How do I start writing a novel? Where do I get the ideas to write a book? What do I need? How do I organize the structure? What do I have to take into account when writing? What do I do when I finish? This post gives you a five-step method written by expert writers from PaperHelp.
Writing a novel is hard work. At least if you want to write a good novel. It is especially hard when you are writing your first novel since you will see in the publishing market that there are writers who can publish several books in a year. But normally, they are authors who already have extensive experience, although this is no guarantee of success. Rosa Montero says it takes her a minimum of three years to write a novel. Then you have to add the whole publication process. Other authors take longer. And there is no problem, and haste is not a good ally of the writer. Therefore, I do not recommend this post if you want a magic formula to write a novel in a few weeks. However, I will propose a method so that you do not give more detours than necessary.
How to start writing a book
The first problem with writing a novel is thinking that you have to start by writing. Before you start writing, it’s best to plan what to write. But to plan, you have to have an idea. You also have to practice writing to shape what you’ve planned. And to get better at writing, writing is not enough, and you also need to read a lot.
Although in this post I detail much of this process, I recommend you take it easy, take a pencil and paper and watch this video where I tell you how to write a book in 5 steps.
As you can see, I have devised a formula for writing a novel in five phases: reading, observing, thinking, writing, and teaching. I will begin by summarizing these major sections on how to write a novel.
The best news is that you may have already completed this phase. A good writer is a good reader. A good horror writer must have read numerous horror books before. We writers are what we read; this is where our writing equipment comes from. Therefore, if you think you’re going to get a good book with hardly any reading background, I think it’s complicated. Some people say they’ve seen a lot of movies… but it’s one thing to tell stories as you tell them in a meeting with friends and quite another to give shape to the whole literary universe that a novel requires. I don’t know if 1,000 or 10,000 books are necessary to write well, but I think that the more you read, the better you write because you internalize vocabulary, narrative formulas, and structures…
So start reading alternate novels with classics. If you dream of writing a crime novel, read this type of novel, although it’s not bad to soak up other genres. Visit the library, browse the bookstores, browse those shelves at home where there may be books you haven’t touched, always have a book on your bedside table or in your backpack, collect titles in your e-book, let yourself be recommended by those who read more than you…
A good writer is a great observer of the world around him. That, along with reading, will be what makes the idea from which the novel arises. Look at everything, think about everything, and try to capture the details since describing those details will be essential when writing. It is what will give authenticity to your story. Always keep a notebook handy or an app on your cell phone to write down everything that catches your attention.
Many first-time writers have millions of ideas and can’t choose. Others can’t think of anything. It’s all about self-demand. If there are many ideas, you can try to write them down and choose one, even by drawing lots, and focus on that idea. If there are no ideas, create a diary where every night you write down everything that has happened to you that day, the thoughts that have been going through your head. Maybe that’s where your seed is. The point is to get going and play, to walk.
Ideas for writing a book: the seed
For Alexander Steele, it is the seed, and Rosa Montero calls it the little egg. I call it, simply, the idea. The novel’s origin is the idea from which the whole process will start. “It can be a character, a name, a situation, a structure, a dialogue you overhear, a mood, a theme, or even an undefined feeling,” says Steele. These ideas can be anywhere and appear at any time. The fiction writer must seek them out, but more importantly, identify them, write them down and develop them. This is why the observation section is so important.
You have an idea or several ideas. You must start thinking to select the one you think is most appealing and then go through a lot of steps in planning the novel. There are many decisions to make: theme, plot development, narrator, characters, point of view, voice, mode, setting, characters, and narrative time…
Thinking is devising and planning. Some people do it on the fly when they start writing, but this is very difficult. Take blank sheets of paper, “post it,” a large whiteboard, a poster board, or a mind mapping application. Write down the beginning of your book and the end you want to get to. A novel is a long road full of stops. Map out the characteristics of your protagonist, what makes them special, the difficulties they have to overcome, and the ending you want to bring them to. Once you have the main conflict and the master storyline, add elements. Scenarios, other characters, subplots, the organization in chapters, and answer questions such as the type of narrator you want to use, verb tenses if you want to tell it linearly or jumping in time, secondary characters… All this takes time, and you must keep it in mind. Changes will occur to you and when you think you have a solid framework, leave it there. That’s it, because maybe when you start writing, you will have to change things.
