Fiction Writing Made Easy

#125: Novel Writing Pitfalls: Don't Make These 5 Mistakes

January 16, 2024 Savannah Gilbo Episode 125
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#125: Novel Writing Pitfalls: Don't Make These 5 Mistakes
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“ The purpose of a first draft is not to come up with something that's perfect. Instead, the purpose is to explore your story and get it out of your head.” - Savannah Gilbo

Transform your writing as I reveal 5 all-too-common mistakes that plague writers. Learn the savvy strategies to sidestep these blunders and discover my top-notch tips for rectifying them if you've already fallen prey.

Read the blog post here!

Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[01:20] Having gratitude for every mistake encountered and acknowledging that they served as valuable lessons. The repetition of these errors helped Savannah develop numerous solutions, contributing to her growth as a writer, editor, and book coach

[05:38] The essence of a story lies in how external events impact someone striving for a challenging goal and the subsequent transformation they undergo. The narrative's power lies in the underlying story, not just the eloquence of words. Without a compelling story, the manuscript lacks substance.

[11:07] Common worries and self-doubt faced by writers often revolve around questioning one's capability and self-worth. Shift to tackling these concerns by identifying the content genre of the story, offering a pathway to navigate and overcome these common anxieties in writing.

[17:53] Advice to choose one or two writing methods that resonate with writers and focus on them. Whether it's scene structure or character development, selecting a preferred approach like scene and sequel or goal-motivation-conflict is encouraged.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Want to write a novel but not sure where to start? Click here to grab a FREE copy of my Story Starter Kit workbook that'll help you get clarity on your characters, setting, theme, plot, and so much more!

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Speaker 1:

The purpose of a first draft is not to come up with something that's perfect. Instead, the purpose is to explore your story and get it out of your head. So you're kind of telling yourself the story and just exploring all the different facets of what you could put in your story. And even if you do all kinds of planning and outlining before writing your first draft, it's still never going to be perfect. Okay, I want you to trust me on this. I've seen this over and over again firsthand and I've seen people write you know really incredible first drafts too, but they're still not perfect.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the fiction writing made easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming. So each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started.

Speaker 1:

In today's episode, I'm going to share the five most common mistakes I see writers make, as well as how you can avoid them. I've been an editor and a book coach for quite some time now and I've seen a lot over the years. I've also made my own fair share of mistakes in my own writing practice as well, but for every mistake I am grateful which I know sounds weird, but truly I am grateful. Yes, many of them stung, but I'm grateful because they helped me become a better writer and a better editor and book coach. The other good thing about seeing so many of the same mistakes over and over whether I'm making them or I'm witnessing other writers make them is that I've had to figure out a whole lot of solutions for dealing with these, a whole lot of solutions for these mistakes too. So that's what I'm sharing today the top five little known mistakes I see writers make, but, more importantly, how to overcome and avoid them.

Speaker 1:

So my goal with today's episode is to help you sidestep these mistakes, to literally never make them part of your journey, because, believe me, there are other mistakes you're going to make that I won't have thought of. They're coming right. We're writers. That's how we learn. We experiment, we make mistakes, we crash and burn and then we get back up. That's just part of the process.

Speaker 1:

Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that you'll never make mistakes, but I can do my best to help you avoid the most costly ones, and that in itself can help you fast track your way to finishing your novel. That's what I want for you more than anything, and I also want you to feel confident and excited about your writing journey, and that's hopefully where we're going to get you today. So those of you who are brand new to writing that are hoping one day to hold your finished book in your hands, this is for you, but it's also for you if you've already written a novel, published or not, and maybe you've struggled on the way, or it's something that you thought you'd see bigger success with and you haven't yet, and maybe I can help you start to understand what you can do differently. I want you to be able to identify these challenges and then boom, sidestep them, without dealing with the headaches and stress that come from making these mistakes in the first place and I will let you know up front. There is a lot in this episode, so I highly recommend that you get ready to take some notes or maybe revisit this episode you know, listen to it twice. If that helps you, download it into your brain, or maybe listen to it twice. You know, maybe on your next walk around the block or your next work out, take this episode along so it can really penetrate your brain and make a difference when you start writing your book or when you start revising any of those messy drafts that you have tucked away in your desk drawers. At the end of this episode, I'm going to recap what I taught you and what the action steps are that you should take. So get excited because, like I said, this is a jam-packed episode with some of my favorite stuff that I really love teaching. So, with all of that being said, let's go ahead and dive in.

