I don't think it matters, my brother up and decided he wanted to write a novel and although it isn't finished what I read was AMAZING. I'd never seen him write anything before but he had a definite handle on story arc, descriptive writing and character development. I mean sometimes he would play around with character concepts but still, he never wrote any short stories that I saw and sure as hell didn't write poetry. Some people just have talent and telling someone like that that they need to slow down and start with something supposedly simpler like short stories or poetry would only be detrimental. I suppose that could be an exception to the rule but I don't really feel that you can learn to write a novel from short stories, the two are very different. A short story has to have a conflict that can be solved within a few pages. Whereas a novel is more slow paced and should be drawn out over several chapters. and poetry.....okay poetry does involve playing with words. but poetry is an artistic arrangement of words that aren't necessarily confined to the same standards as prose. You can do things with poetry that if you did with prose you'd just get funny looks. Most people should have a comfort zone in which they know what they can and can't do anyway. Now I'm not saying that everybody should jump in and start writing novels but I DO feel that if they think they are capable of it why not let them try and as long as they keep working at it they will eventually succeed so what exactly is the issue? I mean deviantart is chock full of people willing to critique any writing of any experience level and there are places where you can submit you're writing and they will tell you what needs work. That's my rambling quota of the week
It was a good ramble, and I agree with pretty much everything you've said! I definitely think that all forms are different, and while the skills you learn in one might help with another, it's not 100% transferable. And I'm very impressed with your brother, sounds like he has great talent.
I find it insulting that there's an implication in that article that flash fiction and short stories are somehow easier to write than a novel - anyone can write anything, no matter their level of experience. The trick is writing something GOOD. I'd rather have one quality flash fiction than another shitty novel. Whether intentional or not, the debate is framed in such a way that implies novels are superior to other forms of writing.
That aside, they are completely different things. I know I could never write a novel, and I don't say that in a self-depreciating way. I say that because I have no interest in writing a novel, and because I've spent a long time specializing my writing to a point where flash fiction is so natural that anything too long begins to feel wrong in my hands. Novel writing isn't for me, and will never be for me. Not having a novel doesn't mean I'm always going to be a "beginning" writer.
I think you should start with what you're comfortable with. If poetry comes naturally to you why deny it? The same with short prose or long. I think many writers idolize the novel and the novelist in a way they shouldn't. Anyone can write a hundred thousand words of shit. Whatever you write try and make it great.
A lot of first attempts at writing a novel fail but they're still learning experiences. I think the first time I tried one I was nine or ten. I filled a binder full of illegible handwriting. I can't even remember the plot lol.
"I think many writers idolize the novel and the novelist in a way they shouldn't. Anyone can write a hundred thousand words of shit." -- I think that's 100% true. Then again, like `HaveTales-WillTell said, novels are where the money is.
I totally tried to write novels when I was eight, but they were more like chaptered short stories.
I said no. What you start with might not be what you end up with, but if you enjoy writing, you'll find your niche eventually. I don't think you pick up bad habits or anything by getting ambitious and starting with a novel. You probably won't finish it. And it will almost definitely suck. But there's sure nothing wrong with trying. If you get to the end and realise you wished you'd waited until you had more writing experience, well, you go away and write something else, and if you still like the novel, you go back and rewrite it and so forth until you do like it.
Also, I am mostly referring to people who have started writing as kids/teens... If it's an adult who out of the blue decides they're going to write, that's another story. They already have a set of experiences and language tools and really there's no excuse for them not to dive in. They'll either finish the project they set out to work on or they won't, and if they do, they might write some more, and if not... they'll probably just go back to their important adult lives and say at least they tried.
Interesting question, and harder for me to answer than it should be, because: where does your writing start counting? When I was six, I was trying to write novels, but they invariably collapsed and they were terrible, and now that I know what I'm doing I no longer regard them as serious attempts. Does it count for anything if you're just messing around, trying to imitate what you read - and at that age, mostly I was reading novels; short stories didn't catch my interest until much later - without having any idea of how it's actually done?
I don't think they were serious. I don't think a first attempt can be serious, but then, I may say that only because I was a child when I "started".
I used to try to write novels by starting at "the beginning" - that is, basically I would just start writing and try and keep it going for as long as possible. Of course it didn't work. No clear arc, no consistencies, etc. When it stops making sense it falls apart and I can't finish; I can't write a novel by making it up as I go along. My brain doesn't work that way.