Amos Oz said: “To write an 80,000-word novel, I have to make a quarter of a million decisions. The plot, who will live, who will die, character names, faces, chapters, the title of the book, when I can tell and when to silence, what to tell in detail and what only by allusion.”
In this thinking, you must also take into account your own personality as a writer, your strengths and weaknesses, as Rosa Montero suggests:
- Do you work better in long or short texts?
- A storyteller or a novelist? Short novel?
- Good at descriptions or dialogues?
- Baroque or dry and substantial?
- Humorous or not?
- Realistic or fantastic?
Don’t know how to start, but then you get good at it, or the other way around?
With your roadmap in front of you, it’s time to start writing. Ideally, you should set yourself at a steady, manageable daily pace. For example, 1,000 words a day. You may write more on some days and less on others, but you should take this as an average. In addition, you should take time to review what you have written, and you may even have to make modifications on the fly in the planning or changing parts of the story that do not work when you have started to shape it. All this is normal, but the important thing is to work, move forward and follow a routine like a hammer. Only then will the end come.
We’ve talked a lot before about the importance of planning, but in the end, writing is the most important step. The biggest enemy when it comes to writing is ourselves, that conscious self that self-analyzes and criticizes itself to the point of blocking you. But remember, if you have planned well, follow your agenda, go ahead, always go ahead, and if something does not convince you, there will be time to change it when you finish.
Continuing with what Amos Oz said, writing is also about making subtle decisions, putting certain words, and where to cut the sentence… This is writing and takes you hours, days, and days.
As a writer, you are God, you are God in your novel, and you are in command of the world you are building. Play with ambition and fill everything with detail, but don’t be overly descriptive. Of course, don’t forget to take some distance between your characters and the story because even if you create it, it’s not your story. It’s a novel, not your life.
When you have finished, it is good to make a general revision and then let the work rest; leave it on the computer or in a drawer for a couple of weeks before the final revision.
The main part of the writer’s job is done. But there comes a time when it may be even more complicated, especially if you are those who are afraid of what others might think of what you write. But if you want your work to become a published book, you must take the plunge. Start by entrusting your novel to three or four people you trust who are readers and have similar tastes to yours so that they can act as zero readers and give you a first opinion about your book. Listen to their suggestions and criticisms, and if you think that based on what they have told you, you can make changes to your novel that will improve it, make them. After making these improvements, you should put your book in the hands of a professional proofreader. If you don’t know any, a Google or LinkedIn search will give you access to many. Even if you think your novel is clean of typos, a professional proofreader will iron it out and take care of details that escape the eyes of a conventional reader. After passing this step, your manuscript will be ready for whatever destination you want to give your novel: direct submission to a publisher, participation in a literary contest, or self-publication.
And if you get published, the teaching process will continue, as your novel will reach the public. You will have to do presentations and maybe even an interview. Take a breath and think about your next book.
Creative writing practices
A novel should be a long-term goal. If you’ve never written, start with simpler exercises, don’t start building a skyscraper straight away. Try the following:
- Write a journal for 50 days in literary language, with entries of 300 words a day.
- Write a scene or episode from your favorite TV series.
- Write an important memory in your life in two different ways, one with you as the narrator and one with a different narrator.
- Get some narrative dice and write stories using the words you come up with at random.
- Brainstorm literary characters and write a story with the one you find most appealing.
- Write a short story a day for a month.
- Describe the best literary scenarios you can imagine.
- Narrate scenes from your daily life. Do it in two ways: with short sentences to give the feeling of speed and expectation and with long sentences to give the feeling of slowness and to be more reflective.