A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Novel

How do you write a novel? It’s all about taking a few steps…

Thinking about writing a novel? Don’t know where to start? How? When? Well, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, writing is not that hard… all you have to do is take a seat at a desk and bleed your soul out through your fingers.

Yeah, I’m just being dramatic right now. Writing a novel is all about that first step. To feel this burning desire to write, and to listen to it, and to never hold back. Writing that novel is not something you will get to one day. It is something you have to do.

Here are some “steps” on how to write a novel. Please keep in mind that we’re all different, and every great writer has their own process. These should be used as a guideline to help develop your own.

1. It all starts with an idea…

Yup. I’m just going to state the obvious, because there are a lot of folks out there who just want to write a novel, because they think it’s cool or easy or a way to earn a quick buck or become famous or get laid…

You really can’t write a novel unless you know what want to write about. It’s that simple. You need to know what you are going to write about. You don’t necessarily have to have a complete outline to start, but you need to have a general idea of what your story is about and where it’s headed.

After all, it is impossible to hit a target you do not see.

2. Research. Take notes. Outline. Find inspiration.

Most of my novels are inspired by some song, poem, lyrics, movie scene, or painting. Some of them are about historical characters, stories about people I never met, or gossip about a friend of a friend of a friend.

Inspiration is literally everywhere.

Also, you need to research topics that are relevant to your story. It’s not just for accuracy, or in order not to piss off someone who does know a lot about your topic, but also in order to further immerse yourself into the story.

Here’s the thing: the more you know about your story, about the universe you are trying to create, the more it feels like a dream from another life. A constant state of deja vu is needed in order to write a compelling story.

3. Punch the damn keys.

Yup. it’s time to sit down and bunch the damn keys.

Write, write, write.

Don’t edit. Don’t think, just write.  Let the words flow and forget grammar and punctuation. Let the story come out. Tidying it comes later.

4. Don’t think, just write.

Yes, this is such an important step, that I have to write about it twice.

A lot of aspiring writers think that their first draft needs to be perfect. They labor over one sentence for a whole day just to get it right. That means you might finish a novel in about twenty years.

Do not fear perfection. It does not exist. And you shouldn’t expect it from your first draft. You’ll perfect it as you edit it and edit it over and over. Seeking perfection will prevent you from ever finishing your book.

5. Finish writing the thing.

Write until the damn thing is finished. The first draft is just a major milestone in your novel writing. It is the biggest hurdle you have passed so far. Now you move on to more mature aspects of writing.

6. Take a break…

Like fine wine….it will be clearer and easier to edit your novel if you wait for a while before editing. A few weeks, a few months, it does not matter.

Take your time. Do other stuff, write other stories, keep human, travel a bit.

The thing is that when you return to your draft, it will feel like reading the words of a stranger. You yourself are a bit different, and this helps you be as objective as possible, because now you have to…

7. Take a sharp knife to it…

This sounds counter productive, but it is what you should do next. See where it needs to be changed. Move stuff around. Remove characters, dialogue, or action. Add in scenes and conversations. Tear it apart and reconstruct an even better story.

All you are doing is improving what your first draft was.

8. When you think you’re done, you’re not.

Yes, one could successfully argue that art is never finished, only abandoned.

Given enough time, reading the manuscript for tens of times, then taking another break, you’ll always find stuff to edit. A year after my latest release, rereading it made me want to edit the hell out of it.

That’s the thing…

I edit my novels for a few weeks. I read them over and over again until I hate them. Start to finish, backwards, sideways… I read and edit and read and edit until it almost makes me sick.

But then… once I can’t stand it anymore, it’s free.

Once I release a novel, I do my best to never read it again. Not in its entirety. Because I’ll undoubtedly find something that needs changing.

9. Create something new.

Take a break. Do some other stuff for a while. Stuff you’ve never done before. Meet and talk to people you never imagined meeting. Do your best to become someone else…

Then take a deep breath, sit at your desk, and start bleeding your heart out onto the white page again…

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10 thoughts on “A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Novel

  1. This is one of the best articles I’ve found in my whole time here on WordPress. Useful, concise and the advice found me just when I was looking for it. Thank you!

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