Reflection #1: "How do you write a book that is good enough to be published?"
Though the ink on my first book in "The Binding of the Blade" is just barely dry, I am getting lots of questions from people who are writing a book or thinking about writing a book. Not all of their questions are the same, but most of them ultimately come back to the basic idea, how do you do it? How do you write a book that is good enough to be published?
I wanted to take a moment to share some very basic advice for those who are contemplating writing a novel, whether it be fantasy or something else entirely. There is nothing magical in it, just my own thoughts and reflections, so take it for what it is worth.
Read. I can't begin to emphasize enough the importance of reading to the task of the writer. I don't think it is a coincidence that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were masters of the literary classics long before they were established writers themselves. They read and read and read, and consequently, when they turned to writing, they knew very well what constituted both good and bad writing.
Some have pointed out that fantasy books like mine, don't require a whole lot of research into history and primary source documents and the like, and that is true enough. But, I would contend that success at writing fantasy requires as much research as anything else. You have to read lots of good storytellers, the ancient myth makers and epic writers as well as the modern authors to know the genre well. It may be a different kind of research or homework, but it is research all the same.
Write. Having read and read and read, at some point you must actually try your hand at writing if you are ever to succeed at it. There are always other things you could be doing, so some discipline and sacrifice will be required. What's more, unless you are a prodigy, the early things you write won't be especially good. Like any other skills worth having, good writing requires some practice.
I don't think this should surprise anyone, but from some of the conversations I've had with people, apparently it does. I know many who have started a book but never gone forward, in part because they aren't happy with the beginning, or because others didn't like the beginning, and so on. I would say to any would-be writer, you need to develop an idea and then write it from start to finish. Discouragement is a big enemy of successful writing. Too many people drop the endeavor entirely because they don't get it right the first time through. Have realistic expectations and don't necessarily presume that the first draft of your first book should instantly be a classic.
I really do think that even if you realize the book you are working on has flaws and will need reworking, if not scrapping entirely, that most beginning writers should follow through to the end. There is something really satisfying about finishing a project, about writing the whole book, that should not be underestimated. Even if the book isn't all that good, to prove to yourself that you can plan and then execute the writing of a novel is a big step. Besides, you will learn all kinds of things about yourself and the process that will benefit all future writing endeavors.
Read and Write. I know it sounds silly, too obvious to be worth mentioning, but I believe these are the fundamental hallmarks to succeeding at writing. Do your homework by reading great writers. Practice the discipline and skill of writing itself. When you do these things, you're on your way.
There is more that should be said on this matter, but first things should always come first.