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I almost asked the question "Can someone without formal training write a novel?", but the answer of course is yes. To get a better answer, I ask the following question:

How difficult will writing a novel be for someone without formal training?

I'm not talking about a best seller, but just something from start to finish that is readable. I've taken basic writing classes in college and high school, as well as some technical writing, but I've never formally taken any classes in creative writing. I've written the casual blog post for a personal page, but that is usually about current events or personal projects.

I know that as you write, you normally get better at it, but should I postpone starting a long story and focus on some extra classes/self-help books?

  • Creative writing is a class you take to get college credit. – EvilSnack Apr 28 '17 at 4:30
  • @EvilSnack meaning that it's only useful to generate the required amount of credits? – curt1893 Apr 28 '17 at 11:30
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It's impossible to say how hard it will be for you, given how personal a process writing is. My suggestion would be to first try writing a long story or a novel, and then, if you notice things that are missing, or that gave you special trouble, or if you don't get a good reaction, then seek out a class or a course or a self-help book that will fill the gap.

The problem in any kind of artistic studies is to gain technical skills and exposure to good examples without losing your own voice and vision along the way. Getting some work under your belt first might help. There's also a nearly infinite number of books and courses about writing, so there's a danger you could postpone forever.

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The 'How difficult ...' question is impossible to answer, but consider that most novels aren't written by people with formal training: they are written by those with the motivation and persistence to actually complete a project. They are written by those who are prepared to work hard. They are written by those who want to succeed. These things have nothing to do with formal training.

In fact, the best formal training I am aware of demands that you have written at least one novel before you enrol. They assume you have tried, failed to a point, picked yourself up, and finally finished.

Don't postphone writing a long story until you have read about novel writing. Instead write, edit (read about writing so you can get some clues about how to improve your writing if you have time) and write some more.

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I jumped into writing my first novel after a few flash fiction pieces and a comic book script.

It won't be easy, but it's not easy for anyone. ~90,000 is a lot of words. You have to learn to enjoy the process. A 1000 words a day gets your first draft finished in three months. 250 words a day gets you done in a year.

That's the hard part, physically. Revising, workshopping, submitting that's the hard part, emotionally.

But I would recommend writing a few short stories first, to learn the craft. I think I would have been better off if I had.

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    I would add a caveat to your suggestion to write short stories as a way of learning the craft. I did exactly that because my attempt at a novel kept crashing in on itself, and I realised that my skills at plotting and structuring a story were not up to scratch. I wrote short stories to practice plotting repeatedly in miniature. For someone whose weaknesses lie elsewhere (in their paragraph structuring, say, or dialogue), writing short stories may not be the best way to learn; targeted writing exercises may be more effective in those cases. – manyaceist Apr 27 '17 at 6:55

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