3. How do I know if what I’m writing is really bad?

Well … you don’t. Because the first thing you have to ask is “Bad according to whom?” I encourage you to pick up ten books from either the New York Times bestseller list or from the “ten best books” list of anyone you respect. Unless you respect that someone so much as to subordinate your taste to theirs, I guarantee you’ll disagree with at least five of the book choices, and in fact you’ll consider one of them fit only to line bird cages (which is hard to do with Kindle books).

So when I lay out the best methods for writing a novel, and tell you how we should be trying to get better at this or that, what do I mean, exactly?

It’s hard to explain, but part of it is doing it better to your taste. If your dialogue sucks on ice, according to yourself, I can tell you how to improve it. If you can’t pin down a historical time period, I can pinpoint the best research shortcuts (most of the time).

The other part of it is doing it more like the style/ideas of someone you admire. If there’s a writer you really like, you can be looking to make your material more like his or hers. (Isn’t that plagiarism? No. No human being alive writes that much like another human being. Not even Spider Robinson’s conscious imitation of Heinlein classifies as plagiarism.) This involves studying the author, and we’ll cover this too, as we go through the thirteen weeks. If there’s a critic whose opinions you respect, you can try to fit more closely with what they consider good.

Still, there is no absolute good when it comes to art, and therefore no absolute direction. Each of us has one, and the best I can do is help you pinpoint it.

What about NANOWRIMO? How come they write novels in a month?

It’s obviously sheer madness to write novels in a month. All the best people write them in 13 weeks.

On the other hand, if you think you can be that fast, then feel free to write three novels.

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* Comments about it being madness to write a novel in four weeks are obviously tongue-in-cheek, and not intended to be taken seriously. That said, I do borrow a lot of their hints on “how to get unstuck” — notably, “take a lot of showers.” More on that later.

images courtesy shutterstock / Dudarev Mikhail / kubais /  auremar / Lana K