Speaker 1:

Mistake number one is believing that you have to write the most beautiful prose in order to write a story that works and that holds the reader's attention, and this is a mistake, because it's just not true. A lot of writers will spend a ton of time agonizing over their sentences or their word choices and then, when it comes time to get feedback on their story whether they're working with beta readers or editors or querying publishers they either get a bunch of rejections or they get pages and pages of feedback that basically say this story doesn't work. So to talk about how to overcome this mistake or how to not make this mistake in your own writing, we have to back up and say why do we fall prey to this myth that writing elegant prose is what it takes to be a quote-unquote real writer? And I think this is because most of what we see are published novels that have gone through multiple rounds of editing and multiple rewrites to end up in that final state that we, as readers, read. So we read a published novel and then we set out to write a novel that looks just like the one we read. Right, and there's nothing wrong with setting out to do this. It actually makes a ton of sense when you think about it. It's a worthwhile goal, for sure, to want to write a novel full of beautiful prose, but there is a time and place to worry about that, and that time comes after you've already written a solid story. So one of the things that we can do to start combating this mistake, or to avoid making this mistake, is to understand what a story really is, and if you look up what is a story on Google, there are so many different answers and unfortunately, not many of them actually help you take your ideas and turn them into a story that works. So the definition that I like is kind of a combination of a lot of different definitions and methods out there, but it's this and if you're taking notes, this is definitely something you'll want to write down. So here's the definition for you.

Speaker 1:

A story is about how what happens externally affects someone who's in pursuit of a difficult goal and how he or she changes as a result. Okay, I'm going to read that one more time because it's so, so important. A story is about how what happens externally affects someone who's in pursuit of a difficult goal and how they change as a result. So, in other words, if you don't have a story underneath all of the beautiful words and sentences that you come up with, your manuscript is going to be empty and devoid of meaning. The story underneath the beautiful words and sentences is what actually pulls readers in and make them feel something.

Speaker 1:

Think about your own reading experience for a second. If you're anything like me or most readers, you like to follow the protagonist's journey and watch their inner struggle as they navigate those external plot events, so all the conflict that comes up as they try to pursue their goal. We also like to see how a character will change or fail to change in pursuit of their goals. And despite all of this conflict, as readers, this is what makes us care and it's what makes us feel invested in a story. So what this means for you is that you have to give yourself permission to write a draft that isn't full of pretty words, at least not in the beginning. Instead, you have to focus on crafting a compelling story first and then worry about making the words sound pretty later. So focus on crafting a compelling story and then, once you've had some outside feedback from beta readers or editors or whoever, then you can worry about making the words. Then you can worry about making the words sound pretty Okay. So that's mistake number one believing that you have to write the most beautiful prose in order to write a story that works and that holds the reader's attention.

Speaker 1:

Mistake number two is believing that you can write a perfect first draft if you just do a little more research, planning or outlining before you write. And this is such a big mistake because it's never, ever going to be possible to write a perfect first draft, and I think this belief is what's responsible for so many unfinished drafts. A lot of writers expect to produce a first draft that's perfect or, at the very least, one that's really really good, and then, when it's not perfect or really really good, they get frustrated and disappointed and they might even give up on their writing altogether. And unfortunately, this is a belief and a standard that a lot of writers have adopted to their own detriment. We've probably seen some version of the statistic floating around the internet that says 97% of people who set out to write a book never finished writing it. And if this is the reason why so many novels go unfinished, can you imagine all the potentially wonderful stories that we readers are missing out on just because of this one little mindset issue? Right, that's a lot of stories that we're missing out on. It's a lot of stories that never get written.

Speaker 1:

So I want to zoom out for a second and talk about the purpose of a first draft, because the purpose of a first draft is not to come up with something that's perfect. Instead, the purpose is to explore your story and get it out of your head. So you're kind of telling yourself the story and just exploring all the different facets of what you could put in your story, and even if you do all kinds of planning and outlining before writing your first draft. It's still never going to be perfect, okay, I want you to trust me on this. I've seen this over and over again firsthand and I've seen people write, you know, really incredible first drafts too, but they're still not perfect. So they still need some tweaks or some rewriting or smoothing out. In other words, they still need to revise that you know pretty good draft and write a second draft, okay.

