The Practice Novel

By guest blogger David Schoeman

Playing in the sand

© Aleksandr Frolov |

In this article I will be discussing the concept of a practice novel or, as I call it, my sandbox.

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.

So what do you do if you need to learn something new?

You enrol 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 are 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 just to become 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.

Go back to your childhood and look at how you learned as a child, watch other children and see how they learn something new. They will do the same thing again and again and again, until they get the hang of it.

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.

So how do you create a sandbox for a writer?

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, doesn’t matter what it is, just get one and play, play, play.

David Schoeman

David Schoeman


David Schoeman was born in Johannesburg, Souh Africa. He married Lee in 1992 and they have three beautiful children. The Schoemans emigrated to New Zealand in 2004, where they first lived in Dunedin for seven years and later moved to Wellington. David is a software consultant by day, a closet writer by night and a small business Internet marketer on weekends.

Please leave a comment for my guest writer

7 Responses to The Practice Novel
  1. Meg Sweeney
    March 9, 2012 | 6:52 AM

    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.


  2. Meg Sweeney
    March 9, 2012 | 6:53 AM

    Dearest David, (the part I left out on my “practice post.” (Meg says rubbing her head with her right paw)

  3. Lois
    March 9, 2012 | 7:52 AM

    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!


  4. Marie Duplanty
    March 11, 2012 | 10:08 AM

    Hi David!

    Wonderful tips! I am also a writer with an aim to write in variety of fields. What do you think is the best: Planning the story then writing or just go on with your creative writing and see the plot unravel?

  5. Mrs.White
    March 12, 2012 | 2:04 AM

    What a beautiful creation of a novel, hopefully you can share something more with us and we can learn with beautiful and inspiring ideas like this…

  6. JM Merchant
    Twitter: jmmerchant86
    March 14, 2012 | 9:52 PM

    Thank you for such a passionate perspective on this concept David, a really interesting post.

    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. 🙂

  7. Leigh
    January 9, 2014 | 1:34 PM

    Your concept of writing a practice novel 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 mights think of it 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!

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