Advice for Novelists


112 Christian Authors and Publishing Professionals Share Their Best Advice for Novelists
Compiled by C.J. Darlington

Imagine a coffee shop packed with award-winning Christian novelists, top editors, literary agents, and publicists. Each one is taking turns sitting down with you, giving you their best writing advice. Sort of like speed dating for writers.

Within these pages the most recognized names in Christian publishing share their personal answers to the question, “If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?”

In the ever-changing publishing world, you must stay on top of your game to succeed. This book will give you a leg up, with practical tips and advice you can use on your novel writing journey.

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Years ago I read a novel by Jeri Massi called Some Through the Fire. It was everything I wanted my writing to be. Massi had created compelling characters, a plot I couldn’t stop thinking about, and a great message. I was sure my writing could never come close to being so engaging and powerful, and I was thoroughly discouraged. Why bother with all the hard work I was doing? What could I possibly write that anyone would want to read?

I had great respect for author James Scott Bell, so I took a chance and sent him an email, sharing how I was feeling. I would understand if he never responded, as busy as he was. But he did. I was blessed when he took the time to write me a thoughtful response that gave me the encouragement to press on with my writing journey. Jim told me that no two writers are the same, and no one can truly duplicate the other. No one had my calling but me. He compared it to what God does with spiritual gifts. I had something unique to contribute.

"Be the best C.J. there is,” Jim said. “There is no other. And if you give your full attention to your own writing, not comparing yourself to anyone but just digging deeper into your story, the concerns will go away. Writing itself is always the best antidote to the writing blues.”

I’ve never forgotten his words, even all these years later, or the fact that he cared enough to write them. Do they speak to you, as well? No one can write your story. If God has put it in your heart to write, there’s no need to question your calling. He wouldn’t have given you the desire if He didn’t have a purpose for it. I never looked back after that, and I’ve been blessed to see some of my writing dreams come true (although I’ve got plenty more!)

You’ll find a vast array of perspectives within these pages. I hope this book is to you what Jim’s words were to me--a jump-start to reach your fiction writing dreams.

--C. J. Darlington

Randy Alcorn, New York Times Bestselling Author and the Founder and Director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

To those who ask me about the challenges of writing, I learned long ago that I should never wait for inspiration or a good beginning. I just jump right in. I’ll either cut it out or clean it up later. Years ago I heard someone say “Never edit at the point of conception.” The best writing comes in revision, not creation--but you must have something to revise. I think a lot of writer’s block happens when people wait for the right words. I just write. Later, I labor over the right words, and there’s no block because I'm already looking at something on the screen.
While many people think they want to write a book, what they really want is to have written a book. It’s sort of like wanting to be thin without exercising or eating right. It’s fun to hold in your hand a book you wrote, but good writing, like good farming and good bricklaying, takes real work. Since I wrote my first book 28 years ago, I've written 34 more. Each one is different.

Allen Arnold, Director of Content & Resources, Ransomed Heart Ministries (former Thomas Nelson Senior VP & Publisher, Fiction)

Write your stories as an offering to God. Guard against them consuming all your time or basing your identity on the success or failure of the novel. When that happens, the stories have gone from an offering to an idol. Your calling may be that of an author--but identity runs deeper than calling. And your identity is a son or daughter of God. He cares far more about the story you’re living than the story you’re writing. Live well. Then write well.

Karen Ball, Owner, Karen Ball Publishing Services, LLC
Literary Agent, The Steve Laube Agency

Send no proposal out before its time.

Make your manuscript as strong as it can be before you send it out. With competition as fierce as it is nowadays, we’re looking for manuscripts that have a spark. Something that jumps out and grabs us, be it the uniqueness of the plot, an especially engaging character, or writing that is so strong it grabs from the first paragraph. I’ve seen multitudes of manuscripts that are “almost” there, and have rejected nearly all of them. “Almost” isn’t good enough any more. Don’t let your desire to be published override your determination to refine your craftsmanship to the nth degree. Remember, God’s task for us is to write, not to be published. Focus on fulfilling that task to the very best of your abilities--and leave what happens from there to His good will and timing.

Christa Banister, Freelance Writer, Author, Blogger

Start writing now! There will always be a million distractions to keep you from working on your novel, and for some aspiring novelists, the task will always be relegated to a list of “Things You Plan To Do Before You Die.” But you don’t have to wait that long. Even if you only have a few minutes to dedicate each day or just a couple of Saturdays each month, you’ll still be making more progress than if you weren’t writing at all.

And once you actually start writing, it’s important not to focus on getting published. Instead, just concentrate on writing the best novel possible. Once you have a few great sample chapters going, you can then focus on pitching it for publication. In the meantime, just write, write, write.

Wayne Thomas Batson, Bestselling Author of The Door Within Trilogy, Isle of Swords, Isle of Fire, The Berinfell Prophecies, Sword in the Stars, and The Errant King

Don’t just write about what you know. I know, I know . . . you’ve heard other authors say it; you’ve heard your teachers preach it: write what you know. And the theory behind that advice is good. Write about what you know because you have the inside info, the details, and the experience to write about that topic or field. You play county soccer? Good, now go write a story about a character who plays county soccer. You have piano practice every Thursday? Wonderful, now go write about a character who plays piano. Now that’s fine advice if you’re writing for an audience of one or two. Will it work to get you published? Uh . . . not so much.

Writing what you know will not get you published unless, of course, your day job is: CIA Code Breaker, Supernatural Phenomenon Investigator, CSI Agent, or Tour Guide for the Amazon Jungle. What I’m saying is, the average, day to day life is not interesting enough to be the plot of a book. Now, if something interrupts that normal life: a tragedy, a phenomenon, a mystery--well, now we’re talking. Most readers want a story to grab them, to move them, to take them places they’ve never been to before. Most publishers want the same thing.

So, how do you write about stuff you don’t know? 1. Research: watch the Discovery Channel, read National Geographic, surf the World Wide Web--there’s a novel plot, character, or setting just waiting for you. 2. Make it up: Now, this especially applies to the whacked lot of writers who want to write fantasy or sci-fi. You get to open your mind and just create. Make things the human eye has never seen before. Tweak reality. Have fun. Chances are, if you have fun, your readers will too.

James Scott Bell, Bestselling Author of Plot & Structure

Arnold Palmer said golf came down basically to this: hit it, find it, then hit it again. Well, writing is sort of like that, too. Write it, edit it, then write it again. When you write, don’t be hung up on making it perfect. Don’t be bollixed up on writing techniques. The golfer who thinks of 22 different things as he swings always muffs it.

Write hot, revise cool. When you edit your work, get feedback: from readers, from a group, or just by reading a writing book and seeing how the techniques apply to you. Then, with what you learn, write it again. Or start a new project. Each time you do this, you get a little better. Keep after it.

Copyright 2012 C.J. Darlington
All rights reserved. Do not duplicate without permission.