Speaker 1:

So this is why I like to call the first draft of a story a discovery draft. You might have heard this term before. It's not something that I invented, but to me it's the perfect way to describe what you're setting out to do when you write that first draft. So I want to encourage you to think about what you're doing as discovering a novel rather than writing one. I want you to think about the whole process as letting a story unfold rather than telling a story. You know, just those little shifts in how we're talking about what we're doing can alleviate some of the pressure. So you know, give it a try and see how that feels.

Speaker 1:

But most of all, I want you to be okay with writing a messy first draft. I know that's easier said than done, but the truth is, we all have to start somewhere. We all start with a messy first draft, whether that's an outline form or in the form of 80,000 words. Okay, we all start somewhere. So that's mistake number two believing that you can write a perfect first draft if you just do a little more research, planning or outlining before you write. Mistake number three is believing that you need to have a rock solid, completely original story idea before you start writing, or thinking that you need to have everything figured out before you start writing, and this is such a mistake. So I really don't want you to go down this road.

Speaker 1:

Okay, I've worked with a lot of writers who have gone on to publish their novels and be successful, and not one of them ever had things 100% figured out before they started writing. So not one of them felt totally confident in their idea or knew everything there was to know about their story before they started writing. On some level, there's always that thought in our head that's like oh my gosh, is this idea even going to work? Am I really going to be able to turn it into a full-length story that people will actually want to read? And if I do, what? If it's terrible, right, we all have these worries and they're all very normal feelings to have, especially when you're just starting out. Okay, but here's the thing I want to call your attention to what's below these questions of what if I write a story that's terrible, am I even going to be able to do it? Is this idea going to even work out? What's below these questions is most likely a thought of am I even good enough to write a book? So, in other words, it's probably not really your idea, and whether it's unique enough or whether you have everything figured out, that's kind of stopping you from making progress. It's probably these thoughts of am I good enough to write a book? Am I capable, am I smart enough? You know it's these thoughts that are more than likely rooted in self-doubt and again, this is a judgment-free zone on this podcast. I want you to know these are very normal feelings to have. So if this is resonating, just know that it's very, very common.

Speaker 1:

Now let's talk about what to do when you have an idea for a story, and really it all comes back to identifying your story's content genre. I have a whole episode where I talk about content genres. It's episode number two, which I will link to in the show notes if you want to go back and listen to that. But essentially it boils down to once you identify your story's main content genre, you have a framework to work within. So your genre can help you flesh out your idea and identify what's missing. So each content genre is kind of like a blueprint that writers can use to inform their drafts and to craft a story that works.

Speaker 1:

That's why I like to start with genre, because if you can identify your content genre upfront, you're going to immediately be able to get a sense of things like what your protagonist wants and needs, what your protagonist stands to lose or gain, the key scenes and conventions you need to include to satisfy readers, the emotions that those readers are going to expect to feel or experience as they read your book, and what theme or topic your story is exploring. And that's a lot of important stuff, right? The cool thing is that, no matter what you know about your story at the beginning, once you know your story's main content genre, you can really start to fill in the gaps of things that you don't know and build out the key components you're going to need to write a full length novel. So, instead of worrying about having a rock solid, completely original idea before you start writing. I want you to know that most people don't have that. Okay, so you're not behind in the process because yours isn't fully figured out.

Speaker 1:

A lot of the writers that go on to you know finish their drafts and publish their books. They don't let the fact that their story idea might not be fully formed stop them. They keep going, they dig in, they get to know their story more. So the easiest way, I think, to dig in and get to know your story more is by identifying your content genre, identifying the pieces of that framework that you have and then fleshing out the ones that you don't quite have yet. Okay, so it's not your idea that matters most. It comes down to your willingness to believe in your abilities and to take yourself seriously. That matters most.

