I’ve Been Thinking of Writing a Novel After I Retire. I’ve Never Written Anything Before. What Advice Would You Give Me?

First, to realize it will not be as easy as you’re thinking. To do it well will require a great deal of work and experience and feedback in developing a God-given talent—assuming God has given you that talent or aptitude in the first place, which is a BIG assumption. (On what do you base it? Given their thousands of good alternatives, why should anyone read a book you write? What power and excellence and uniqueness will your book offer?)

Some writers I know were discussing this recently and one of them used a good illustration. A neurosurgeon might think nothing of saying to a writer, “When I retire I’m thinking of becoming a writer.” But how would he respond if the writer said to him, “What a coincidence. When I retire, I’m thinking of becoming a neurosurgeon”?

I’m going to quote from my friend Dave Lambert, a writer who’s been a fiction editor for Zondervan Publishing, and works with the Christian Writers Guild, which I recommend as a good place to get some training: http://www.christianwritersguild.com/

Dave says,

Imagine that one of your friends expresses a desire to become a pianist. “That’s great,” you say, but you know that this friend has never played before in his life. “Have you signed up for lessons?”

“Lessons? No, takes too long,” your friend replies. “Besides, who needs them? I’m sure I can do it. I’m just going to jump ahead to the concert. I’ve got the Fine Arts Auditorium booked for next Saturday night. It’ll be an all-Chopin program. I’ll be great! I can’t wait!”

Your foolish friend—and his unfortunate audience—will discover that playing the piano consists of mastering thousands of skills, many of which must be performed simultaneously and all of which, no matter how difficult, must be performed in a way that seems effortless. Someone who hasn’t taken the time to master those skills will just make a mush of it, and the result will not be pretty. It takes discipline and time to learn to play the piano.

Like learning to play the piano, learning to write fiction is not a matter of memorizing a set of rules. It’s a matter of mastering a set of techniques. The artist—and fiction writers are artists—who desires to excel at fiction must dedicate his life to mastering the skills. You’ve heard it said many times: How does one learn to write? By writing, and writing, and writing...That’s because the writing itself is your practice. Every page of fictional narrative you write is the equivalent of that half-hour at the piano keys, honing your skills.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries