By John Adam Wasowicz
Four years ago, I turned 65 and the youngest of our children was entering his final year of college. I turned to my wife and said I was finally going to finish the book I worked on for the past 30 years. ‘Go for it,’ she said. And I did. Since then, I published three mysteries and am finishing the fourth in the series.
Why and How to Write a Novel
I like to say I started with paper on a typewriter and finished in the cloud. It’s true. I started with an obsolete technology — a typewriter — and I finished on a keyboard with a manuscript stored in the cloud.
Writing and publishing the book was the fulfillment of a life’s dream. But that wasn’t the best part. Along the way, I discovered worlds I didn’t know existed and explored incredible relationships with fellow writers, book lovers, and entrepreneurs who run indie bookstores. It was like setting sail for one destination and ending up in a paradise that was beyond expectation.
If you’re like me and have an unfinished book in your mind, I’m living proof you can do it. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way I’d like to share with you.
Making the Most of a Bad Situation
The coronavirus brought about a host of sad and unfortunate outcomes in 2020. One of those outcomes forced us to remain indoors. We turned to our computers for everything from online shopping to engaging in Skype calls and other forms of video communication.
It’s also given us more time to occupy ourselves with pet projects. If writing is one of your hobbies, the technology at your disposal makes it easy to compose and safely text, share story ideas with others, edit material, and send it to readers and publishers for review.
Writing can also be a family affair. Your spouse might be your best critic. My wife was my editor in college, and she graciously consented to edit my manuscripts before I submit them to my publisher. One of my adult sons designed covers for my books. And another son took the photo that appears on one of the book jackets. I reciprocated by dedicating all of my books to family members: the first to my deceased father-in-law, the second to my wife, and the third to our three sons. In short, writing and publishing can serve as a way to use the unique artistic talents of family members and express your devotion to them.
Your local public library is a great place to find resources for writing and publishing. Also, a visit — either online or in-person — to your local indie bookstore may be helpful to inspire your artistic impulses.
Finding Your Inner Muse
What is it you want to do? Maybe you want to hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro or canoe down the Yangtze River. But let’s be realistic. We’re not going to fulfill all of those unrealistic, exotic, and expensive fantasies on our bucket list. Still, there are a lot of practical and realistic things we can accomplish in life. A second career as a writer doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
Look around. Seventy is the new 60. That means 60 is the new 50. So on and so on. Other things being equal, there may still be a lot of time for a second chapter in your life full of milestones and accomplishments.
For me, it was writing a book. I don’t think I’m unique in that regard. Maybe the genre I selected isn’t your cup of tea. Perhaps, instead of mystery novels, you want to research a particular time in history, record a family triumph or tragedy, teach others about how to achieve — or avoid — situations you confronted in life, or provide an accounting of your professional accomplishments.
Whatever area of literature interests you, seize the moment. How to write a novel? Let me share a few helpful hints I picked up over the past few years.
5 Tips to Turn That Idea into a Popular Novel
Here are five suggestions about how to write a novel, based on my experience.
Maintain a Manageable Regimen
Every writer recommends that you work on your craft each day. I set a goal of 250 to 500 words. I work full-time, so I write either early in the morning or in the evening. Now that I work from home, I don’t have drive time and that affords me additional time in the morning or evening when I would otherwise be fighting traffic. Give yourself a goal and then stick to it. Nothing is easier than procrastination. But plan to devote an hour each day to writing, and then do it.
Write About Something You Know
Stay in your comfort zone. Don’t write about brain surgery if you’re a plumber and don’t create a plot involving cybersecurity if your passion is cooking. Stick with what you know. For me, it was the law. I spent over 35 years practicing all facets of the law, so it was easy for me to create a main character who is, guess what, an attorney. I know the jargon, the courthouse characters, and the ins and outs of the law. To succeed at writing, you have to be credible. You will lose readers if they recognize defects in your storyline. write about what is most familiar to you to be credible and informative.
It’s a Diverse World Out There; Acknowledge It
In developing your characters, don’t forget the diversity of the world around you. Don’t look in a mirror when you write. Look out the window. You need characters who reflect the community around you. My lead character, Mo Katz, is the product of an interracial marriage; he’s half Jewish and half Black. As a result, he resonates with the pulse of America. In introducing characters to your story, embrace diverse ethnicity and sexuality. Your story will be richer for it.
Trust But Verify
Trust yourself. You’re probably a better writer than you imagine yourself to be. But, having said that, always do a reality check. The best way is to have dispassionate readers, namely people who enjoy your genre but don’t know you personally and won’t be afraid to provide honest criticism. Remember, you’re a writer and, to succeed, you need to be read. And appreciated. So give the draft chapters of your book to selective readers, forget about pride in authorship, and let them tear apart your work. Rework it and make it something a mass audience will appreciate.
Keep It Simple Stupid
Remember the KISS principle. Keep it simple. Avoid complex plots. Stay away from complicated characters. And tie together all of the loose ends at the end of the book. If you think people prefer complicated plotlines, you’re wrong. Read the masters of art, like Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. Nothing complicated there. Twists and turns: Yes. Surprises, red herrings, and unexpected villains: Yes again. But never did they write stories that you couldn’t follow. Keep it light, simple, easy, and understandable. Do that and you’ll never go wrong.
The Bottom Line
These five techniques are effective for me and I recommend them to you. Write daily. Write about what you know. Embrace the diversity around you when selecting and developing characters. Share your writing with critical readers whose judgment you trust. And keep your plot line simple. Don’t lose your reader.
I know there’s a book lurking inside of you, one waiting to find expression. So unleash that creative energy inside of you and share it with the world.
The times in which we live are perilous….and precious. Make the most of it. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Seize the moment. Get that book to the press!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Adam Wasowicz is a practicing attorney and author of the Mo Katz mystery series, including the newly published Roaches Run. His other Katz stories include Daingerfield Island, which introduced readers to Mo Katz, a defense attorney who had previously worked as a city prosecutor; Jones Point, with Katz in the role of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Slaters Lane, about a fictitious criminal investigation that takes in 2020 during the pandemic. All of the books are available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook from major online retailers or through indie bookstores.
John dedicated his four books to his father-in-law, his wife, his children, and his nephews. He is hard at work on Book Five of the mystery series and the dedication is already written.