Writing short pieces - say up to around 5000 words - is fairly straightforward. You can, in most cases, just start writing and keep going until you've said everything you wanted and then go back and edit for sense.
If you've missed something out, you can slot it into the text. Or, if you've overdone a section - or the writing is bad or unnecesary - you have good friend in the delete button.
Writing longer pieces is different. Having a lot to say will take time and effort - the two things a writer cannot afford to waste.
So what's the best way to approach writing longer works?
It's all about preparation. It's about knowing where you're going and having some idea of your destination.
Some writers say they can't write using a plan - or even knowing what the ending is. They cite Stephen King - who says he doesn't know what the endings of his stories are going to be when he starts out. It's deliberate he says because he wants to write his characters into impossible corners - and then work out how they're going to survive.
Obviously this works for Mr King. He says the only book he wrote using a pre-written template was The Dead Zone - but he says he found the book depressing to write because he knew the ending!
Fair enough - but I'm not sure this approach works for every writer - especially new writers who really need to get that first novel written - all of it, down on paper, existing - to help them get that sense of 'yes, I can write a novel, I have proof.'
Most new writers never get to feel that because they stumble during the novel writing process - and the book goes unfinished.
There's really only one way to get a first draft down - and that is to write quickly. Write the first draft before you change you mind about it. Before you 'grow' a little and have a different viewpoint on the world and therefore your story.
It's easily done. You're all fired up with a story and can see its significance and importance - and then half way through - several months down the track - you wonder why you were so excited. Or you begin to change some character motivations slightly and, before you know it, the story doesn't work anymore and you have to bin it or start again.
Get your first draft down fast is always my advice - especially if it's your first novel. It doesn't matter how it reads. The first novel is a learning experience - an invaluable one. It will teach you more about the writing process than any other experience - and will stand you in great stead for the future.
But in order to write quickly you need a plan, a template you can refer to as you write - so you can push through blocks and keep on writing till the end.
The template can be a series of dot points, chapter headings or a detailed synopsis - it's up to you.
But that's my advice. If you sincerely want to write your first novel - make a plan. Know your characters, know your plot, know your story and its ending, before you start.
And then, keep writing - as fast as you can!
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.”