How to Write a Novel

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It isn’t easy. But it’s not as hard as you think, either. Anyone could have a great novel inside of them, but it’s not going to matter if you don’t write it. Here’s my insight, and do’s and don’ts.

  1. Read a ton of other books. Or, you know, don’t, and write something that just comes from you and is meaningful to you. So many books are products-of-the-time or derivative of other books – don’t shy away from being original and bringing a new voice. I mean, Harry Potter’s been done. It has. And it was done well. Let’s move on.
  2. Engage in an idea that you came up with while drinking wine. Or don’t. Or just please don’t. Think about an idea while mostly sober that really grips you and that you can devote yourself to for an extended period of time. To write a novel, you have to be in it for the long-term. A spur of the moment idea built on the healthy draughts of a wineskin is only going to get you so far, no matter how great it felt at the time.
  3. Just start writing without a plan in place! Or rather… don’t. Writers are emotional beings who are trying to express an idea, and it’s easy to just get started. But think about your plan, your structure, define your characters, figure out how they link up, and define your plot. But at the same time, give yourself room to simply write and be spontaneous within a structure. I know it sounds a bit confining, but it’s likely going to result in a better product.
  4. If you’re thinking of pushing your novel out to get an agent or for publishing, consider writing your pitch or query letter first. That will help you really define the bones of your book, and help you stay true to your concept as you write your manuscript. If your hook is there from the beginning, you stand a better chance of getting someone’s attention.
  5. Figure out your genre first. I personally love books that cross genres and surprise me, but if you’re looking to publish, you almost have to fit into definable buckets and you’ll need to try and work with people who are comfortable working inside those buckets. Amazon lists their categories on their website, for example.
  6. I hate to say it, but consider word count up-front. Target a number. Longer books are harder and harder to get out there, publishers don’t want to publish them even if readers might be up for it. My first book was 150,000 words. I’ll never write one that long again, although I wish I could.
  7. Be prepared to take out your favorite parts of the first draft. Be ruthless with yourself. Never get married to your own writing, even if a portion seems exceptionally clever to you but detracts from the overall story. I’ve made so many missteps in my first draft and have had to force myself to correct them later on, but I think that’s a good thing. Besides, you’ll likely get this type of feedback from an editor at some point anyway, so you may as well be comfortable with the idea of intense revision.
  8. Embrace your internal editor. The first draft will be sloppy but hopefully the guts are in there. The editing process is about fully revealing the story that you’d intended, chiseling the statue again and again until its features are much clearer. Until it shines.
  9. Engage friends to have a look at your polished product. I guarantee that they will find problems in logic, naming, grammar and punctuation no matter how many times you’ve gone through the book.
  10. Don’t ever quit. Like I said, anyone could have a great novel inside them. It’s going to be hard and you’re going to be largely ignored when you try to get people to read what you’ve written, but persistence is as important as writing a good book.
  11. And finally, never listen to someone who hasn’t actually published a book! And that’s the funny inside of me coming out. Write what you love, people.
Dream hard, rage hard.

15 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel

  1. The only one I have issues with is #8. My internal editor is one of the reasons I’m struggling with writing. His voice is way too loud and keeps yelling “it’s crap!” with every word I write. I’d like to get a muzzle for the guy.

    1. Figure the editor is like your nemesis. There’s a time and place for him to enter your story. But there’s no point in him being there all the time…

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