So, you want to write a novel.

Specifically, you want to write a mystery. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of being a writer. Maybe you’ve pursued other dreams and are just now coming to the realization that writing a book is something you’d really like to do.

Good for you! By the time you’ve finished all the lessons in the course (provided, of course, you actually do the exercises), you will have completed your first draft and gone a long way along the road of revision. Will your book be publishable? I can’t promise you that. Will you have accomplished something worthwhile anyway? Absolutely! Most people secretly dream of writing a book; yet, most never finish even the first draft.

Is this the only way to write a book? No, of course it isn’t. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a great novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”

At the 2004 Cape Fear Crime Festival, Jack Bludis, author of Shadow of the Dahlia offered his three rules for writing. I’ll paraphrase them here, but he has them on his web site, which I highly recommend. The first rule is, always play fair with the reader. The second is, whatever works, works; keep doing it. The third is, if you think it’s not working, you’re probably right; try something else.

Those are great rules. So, as you’re using these lessons, please remember that I am offering you one way to write a book. It’s a way that worked for me, and you may find something helpful in it. In fact, I hope you will. But there are as many other variations as there are writers. Some use outlines, others despise them. Some know everything about their characters before they start, while others know next to nothing. If it works for you, go ahead and do it. But if you’re not sure yet what works for you, why not give this method a try?

To begin, all you really need is something to write with and something to write on. (Your computer will do.) However, I also recommend a notebook, paper, some dividers, and a package of index cards. Some of the exercises will call for magazines, catalogs, scissors, and tape or glue. These should all be things you have available or can easily acquire.

I have a big blue three-ring binder I call The Big Book of Jared. I didn’t need it much when I started the book, but I couldn’t manage without it now. As we move through the lessons, we’ll discuss ways in which you can use your Big Book.

One more thing. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

That said, let’s move on to Lesson 1: What Kind of Book Do You Want to Write?