Speaker 1:

So I can teach the strategies of how to write a book all day long. I do that in my notes to novel course and on this podcast. But the most important thing is that you have to believe you're capable of writing a book, that you are ready to take that leap and to get started, even if you don't have all the answers figured out just yet. So that's mistake number three believing that you have to have all the pieces of your idea figured out before you start writing. Now, moving on to mistake number four, mistake number four is believing that you have to follow every single writing method in existence in order to write a quality novel. And this is a mistake because it's an unrealistic way of thinking Each writing method out.

Speaker 1:

There is someone's interpretation of how to write a novel Same with what I teach you on this podcast. Okay, it's my interpretation of how I write a novel, based on all the things I've learned writing my own fiction and working with hundreds of writers at this point, so although each of these methods they will present a solution or a process for writing a novel, all of the steps within each method aren't going to line up, because no two people interpret something in the exact same way. So an example I like to use is imagine that you have five friends and you asked each of those five friends like hey, I just got a new house or a new apartment, whatever. I need help decorating. Can you give me a roadmap? Or can you tell me what to do in my house, right? So you ask each person. Each person comes up with a different roadmap or a different style or suggestion whatever, there's no way that you're going back to your house or your apartment and you're not going to implement each person's suggestion, right? You will have five different answers and five different solutions, but to act on all of them in your house or your apartment just wouldn't create something that's cohesive or that really makes any sense, right? So it's kind of the same thing with writing a novel Each person's interpretation and each of these methods they all have value. They have similar ways of looking at the writing process, but also different and unique to them ways of looking at things too. So I just want you to keep that in mind and what this looks like in real life.

Speaker 1:

I started to notice this pattern quite early on when I was coaching writers one-on-one, that a lot of writers were trying to constantly combine multiple writing methods, and I had to back up and think about, like, why do we do this to ourselves, right, cause I'm guilty of it too. So what makes us feel like it's the best course of action to create this giant list and combine, you know, all the different plotting methods and then try to hit every single milestone within all those different plotting methods or all the character tables, whatever it is that you're looking at, and I think this behavior or this habit comes down to perfectionism. So we get in this cycle where we believe that if we can just analyze our story through one more lens or read one more craft book, you know whatever it is. Then maybe we'll finally feel good enough to tell our friends and family that we're writing a book, or maybe we'll feel like our ideas are good enough or we have all the tools to start writing whatever it is. But, like we talked about earlier, your first draft is not going to be perfect ever. So, no matter how much research and study you do. So you really do need to at some point take your idea and turn it into a discovery draft to figure out what your story is all about, and then, as you write your second and third drafts, and so on and so on, you're going to start making things more cohesive and whittle things down to the most important pieces.

Speaker 1:

Now, just to clarify, in case you're thinking okay, well, wait, what about those writing methods? Should I not use them to guide me as I edit and write? And to be completely clear, that's not what I'm saying at all. I am a huge fan of almost every writing method out there. They all have value for sure. But what I would recommend you do is just pick one or two methods that make sense to you and then lean into those methods. So, if you like save the cat and that method works for you, go with that one. If you like the hero's journey, go with that one, right. If you have another favorite, you do you. The same thing goes for scene structure. So if you like thinking of scenes in terms of scene and sequel, that's great. If you like goal, motivation, conflict, go with that. If you like the five commandments, go with that, right.

Speaker 1:

Just pick one and focus your time and truly dig into understanding the why behind those two methods, because that will get you farther than trying to combine them all and check all the boxes with your scenes or your drafts, okay. Plus, the truth is, all of these methods whether you're looking at plotting or character development or scene structure, whatever it is they're more or less going to get you to the same place, and when you layer them on top of each other, this is really just gonna do you more harm than good, mainly because it's gonna leave you feeling confused and or like you're doing something wrong because those puzzle pieces don't line up perfectly. Okay, so just to reiterate, pick one or two that you really like and that really makes sense to you and then stick with whatever you choose until you have a finished draft or until you hit publish. So that's mistake number four thinking that you have to follow every single writing method in its own way, follow every single writing method in existence in order to write a quality novel. And, last but not least, mistake number five is believing that writing a novel is too hard or that it's too complicated for someone without an MFA or a college education to do. And this is a mistake, because it's a worry that just isn't true.