I've since developed a technique that works (or, well, it worked once, and I'm currently testing it a second time). And, yes, there's a lot that goes into a novel that isn't important for short stories (and certainly not poetry). No amount of grinding short stories is going to teach you novels. That's all true.
That said, there's very little that goes into short stories but doesn't matter for novels. By writing short stories you can practice the basics of writing prose, which will help with novels. It won't help you write a cohesive plot, but it will help the actual writing: making words and sentences and paragraphs sound good. Oh, and correct grammar/spelling/punctuation, of course.
I'm not usually much of one for poetry, but reading and writing poetry can help with prose, for the same reason. You learn how to manipulate words. That's important no matter your form. What `HaveTales-WillTell says about poetry, I think is just as important in short stories or novels.
So: no, I wouldn't start with a novel. A novel is huge, and complicated, and takes more time and effort than you can generally afford to waste. You can make it easier for yourself by at least figuring out those things that you can learn from poetry and/or short stories first.
Of course, I'm basing this on my own experiences, and what works for me may not work for others. And if you've learned something from your attempt, the time wasn't wasted, no matter how successful you weren't.
I've had similar experiences to you, and I definitely agree that whatever you learn in a different form, at least some of it can be cross-pollinated.
You bring up a really interesting question though, about when your writing starts to count. I'm not sure how to answer that, but if it's a matter of seriousness and intent, then I was pretty serious about what I was doing when I was eight, so does that count? I can't answer that, but it's super interesting to think about.
I was serious about it at the time too - but now, looking back at myself, I feel like I was arrogant and na´ve. At the same time, though, I remember how frustrated I was that whatever I was trying to do didn't work, even when I started to experiment wildly. When I finally hit on something that worked it felt like there should a be a chorus of angels.
Come to think of it, it's a surprise I stuck with it as long as I did. I usually give up pretty quickly when things don't immediately click.
I think it doesn't hurt to be a bit arrogant and naive while starting out, otherwise some people might never start. I've noticed that people tend to lose those qualities as they go on writing, and while it's good to keep your skills in perspective, it doesn't hurt to have a little confidence in yourself, either. Everyone is learning, after all.
Perseverance can be a wonderful thing! It probably made you a writer.
I've certainly noticed that in myself as well. There were several years in there during which I was completely convinced everything I wrote was awful. It's a bit better now; there'll always be part of me that needs validation from others, but at least now I can sometimes tell whether I like something I've written, which is a good start.
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerJan 7, 2013Student General Artist
Start with whatever you want to write, I'd think. A lot of novelists, even famous novelists, have a first novel that never got published, and it's in a box somewhere. But they wrote it all out anyway and it helped them learn to write a novel well, if only by making a lot of mistakes the first time.
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerJan 8, 2013Student General Artist
I tried writing a novel three times now. The first time I was a Freshman in high school and I got four chapters in before I got bored. The second time I was a Senior in high school and spent a lot of time drafting the outline, but then when I started writing I accidentally went off the outline and wrote myself into a hole. I still kinda like the idea of that one, but it's really on the back burner.
Then my most recent one, I finally realized the draft was bad because I filled it with "fluff" in order to fill it out to novel-length, when really it ought to be a long short-story or a novella. So, progress! I'm sure I'll write a novel someday, I feel like I'm getting a bit better each time.
I'm only just getting the hang of longer and more complicated plots, so I'm definitely on the same page as you. One time I tried NaNo for a week, and I realized I was just rambling to take up space, so I quit.
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerJan 8, 2013Student General Artist
I have a love-hate relationship with NaNo. I've never been able to complete a NaNo novel draft, and I've always felt frustrated because thousands of people do, so why can't I?
I've finally just admitted to myself that I'm a different type of writer. I do like editing and revising as I go along, so pounding out a terrible draft really fast is only going to ensure that I never want to look at it again. But, it is really fun to write when a lot of my friends are also writing, and making sure I set aside a good chunk of time every day to write is important, so I like that element of it.
I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, which is probably why my partial NaNo draft came out so ridiculous -- I think I actually let go a bit too much. Making writing a priority is definitely important, but I can't sacrifice quality for quantity.
Enough writing practice of any kind will eventually make you* a better writer.
