Thursday, October 6, 2011

So You Want to Write a Book?

I am delighted this 19th title has just become a finalist in the CALEB Awards with two other great novels: Carol Preston's Mary's Guardian and Paula Vince's Best Forgotten. It will be a nervous wait for us all at the Award dinner on November 11th in Queensland.

However, after Justice at Baragula was released, I could not help reflecting back over the years since my writing career started - a long time ago now.

“I’d like to write a book some day.”

Many times over the years I have been told this, sometimes very shyly, sometimes very confidently. These statements have usually been from someone I have met during speaking appointments, or someone who has just bought one of my books.

I would suggest that many other published authors have also heard similar comments and I have often wondered how they respond. Depending on the circumstances, of course my replies have varied considerably.

This is actually something I personally never remember thinking. In fact, even when I did a writer’s correspondence course many, many years ago, I was aiming to write articles and especially short stories never even daring to think about a whole book. Then came that never forgotten day a long time ago when my husband became tired of me complaining about a Christian novel I had thrown down in disgust.

“Well, write one better yourself!” Ray said grumpily before exiting the room.

Utter astonishment. Me? Write a novel?

The idea would not go away. Certainly there was a lot of time spent in praying and confirmation from the Scriptures. So my journey had begun, including discovering just how hard it is to “write one better.” With small children and church ministries, it took me many years to eventually finish that first manuscript and then many, many rewrites before it became my first Heartsong Presents book, “Search For Tomorrow” which I still call my "apprentice" novel.
Little did I know when I started that first manuscript it would become the first of my four "Search" series, published by Barbour in this 4-in-1 volume which became a best-seller'
But that was to be many, many years down my writing journey.

During several chats with folk who would like to write a book “one day” I’ve discovered too many have no idea how or where they should start. To begin with, many of them simply had no real idea of the actual structure of a novel. Certainly these days of the internet there is much information about how to write and has made a huge difference for anyone serious about writing a novel. In more recent years, some school systems now also teach fortunate young people a lot more about this as part of their English curriculum which my age group missed out on.

These days my first response to the above comment is to ask what kind of book the speaker enjoys reading the most, and whether non-fiction or fiction. The next is to suggest they either borrow from the library or invest in “How To” books for that particular kind of book and do some study. My next suggestion is to join writer’s groups, and if at all possible a local one with face to face regular meetings. I believe that while we can study many books about writing, putting what we study into practice is often difficult. What I call “writer chat” also helps stimulate me, keeps me plodding away during those difficult periods when “life” interrupts my writing aspirations or when those rejection letters arrive from publishers.

Needless to say, there are now many writer’s conferences and seminars that offer great learning opportunities. The ACFW one is of course the very best for Christian fiction writers but hopefully wherever you are there will be some opportunities whether large or small. On November 12th, I am privileged to be presenting a workshop at The Word Writer Fair in Queensland on “Preparing To Write That Novel.” I certainly wish that I had known much of what I will be sharing before I had ever attempted that first novel of mine way back in the mid 1980s! There were so many things I didn’t even know I should “know” and have to confess continue still to learn more with each manuscript.

Be warned, my own journey of learning to write “better” books still continues. With any career we need to keep trying to improve.

I would love some comments on anything others wish they had known before starting their first manuscript, or what anyone wanting to write a book would like to hear at a workshop like this one in November.

Mary Hawkins is a best-selling inspirational romance author. A Queensland farmer’s daughter, she became a registered nurse before going to Bible College. She and her minister husband have three adult children and five grandchildren, enjoyed over 46 years of ministry including church planting in Australia, two years in England, three short term mission trips to Africa and now live in Tasmania, Australia's island state. Her 19th title, Justice at Baragula was released May, 2011

Read more about Mary's writing journey, her husband Ray and his devotional books on their blog from the website:


  1. Actually, I sometimes wish I could go back to that time when I didn't know how to write a novel. I had no inkling about scene and sequel, pacing, structure. I just kept thinking, "what will make the reader turn the page." The book was fun to write and sold. Then I joined RWA and learned a whole lot about how to write a novel. As a result, a lot of the fun and freedom has left my writing. If I were advising a new writer, I'd say just put your story on paper anyway you wish. Then, when you edit, apply all the "rules" of writing a novel.

  2. Losing your sense of freedom is a real shame, Ruth. You must be a very observant bookworm to have known and put into practice that "page turning" importance. I wonder if perhaps you now plot and plan your manuscript too much? Many writers, including myself, can become bored writing the manuscript if every scene and twist and turn etc is planned. I prefer to make sure I know the characters so well they then can respond in scenes at times in ways that surprise me. thank you so much for the comments. I will make sure I share that every writer is different too! We need to know the basic "rules" well to know how to successfully be able to "break" them

  3. Mary, great post and congrats on finaling in the CALEB Award! When I first started writing, I wish I'd known more about the value of critique partners and receiving constructive feedback from writing contests. For a long time I struggled with weak conflict in my stories, and the light bulb moment for me was learning how to apply the principles of goal, motivation and conflict in my stories.

  4. Great journey, Mary. I agree with the steps along the way you've described. I'm especially grateful for the great help I've had recently from editors and other Christian writers. When I go back now and read my earlier novels I see how much I've learned. I'm sure you'll really encourage others at your workshop.

  5. Thanks for sharing this Mary, and congrats on being a Caleb Award finalist!

    Wish I was closer to Brisbane so I could come along to the Word Writers Fair and attend your workshop. I can't even join a writers group where I am!

  6. Thanks, Carol. I so agree with you about my early novels! It has been so many years since we met last and I am really looking forward to seeing you again in Brisbane - and being nervous together at that CALEB award dinner!

  7. For years I too was like you, Helen, with no face to face contact with other writers - and not even on internet in those days. That is the main reason I now know how great it is to be able to attend regular writer meetings. I do trust some time though that you will be able to at least attend writer conferences that specifically target the kind of book you want to write.

  8. Hi Mary, Congratulations on being a finalist in the Caleb awards. Very exciting.
    I love what you wrote about starting out with writing your novels. I guess I am at the beginning now. I have written a novel for 9 - 12 year olds which hopefully will one day be published. I am so looking forward to coming and hearing what you have got to say in Brisbane in a few weeks.
    All the best with the award.

  9. Hi Mary! Re your question as to what I wish I had known before I started writing my first novel, I'm actually glad I DIDN'T know much at all - otherwise I don't think I would ever have started! In my ignorance, I just jumped in and learnt along the way, as others have said here. But like Carol, I can see too how far I've travelled, by God's grace, since that first novel. And I know there's still a journey to come. But what fun it is, continuing to learn like this!
    Re what to share at your workshop, I know you will share lots of helpful things, Mary, but perhaps just mention that you don't have to know it all before you start! God bless.

  10. I like everything that has been said in this post and the comments. I'm so thankful that there is a friendly community of writers supporting each other. This is such a change even from the mid to late '90s when I first started trying to write seriously. Looking forward to the Writers Fair in Brisbane too.

  11. I so agree, Paula, and am also so thankful for other writers support. I know now how starved I was for years for fellowship with other Christian writers. There was so much I could have learnt from others instead of the hard way of learning - by those wretched mistakes!
    Thanks everyone for your comments and I just pray the workshop will be used by the Lord to help other novelists to skip some of those mistakes some of us made when beginners!

  12. I had to smile at your post, Jo-Anne. I sure will tell them at the workshop that the best way is to just "start". We can always learn theory but it is in the "putting it into practice" that we develope our own style and "difference" that will reach readers who enjoy that "difference."