How To Write A Novel (or How I Wrote Mine)

When, eventually, I admitted to people that I had written and self published a novel, many people asked me about the process and stated that they could never do it themselves. I believe the old saying that there is a novel in everyone, it is just not everyone is brave enough to take on the challenge of writing it (and it is a challenge).

So if you are tempted into beginning the journey into writing that novel idea of yours, here is my 10 tips to get you started.

1 – WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE – Many authors advise that you should write about what you know. Some authors advise to write what you don’t know as it encourages effective research. For me, you should write what you love as it will help maintain your focus, passion and commitment to finish the journey. I love to read crime and thriller novels, so that’s where I started.

2 – DON’T PLOT OUT THE FULL NOVEL – I was once attended an event by Ian Rankin and he commented that a fellow author told him he had over 180 pages of notes for his next novel. Ian, jokingly, stated that that it wasn’t notes, it was a book. Although it is good to plot out a rough idea of where the novel will go, don’t overdo it as this prevents some creativity magic from happening during the process (often when you least expect it).

3 – FOCUS ON THE CHARACTERS – Regardless of how thrilling the plot may be, if the characters are dull readers will lose interest quickly. Make them believable, but leave an air of mystery around them. All main characters should have a secret or flaw that makes them appealing to the reader.

4 – DON’T GET LOST IN DESCRIPTION – Many authors love to ramble on for pages about scenery, weather, settings, clothes, etc. Whereas some of this is necessary, don’t overdo it as once more your reader may lose interest. The story line is the most important aspect of the novel and you need to keep it moving to maintain interest.

5 – KEEP AN EYE ON WORD COUNT – Word count can be a friend and an enemy. Most first novels should be around 75,000 words, much shorter and it is a novella, much longer and people may not wish to read it (especially publishers if this is a route you want to explore). It is better to break the novel down to smaller parts, such as writing 30 chapters of around 2,500 words.

6 – FIND A READING BUDDY – When I was writing my novel, I passed it to a friend to read during the process. The only rule I stated was that he was only to discuss the story/characters and not pull me up over spelling/grammar errors. This was an extremely useful exercise as the positive feedback on the story motivated me to continue, whereas feedback on certain characters made me look at them differently to how I had originally imagined them.

7 – TALK TO OTHER WRITERS – If you know anyone else who writes, has written a novel or is currently on that journey, then speak with them. They may be able to give you some tips of how they tackle a particular problem. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss your novel and may spark interest in the completed works. If you don’t know anyone, you can join a local group (often found via your local library).

8 – LOOK FOR INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE – Inspiration for a story or plot line can come from all places. Often it may be from a newspaper article, a story a colleague or friend shares or simply by observing the world go by. Also, a word, phrase or title may inspire you to write. I use the titles of classic rock songs for my stories and in some occasions have used that as my inspiration or basis for the story.

9 – GET A GANG OF PROOFREADERS – When you have finished your novel, have re-read it numerous times and are ready share it with people, do so on one condition. Ask them to take a copy of the manuscript and note any errors with a pencil as they are reading it. The more people who do this, the less errors there will be (and there will be many more that you will expect). If you can afford it, you could pay for a professional proofreader, however, this can be costly.

10 – ENJOY THE PROCESS – You should want to write a novel because it is someone that you want to enjoy. If you find the process a chore or a slog, then writing is not for you. Also, don’t do it if you want to be the next millionaire author. Most full time authors will earn less than the minimum wage with their writing. Personally, I look at writing as a hobby, a means of escape and a way to unwind. I have never tried to get an agent or get my work published. This may change in the future, but by keeping writing as a hobby there is one this that I will always do.

Love doing it.