Do you have an idea that’s been itching to get on paper? Writers often do. However, if you’ve never written a novel before, you may not know where to start. Whether you have a well thought out plot planned or simply a general starting point, many people struggle actually sitting down and writing 50,000+ words.
As a writer myself, I know how daunting that process can be! However, there are simple tricks that can help you write your first novel.
Below I’ve compiled a list of ways you can approach writing your story so you can get all your ideas on paper. Additionally, I explain how to get over writer’s block and keep your story going in the right direction. Lastly, you’ll learn the basics of publishing your finished novel.
How Should You Start Writing?
Method 1: The Planner
Are you one of those people who know every character’s name, favorite color, childhood stories, and character arches before you even begin writing the story? Do you know every twist and turn your book will take before you even write the first page? This writing process works for a lot of writers, especially if you are writing a mystery novel.
For example, this writing approach helps to develop characters before they are even written into the story. For example, you may plan your main character’s life story, including their favorite foods, their biggest fears, their craziest childhood memories, what they look like, and more. Will all of this detail make it into your book? Probably not. However, the more you know about your character, the more real he or she becomes. If you see your characters as real, three-dimensional people, it will show in the way you write them. As a result, your readers will see them as real too.
Planning these minuscule details can truly benefit your writing by adding a level of detail that will make your story more believable and relatable. However, it is possible to plan too much.
For some writers, knowing every nook, corner, and cranny of your story can distract from the story itself. For example, some writers stumble into the pitfall of explaining too much information all at once. Other writers become too enraptured with the planning process that they never actually start writing the book at all. Still, others may become bored with their own writing as they review the over-planned information too excessively.
Not everyone comes across these writing issues, but if you find yourself overplanning, try method 2.
Method 2: The One Who Writes Like S/He Reads
If you only have a vague idea of what you want your book to be about or have no idea at all, this may be the method for you. How do you do it? Just start writing.
Writing what? you may ask.
Just start writing. Place your pen to your paper or fingers to your keyboard and don’t stop writing for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. If you can force yourself to just keep writing, eventually you will have something to work with. The most important thing is not to plan -it’s to write.
For better or worse, I tend to use this process when I write close to the first half of a book. However, doing this means you won’t know much about the rest of your story until later in the writing process. To illustrate, when I read a book, I obviously don’t want to know the ending when I begin it. Likewise, when I write my stories, I tend to avoid figuring out the ending until it randomly becomes clear.
You might scoff, thinking back to all those creative writing teachers you’ve had that encouraged you to plan out your stories. But I’m here to tell you you don’t have to! How?
Let me give you an example of how I typically write a novel. My first book was inspired by a weird dream I had. Intrigued, I wrote the dream down. Before I knew it, the two people in my dream became my main characters and I built a dystopian world around the bizarre circumstances surrounding the dream. My dream was my mold and the world-building was formed accordingly. However, I didn’t know the direction the story was going until later.
To elaborate, my book is a bit of a mystery. The reader has no idea what is really going on until about halfway through the novel. This is simply because I didn’t figure out the ending to my own story until reaching that halfway point. Was I writing blindly, grasping in the dark for some random, unplanning ending? Not necessarily.
Interestingly, most stories -books, movies, and more- follow similar plot structures. If written correctly, your story will follow one of these structures too. That being said, your story will likely gravitate naturally in a particular direction. In other words, there comes a point in your book that you are no longer in control of what is supposed to happen. A decision will either make sense to the plot or it won’t. If you didn’t already plan your story out, you will simply have to discover what should happen next as your overall plot becomes more clear.
Let me give an example. Say you are writing a book about a boy who travels to a new dimension but you are unsure whether or not you want him to stay in the new dimension at the end of the novel or go back home. Whether you like it or not, the way you write his story will determine that outcome for you. Does he find he fits into this new world? Does he still yearn for home? Even if you don’t know yet how your own book will end, the answer will eventually become clear to you as your story gravitates toward one answer or the other.
Should You Plan it or Wing it?
Honestly, I believe the best way to write is to do some mixture of both methods. Plan, but don’t over-plan or under-plan. You don’t want to go completely blind into a story, but you also don’t want to plan so much that the writing itself takes a back seat.
