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Liberating Benefits of Writing a Practice Novel

Fantasy book spilling creativity

“Creativity is a combination of discipline and a childlike spirit.”

— Robert Greene

The biggest mistake we, as adults, make is to let go of our willingness to play.

“Sorry, but I’m too busy.”

“The children have their needs.”

“I’ve got my work commitments, family commitments, etc., etc., etc.”

The age-old excuses.

This attitude blocks us from growing. Watch the children around you and see how they learn something new. They’ll do the same thing again and again and again, until they get the hang of it.


You enroll in a course, spend a thousand bucks, a week of training, get a piece of paper at the end and now you can call yourself qualified.


Yes, you’re now qualified. And, yes, you now have the theoretical knowledge. But, sadly, you still lack the practical skills. Those skills you can only get from practice, practice and more practice. Not to become an expert but to become more proficient and comfortable with the tools of the trade.

Just like a sportsman who will be training on the field everyday, honing his skills, we as writers also need to be training.

As a software consultant I’ve learned over the years that to train somebody on using a new piece of software—or when teaching myself something new—I need a sandbox.

A sandbox? But that’s a child’s toy!

Yes. A place where you can play, in safety, without fear or worries. Where you can test new ideas.

Playing in a sandbox


The first rule for any writer is “To be a writer you need to write.” Good or bad, you need to write. This way you gain the experience and develop your imagination.

So what I did was to set myself a target. I wanted to write a novel. Wow, what a sucker. Ain’t he just in for a big, bad, rude awakening.Nope, because this novel is only for me. Whether I one day decide to try to have it published is irrelevant.

My reasoning is this: In my practice novel, I can learn how to develop my characters, how to plot scenes, how to work with chapters and anything else I feel like doing. Let’s say I come across a new idea, then all I need to do is to see where it will fit into my novel and construct the main idea and characters around it.

My characters will quickly tell me whether my idea will work.

The great thing about my practice novel is the fact that I can work on it whenever I get a chance, whenever I want to get away from the misery or drudgery of real life. I can play without fear of critique or censure, without being right or wrong.

The best thing of all? It belongs to me.

So go get yourself a sandbox. Doesn’t matter what you call it, just go get one and play, play, play.

~ ~ ~

Republished from 10K Day for Writers. Here are the original comments:

Dearest David, This was a wonderful post for me to read RIGHT NOW. I have a few novels, short stories in mind, but when I think of the enormity of it all – I back down. So, writing a “practice novel” sounds so wonderful. And the only person who needs to be happy about it is…myself. I can’t tell you how your comments have freed me! Happy Spring…Happy me…and I hope, happy you.
— Meg Sweeney

Thank you for such a passionate perspective on this concept, David. I know it’s daft, but I’ve always found the concept of a practice novel a bit upsetting. While I certainly see the myriad of reasons to write a practice novel, I suppose I’m too precious about my story ideas to allow any of them the risk of not being a “real” novel. Of course that’s just my own fear of writing coming though. 🙂
— J.M. Merchant

Sometimes I think all my novels are practice novels, but that’s okay. Someday, I’ll write the novel, and I’ll have all these sandboxes to thank when it gets published! 🙂 Awesome article. Thanks for the tip!
— Lois Eighmy

This concept is revolutionary for me. Writing a novel that is meant just for me, playing in my writer’s sandbox, strips away the pressure to get my writing “just right.” That pressure has been paralyzing in the past…now I want to sit down and have fun with this story, without worrying about what others might think or if it could ever be published. I can worry about all that later. For now it’s enough just to write and take enjoyment and pleasure from the process. What a revelation to uncouple the act of writing from concerns about what the final outcomes might be. Thank you for this game-changing advice!
— Leigh

David Schoeman
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