Speaker 1:

So I work with a lot of writers who go on to publish their books and have success, whatever that success looks like for them, and they don't have MFA's. Some of them don't have college educations. You know, it's not a requirement for you to write a novel. So what I'd like to offer you here is a mindset shift. So if you've been guilty of thinking things like well, what if this doesn't work out? What if I start writing a novel and it doesn't work out because I don't have a college education or I don't have an MFA.

Speaker 1:

Well, a challenge for you this week is to start giving equal era time to the positive version of those thoughts. So, okay, these thoughts are gonna come in, right. So okay, these negative thoughts, they are going to come in. There's not really anything you can do to stop it. But you can start to give equal era time to the positive. So, whenever those thoughts of well, what if this doesn't work out, whenever those come in, I want you to also ask okay, but what if it does? Right, like, what if it does work out and you write a book that you're really proud of? What if you write a book that you know touches the lives of 10 different people? What if you write a best-selling novel? Right, it's not impossible that these things would happen, just like it's not impossible that you would write and publish a novel without an MFA or a college degree.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so I just want you to give equal era time to the question what if it does work? Instead of always focusing on what if it doesn't work? But in practical terms, I also think you should follow a roadmap or have some kind of outline to help take some of the overwhelm out of the writing process so that you can start, you know, knowing what to do for second and third, start actually making progress and then start building that confidence too. So find someone who has gone before you that is willing to, you know, share their roadmap with you and then learn from them so you're not kind of fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out what's going to work and what isn't. And you're already doing a good job of this by listening to this podcast every week. So thank you so much for being here and I hope that you're able to put some of the things you learn on this podcast into action.

Speaker 1:

So that's mistake number five believing that writing a novel is too hard or that it's too complicated for someone without an MFA or a college education to do. And that's just because it's not true. So I know that was a doozy of an episode. I just covered a lot. Remember, you don't have to take action on every single thing I talked about. I just really wanted to get those wheels turning and help you understand that writing a novel is doable. You do have it in you to write a novel, okay, you have the ideas in you for a story and you are absolutely capable, no matter what those little self-doubts and worries tell you.

Speaker 1:

One of my specialties is working with people who have never written a novel before and showing them that it's absolutely doable for them if they take it one step at a time. So, speaking of one step at a time, let's review, because I really want you to bring all of this advice to life. I want you to use it and start taking action and moving forward. So mistake number one is believing you have to write the most beautiful prose in order to write a story that holds readers' attention. Instead, I want you to focus on crafting a compelling story first, then get outside feedback from other sources before you worry about polishing your prose. Mistake number two is believing that you can write a perfect first draft if you do enough research, planning or outlining before you write. Instead, I want you to embrace the mess and focus on discovering your story first, so that you have something to revise and make cohesive later.

Speaker 1:

Mistake number three is believing that you need to have a rock solid, completely original story idea before you start writing. Instead, I want you to identify your story's main content genre, so it can help you develop your idea and give you a framework to work in. Mistake number four is believing that you have to follow every single writing method in existence in order to write a quality novel. Instead, I want you to pick one to two methods that you like or that make sense to you, and then stick with what you choose until you have a finished draft. And finally, mistake number five is believing that writing a novel is too hard or it's too complicated for someone without an MFA or college education. Instead, I want you to break the writing process down into smaller parts and tackle one thing at a time. Find that trusted mentor who has gone before you that's willing to share their roadmap, and then learn from them and start taking action, because this is what's going to help you build confidence.

Speaker 1:

And if you want me to be your guide for brainstorming, outlining and writing your novel, I do wanna let you know that the doors to my Notes to Novel course are currently open for enrollment. At the time of this recording, you can learn more about the program at notestonovilcom. I will put that link for you in the show notes, but essentially it's an eight week live program where you get access to my framework for brainstorming, outlining and writing a novel, step by step. We are also running this session live, so that means you get access to eight weeks of live Q and A calls with me as well. So I'll be there with you the whole eight weeks to answer your questions and help brainstorm anything that comes up. So if you've been waiting for a chance to work with me and you wanna get my help on your story, head over to notesonovilcom to get all the information and to enroll before doors close and hopefully I will see you inside the course. So that's it for today's episode.

Speaker 1:

As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you wanna check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to, and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and, until then, happy writing.

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