Because duh, how can you write a novel if you don't even know how a novel works? If you've got a particular genre in mind for writing, you can focus in on that for your reading, but all kinds of books can give you inspiration and knowledge, in all levels of genre and skill both. I like reading more mediocre or even low-quality books sometimes so I can pinpoint where the weaknesses are. That helps me to know what makes a good book so good. The main point is, reading is a necessary thing to use in conjunction with writing. No excuses. This advice has been given by every successful novelist ever, so I suggest you use it. You can also (although reading is your top priority, remember!) spend time on movies and TV shows to follow the storytelling there. You can learn from everything!
For pantsers and planners alike, I think the most important thing, when writing a novel, is to start off knowing what your climax is going to be, or at least to figure it out pretty quickly. I figured this out after I wrote The Psychic Story, which I then had to rewrite the climax of three times because I hadn't had any idea of what my point was and where I was going. Keeping that ultimate moment in mind will really guide you, especially if you start running into roadblocks or losing steam.
It doesn't just happen magically. Novel writing takes real work, effort, and time, and you have to be prepared for that. Whether you need to pick a certain time of the day to be writing, or just to be aware of that fact, get ready for the potential time crunch. If this is what you really want, then you have to give some things up. Also, while you're writing, you have to actually write. Again, it doesn't get done on its own. Don't procrastinate, or you'll never get anywhere. Stay focused, and put that butt in that chair.
It does take practice. I wrote a lot of poetry, a bunch of diaries, and at least three novel attempts before I managed a complete, full-length novel. So don't be disappointed if you don't manage it even the first few times. This is an acquired skill, and you will always be learning new things. You just have to keep trying, which is my cardinal rule for all things novel.
If you've written a novel, how was the experience?
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