Tips on Writing That First Novel – and All That Follow (Part 3)

This is my final installment (Part 3) of my three-part series on a recent talk and interview I did recently about my latest thriller novel release.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my local writers’ group—The San Antonio Writers Guild—invited me to be the guest speaker at their August meeting. They asked me to speak about the process of writing a novel, how I choose the plots for my novels, and what skills I needed to learn before starting that first novel. The focus of the talk was aimed not only to first time novelists but also to those struggling with their works in progress (WIP).

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been sharing aspects of my talk about my journey from an aspiring writer to published author with now four books on my author page at several publishing sites.

This is the third and final posting on the subject.

In that talk, I stated that there were several criteria, or skills, a writer should have before starting a novel.

In my humble opinion, there are six pillars of successful novel writing. These are 1) having confidence to express your innermost thoughts, 2) a familiarity with the subject matter of your plot, 3) researching your subject matter well, 4) consider attending seminars and classes to become a better writer, 5) seek the support and guidance of other writers, and finally, 6) become a habitual writer by writing often.

In the last weeks, I wrote about “Confidence,” “Subject Matter Familiarity,” “Importance of Research,” and “Learning to become a Better Writer.”

Parts 1 and 2 can be found HERE and HERE, respectively.

Today, I will address what I believe to be the last two pillars of successful writing. These are:

SUPPORT OF FELLOW WRITERS: There is no better advice I can give a would-be author than to write something and read it aloud in front of a critique group. No matter how good we think our writing is, there is always room for improvement. That point is proven every time I bring ten pages of my WIP to a critique group, read them out loud, and the dozen or so attendees give me feedback about the good and bad of what I’ve written. No matter if the group is small (6 or less) or larger groups (no more than 20, I would say), it’s important to let other experienced writers critique your work and to listen to that advice. By the same token, listening to what other writers have to say about other peoples’ works is an education in itself. Even with all the seminars and classes I’ve taken to develop my writing skills, the critique classes I’ve been involved in continue to be educational and worth the time commitment. Often, these same writers/authors in a critique class can become your editors and beta-readers before publishing your novel.

WRITING OFTEN: Become a habitual writer. I have a framed photo in my office over my desk that says the best way to write a bestseller is to first sit down and take the time to write one. After learning the skills of writing and the structure of plotting a novel, you have to put in the hours to write the book. Writing becomes a habit if you do it often (at least four times per week). If you write approximately the same time of day in the same place (like the same office or desk), that habit will allow you to “get into the writing mood” so much faster. I find that I need to tune out the noise of the world around me, and the noise in my head from daily distractions, to write effectively. Writing each day on a regular schedule in my office signals my mind that it’s time to tune out everything else and focus on my book, that it’s time to create and interact with my characters. Whatever else is happening in the world around me can wait and the regular schedule helps outside distractions melt away.

Lastly, I was asked how I plan my novels—my process for plotting out my novels. Some authors write from chapter one linearly to the ending, and some plot out the chapters in an outline before tackling the writing.

With my last two novels, I plotted out the general arc of the plots on a storyboard, written the first few chapters to build my characters’ worlds, and then I wrote the ending chapters next. That way when I constructed the remaining chapters of the books, I knew where I was going and what ending goal I had in mind. I deviate as necessary to make the plot work and to create additional excitement, but writing the ending before the rest of the book helps me stay focused.

If you want to read about my novel involving a sinister plot for an investigational drug study turned upside down, pick up a copy of my international thriller Lethal Medicine HERE.

If you want to read about my novel involving an international conspiracy to hijack the world’s prescription manufacturing and supply industry, pick up a copy of my medical thriller Imperfect Murder HERE.

If you want a bit more background on my detective duo, Homicide Detectives Rosie Young and Vince Mendez, pick up a copy of their first book called Almost Dead HERE.

If you want to read about a serial killer that will break your heart in the process, pick up a copy of The Serial Chemist HERE

THE SERIAL CHEMIST is my Latest Thriller! If you like the TV series Dexter, CSI, or Criminal Minds, you will LOVE this one!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

All of my books are available on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes and Nobel, Kobo, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and can be ordered from your local library. And, of course, all are available to order in a paperback version.

James J. Murray is available for presentations and interviews with writers’ groups, book clubs, and more. Leave a reply to this blog with contact information, or email james@jamesjmurray.com.

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
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