That being said, compared to shorter works novels are their own beast. Plotting, pacing, characterization: no amount of short story practice will fully prepare you for the first time you make that leap. It may be easy enough to come up with fifty thousand words: but are they coherent? Do they tell your story in a way that's of interest to anyone besides you? Are all the threads and sub-threads woven together and resolved (or deliberately left unresolved)? Did your protagonist's eyes accidentally change color halfway through, and did anyone catch that and "fix it in post"?
Further, the skill set for poetry is nearly the opposite of that for novel-writing: a good poem uses specific words in a deliberate manner. Often the goal is not even to tell a story, but to present a theme or elicit a mood. Unnecessary verbiage is clipped; grammar bows to the poet's needs; words are selected and placed one by one, with an eye toward meaning and an ear for rhythm and rhyme.
In short: poems are sculpted; novels are woven. Mid-length prose has elements of both, requiring facility with both the knitting needle and the knife. And therefore may not be such a bad place to start from, after all.
*Not necessarily directed at you personally; second person perspective used for illustrative purposes only.
I love your metaphors about the different forms -- that definitely rings true for me.
I haven't taken a serious stab at a novel yet because my brain hasn't learned to work in novel-like ways, if that makes sense (because you're absolutely right, there are so many things to juggle), but I know people who do just start out thinking that way and can dive right in and are fine. I mostly posted this question to see what other people thought of this post.
One of my favorite sci-fantasy authors (either Piers Anthony or Jack L. Chalker, I can't recall which) has stated that stories are practice, novels are money. And from a financial perspective, that's an important consideration: authors who can write either, inevitably gravitate toward the longer. After all, a four- or five-figure paycheck makes for a better standard of living than a few hundred dollars here and there.
This, plus the lure of potentially becoming a lottery winner along the lines of Joanne Rowling, probably explains the drive to write that first novel even before one is really ready.
While i think for most people starting out small is generally a better idea, it's always case-by-case. If you start out with a massive project that's going to take months and years to do, you're going to learn during that process and you're going to evolve so much that it will be obvious as the novel goes on. If you start out with smaller projects you can give yourself essentially a crash-course, get that steep learning curve out of the way, and save yourself major headaches later on
I would think short stories especially would be helpful practice as it'd give you experience thinking a plot and a concept through, in a bit smaller scale, before tackling the real thing. But this is coming from someone who's going from a few comic strips to a high-dive into a graphic novel, so maybe I should be taking my own advice
Because learning everything there is to know about how to use words and punctuation to convey what you mean requires more than attempting one form of writing anyway. To a large extent, the message determines the form.
I think this is a lot like saying artists/painters should focus on drawing single features or using distinct techniques separately before trying to bring everything together as a whole. It doesn't make sense to start out drawing nothing but eyes if you want to draw a full-scale portrait. It makes sense to practice drawing eyes if you find that it's the part of the drawing you have the most difficulty with.
That's a great metaphor, about visual art and putting it all together. I've never thought of it that way, but it's completely true. I especially agree with, "the message determines the form" -- that's definitely how I write.
First of all, I think "most writers start with novels" is a false statement. I know plenty of "writers" who don't even write novels; in fact, they outnumber the people I know who write (or try to write) novels.
But I don't think it really matters what you start writing with, so long as you start writing with something. XD
I think there's a problem with the question. Every form of writing requires a different technique. Prose won't teach you to write poetry, and short stories will *not* teach you to write novels.
I mean, I think every writer should try each form, because they will teach you different things. But they're not necessarily cross-applicable. Short stories can teach you about novels, but mostly because they encourage you to write and to finish. And they do encourage you to practice plot and character. But a novel is a way different animal, with different problems.
I don't think so. If your intent is to write a novel, it certainly makes more sense for you to start there than it does to start with poetry. Not to say that you shouldn't write different things, as there's always knowledge to be taken from the experience of writing, regardless of what you're writing, but if I'm setting out to write a book of poetry, I'm not going to start by writing a novel.
I think that any writer who wants to really, truly experience writing will find their way regardless of how they start. The first thing I wrote when I first really wanted to write a story was a multi-chapter novella. I write mostly poetry these days, but it's not as though starting where I did hindered me from getting to writing poetry, and it's not like writing poetry currently prevents me from writing prose. I think the notion that starting with one type of writing will prevent you from succeeding at another is a bit presumptuous.