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  • Harson Gorfanletch

Do your damn homework

I have been confessing a lot to not knowing a lot, or rather, to once not knowing a lot. Now I know a little. I wrote the first draft of my first novel with little understanding of how to write a novel; of even the basic requirements. I noted things from other novels I was reading, but I didn’t study and I found it all rather bewildering.

Writing put me in such a blistering fever that what free time I had, which was minimal, was spent writing the novel. To consider stepping out of that febrile state to spend valuable free time doing something that wasn’t writing my novel was incomprehensible.

How the right side of the brain tricks the left!

I am now doing a lot of remedial work to fix problems that would not have been there if I had just done my homework (this pattern haunts my existence). It’s easy enough (if irking) to sort viewpoint errors, dialogue errors, and to cut the needless description (lesson: don’t start writing a novel after binge-reading Victorian science fiction), but a few books have been invaluable for some of the weightier problems I face.

Structuring Your Novel by @KMWeiland was both a revelation and a comfort. A clear-eyed, lucid description of how and why stories work for readers. It was a revelation because to my novice eyes so much about why stories worked had seemed mystical. It was comforting because I had serendipitously managed to get the bones of my nascent novel in the right order: I had not assembled a quadruped out of a biped’s skeleton.

This book was the hand that guided me in the dark; a bridge over the ravine. Simply by reading the introduction I was able to trace the fault lines in my embryonic craft and see how they needed to be realigned. I am a fan and I am in awe of her generosity in dispersing so much wisdom.

I like to run thought experiments, and if I had done my homework like a good boy and read Structuring Your Novel early on, I would have saved days of my time. Perhaps I should recommend that she moves to a business model whereby rather than paying a one-off price for her book, you pay for the hours you otherwise would have spent doing everything wrong if you hadn’t read her book. I would owe her a four-figure sum. I like learning the hard way.

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