I much happier writing from that point of view, bu tit gave my main character a much more recognisable voice. This change alone pushed my novel forward and gave me some much needed motivation.

As a perfectionist I also finally accepted that a cringe-worthy first draft is exactly that: a first draft. Not something that needs to be agonised over but something that needs to be worked on and polished over time. As Robert Cormier put it, ‘The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.’

As for the lack of confidence, well, I’ll still worry about getting it right but the difference now will be that I won’t let the worrying stop me writing.