Five Rules for Writing Novels--during a year of Covid
Updated: Apr 27
There have been over sixty blogs since the inception of this website about a year ago--most of them about writing (why, when, where, how, and what), the detail of which may not be of much interest to some (any?) of you. But that year has taken a first draft of my novel all the way to publication, and though that year truncated (even ended) the lives of many, it allowed me and like-minded others more time to do their thing (or procrastinate).
The published novel is titled Baby Doe, described by Joan Leegant, author of Wherever You Go and An Hour in Paradise as “An unsparing look at what happens when emotion, ethics, and, above all, medical fallibility converge to determine a fragile newborn’s fate. Taeusch writes with the authority of an insider deeply knowledgeable in matters both clinical and of the heart.”
And you can consider whether to buy the ebook or paperback HERE, or at any other place books are sold.
Now then. A summary of what I've learned, relearned, or think important to continue to learn from my writing experience over the past year
1. The old adage to become Sir, or Madame, Readalot is valid because it sensitizes one's ear to literary taste. That sounds pompous along with dated appellations, but just means one internalizes a sense for what's well-written and what isn't. Well-written doesn't just mean grammatically correct. It also means all sorts of things: dramatic, clever, graceful, wise, understanding, insightful, concise, unique, knowledgeable, etc. etc. etc. Hard to define, but you feel it when you read it. For example, read John Updike, Téa Obreht, Martin Amis, or Michael Chabon and you will find what good writing can be. Or you can listen to the syntax of Reddington on Blacklist (Netflix)--distinctive.
Also read some bad writing so you can readily tell the difference. Unfortunately, self-published stuff contains a lot of it among some excellent books. Why? Several reasons. It may be unfiltered. Too often stuff is published without input from editors, proof-readers agents, publishers, friends, reading groups. teachers, and beta readers, We all suffer from the malady of premature submission. Don't do it.
2. Learn the craft. If you want to learn how to build a table, you can find books on how to do it. Same with writing. They're buckets of books and websites on structure, tools, courses, master-classes, style, theme, voice, plot, characterization, clarity, pacing, and more. See the post named, Books on Writing for a list of some. Take lessons on line. Get an MFA in creative writing, Learn from experts. Soon I hope we can meet in person with book groups. Don't get overwhelmed. Learn writing the way you'd learn to play the violin, learn a language, fix an engine, or cook something besides a fried egg.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Become Steph Curry. Most folks think it's best to start with short stories.
4. Have a writing buddy, preferably one with greater writing chops than your own. (I'm lucky that way).
5. Read the whole aloud.
Ekphrastic and other take-homes on writing e.g., fiction, novels, when all the above is under your belt:
Neil Gaiman says "There are no rules other than tell a great story and tell it as best you can."
Elmore Leonard says (too nicely). "Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip,"
To which Strunk and White say, "Omit unnecessary words."
Rachel Kushner would say, Work it till it sounds like a well-tuned engine.
Haruki Murakami says that music is his writing teacher.
Yogi Berra says, "You can observe a lot by just watching," and "Bill Dickey is learning me his experience."
Seiji Ozawa says "A musical ear means having control over the consonants and the vowels. When the instruments of the orchestra talk to each other, the consonants don't come out.
When asked how he knew when a poem of his was finished, Robert Pinsky said, "You run your voice over it, as you run your hand over something you are sandpapering."