The Writing Process
Identify The Type of Story You are Writing
At some point, your story will start to follow a pattern. According to Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots, there are a limited number of possible story patterns. Here they are:
- Overcoming the Monster
- Rags to Riches
- The Quest
- Voyage and Return
This isn’t to say all stories are the same. Your book is allowed to defy the odds with a twist ending or unconventional elements. However, virtually every story will fall into one (or maybe two) of these seven basic plots.
As you continue to write your story, it may be helpful to identify which plot describes your novel. This way, you can better understand what triumph your character must make. In other words, what does your character need to accomplish by the end of the book?
What Writer’s Block is Trying to Tell You
Writer’s block is a common plight. For many writers, writer’s block simply means they’ve run out of ideas or are lost as to the direction the story should go next.
However, writer’s block may be trying to tell you something else.
Before, I mentioned that most stories will follow a natural progression. If you have writer’s block, it may mean that your characters are going against the grain so to speak.
To illustrate, I was about halfway through my book when I got writer’s block. The characters were running from an evil government trying to capture them and I thought maybe that would be what the whole story was about. Running and fighting. However, my writer’s block was trying to tell me I needed to change direction.
I quickly realized that the characters simply running from the bad guys was too stagnant. The characters couldn’t grow and change on this course, nor could they learn more about their world. So I deleted the last page I had written and ambushed the characters with a load of trouble. Half the characters were captured, while the other characters argued and fought to rescue their captured friends. In this way, the characters could learn more about themselves and the world around them in an active way.
For me, writer’s block meant my characters weren’t going in the right direction. When I restructured the plot, my writer’s block went away.
Here’s the point: eventually, your characters become their own people. If you have writer’s block, it probably means your characters aren’t going in the direction they are supposed to go. What do they need to grow and change? What do they need to complete the Hero’s Journey?
What to do When You are Finished Writing
Editing your finished book involves more than grammar fixes. You have to ensure the story itself is paced well, the characters are developed well, and everything is resolved by the end of the book. Even if you have a cliffhanger at the end of your novel, it’s important to remember that the main conflicts of the story still must be addressed.
It may be helpful to have other people read and edit your book. You can have experienced friends act as beta readers, ask a professor for some advice, or even hire a freelance editor. If you are editing the book yourself, consider reading The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell. This book is a great resource because it addresses some of the most overlooked editing practices.
Publishing your book is one of the most exciting things you can do as a writer. However, there are two different kinds of publishing to choose from: traditional publishing versus self-publishing. To learn all about the two types of publishing, the pros and cons of each, and step-by-step instructions about how to go about each type of publishing, check out this article. For now, here are the basic differences between the two publishing avenues:
Traditionally publishing is where your book gets picked up by a publishing company. The publishing company then makes copies of your book, sells it in stores, and sells it online. All of this comes at no cost to you. However, most publishing companies do not accept unsolicited work. Therefore, you will have to find an agent to represent you. Agents also work for you for free, but they take a percentage of your book sales after it is published. Essentially, agents help you edit and prepare your book for publication. The agent then sends your book to the publishing companies.
Though traditional publishing has many advantages, it is ultimately harder to do. It could take anywhere between a month and a few years for agent to ask to sign with you. Many writers never get signed at all.
On the other hand, self-publishing is done solely by you. Rather than a publisher or agent getting your cover designed, the interior book formatted and edited, and your book marketed, you will have to do all those things yourself or pay to have them done for you.
Self-publishing makes it easier to get your book on sale fast, but it will ultimately cost you more money. Additionally, your book won’t likely get the same recognition as it would with a traditional publishing method. However, many writers prefer self-publishing because you keep the rights to your book and get full creative liberty over the story and cover design.
Moreover, there are many different self-publishing resources to help you get started. For example, Gatekeeper Press formats, designs, and distributes quality paperbacks, hardcovers, and eBooks at low costs. Unlike most other self-publishing resources, they make your book available at bookstores, retailers, and libraries worldwide.
What are You Waiting for?
Now that you know all the ins and outs of writing and publishing your book, it’s time to get started. Get those ideas flowing and put them on paper!
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