writing a novel,  writing fiction

On Writing a Novel

So you want to write a novel. You’ve read other novels and thought, “I think I could do this.” Or maybe you’ve been writing on and off for years.

Or maybe you’ve had a great idea for a book and just don’t know how to start. Maybe you can see yourself being an author, but you don’t know how to find an idea for a novel.

Whatever the case, many people have the desire to write a novel. I want to share a few ideas on writing a novel.

Finding an Idea

Not only do you need an idea for your novel, but you need to be continually finding and working through ideas while you write your book.

Ideas are all around us. The idea for my first published book, Grasshopper Pie, sparked when my kids wanted me to play a cooking game while I was cleaning the bathroom. They kept asking me to play, so I gave in and asked for things like a watermelon burrito and sunflower soup. They obliged by bringing me imaginary food.

When I asked for grasshopper pie, I was surprised to hear the front door open and close. When I went to investigate, I found my son and daughter searching our rose garden for–you guessed it–a real, live grasshopper. My kids were planning to feed me a grasshopper! Just thinking about a grasshopper in my mouth gives me the heebie jeebies.

As I thought about my experience, I decided it would be a great idea for a children’s picture book. I wrote it and submitted it to a publisher, and it was published in 2003.

I also used personal experiences in my novels and novellas. One of the best ways to find ideas is to use personal experiences. But there are other ways to find ideas, too.

I offer a free ecourse on finding ideas: Become an Idea Factory. It’s a 7-day course delivered right to your inbox with ways to find ideas. You can sign up for this free course here. I know these techniques work because I use them myself and I want to share the with you!

You’ll need your “big idea” for your novel, but you’ll also need lots of other ideas to write a compelling, interesting novel.

Pantsing vs Planning

Do you like to write by the “seat of your pants,” aka “pantsing?” Writers who write stories without an outline and plan are known as pantsers.

Writers who write with an outline and have a predetermined plan to write from the beginning to the end, are known as planners or plotters.

Which way is right? That depends on how you create your story. Many successful authors are pantsers. They have a vague idea of the story they want to tell and maybe even glimpses of some of the characters. They sit down at their keyboard and begin writing the story, taking twists and turns as they come. They feel this is the way their muse works and any planning/outlining would stymie their creativity.

There are also many successful authors who are plotters. They create an outline as detailed as needed and plan out what they’ll write. When they sit down at the computer, they know what they’ll be writing that day. They feel that the outline process allows their creativity to shine.

Still, others like to use a little of both. Some authors create a loose outline that isn’t too detailed and then “pants” the rest of it.

Whichever style meets your needs as a writer, isn’t important, but knowing which one is important. You want to harness your creativity to write this book, and whichever style allows you to do that the most is the one you should choose.

Knowing your style allows you to use your time most efficiently.

Writing Your First Chapter

Once you know your writing style, you’ll want to start writing your first chapter. This is one of the most important chapters you’ll write, because readers will determine whether or not they want to read your novel based on that first chapter.

There are certain elements that need to be included in the first chapter like the hook.

A hook is what entices a reader to read your first chapter. This is different from the story question, which compels your reader to keep reading the rest of the book.

It’s imperative to have a hook in the first chapter because that is what will make people want to read your book. A hook could be anything, but it must be intriguing enough to capture a reader’s attention. A dead body, a mysterious letter, or even a conversation between two characters that creates questions in the reader’s mind can be hooks.

Your first chapter must have a hook, otherwise you won’t find many readers. Besides a hook, you need to include other components that will encourage readers to not only pick up your book and start reading it, but to keep reading it.

My course, Writing a Fantastic First Chapter, will teach you the elements that you need in that all-important chapter. You don’t want to spend months, or even years, working on your novel but miss capturing readers because your first chapter isn’t what it needs to be.

For a limited time, I’m offering my course for an introductory price. You can find out more here.

Writing the Rest of Your Novel

Once you have your first chapter written, and the rest of your story outlined, or you have at least a concrete idea of the story you’ll be writing, you’ll need to sit down and write it.

Writing a novel isn’t easy. It takes times and dedication. For me, I’ve learned that I need to set aside some time every day to work on my novel. I’d love to say that I have a dedicated time period each day, but my life doesn’t work that way. I’m a list person, so I write on my list what my goal is for the day with regard to writing.

Some days, my goal is to write 2000 words. Other days, it’s to write as much as I can in 20 minutes, because that’s all the time I’ll have that day. I think the important thing is to write every day, even if it’s only for a short time, because that develops a habit. You’d be surprised at how much you can write during a writing sprint that only lasts 15-20 minutes.

My best tip: set aside the time you have to write and just write. Don’t edit. Don’t research. Just pour your words out onto your screen.

It’s much easier to edit a terrible first draft than a perfect blank page.

Keep writing every day until your book is finished. You may need to make adjustments to your outline and/or idea, and that’s okay. Just keep writing.

Once you’ve written the novel, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to over a year or even longer, you’ll need to go back through it and edit it.

Edit it until your story is the very best that you can write it.

Let Others Read Your Work

When your manuscript is written as well as you can possibly write it, let others read it.

My advice: don’t let family or friends read it first. They probably won’t be as objective and they won’t want to hurt your feelings with and critical comments, so they may not be as tough as you need.

Find other writers who are interested in publishing and let them read it. If you know some avid readers, ask them to read your manuscript and give you feedback. You can find critique groups online or in-person.

After you’ve had others read your book, look at their feedback. Determine what changes you need to make to your manuscript. Remember, it’s your book and people who critique it are giving you their opinions. You need to weigh what they’ve said and determine if the story does, in fact, need the changes they’ve suggested.

A good rule of thumb: if more than one person makes the same suggestion, you probably need to consider that suggestion.

After you’ve had people read your work and you’ve made any changes, it’s time to submit it to a publisher or, if you plan to self-publish, send it to an editor. You may want to also hire an editor before you send it to a publisher.

It’s Work

Writing a book is hard work. It takes time, persistence, dedication, commitment, and a thick skin to write a piece of yourself and let others read it.

Seeing your published book on Amazon is a-mazing! It’s wonderful to see your book baby and know that others are reading and enjoying characters and a world that you’ve created.

Take the time to do it right by developing and honing your skills, and it will pay off, both emotionally and financially.

***Have you received my FREE course: Become an Idea Factory? You can click here to learn more about it. It’s a 7-day course delivered right to your inbox that helps you learn how to generate ideas. I know these techniques work because I use them! Find out more here.

***Do you already have a manuscript? If you can’t afford an editor, you might be interested in Pro Writing Aid Writing Software. This writing software helps you improve your writing to be the best it can be. It’s like having your own private editor for a fraction of the price. You can try it for free for 2 weeks. You can click here to learn more about it.
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8 Comments

  • Dane

    This is a very interesting post I must confess. Many people fund it hard ti write a novel because they lack something which is usually the first push to start writing. However this I very common amongst new writers  I have been a victim of that too myself. But reading through this post and following the steps given would help anyone get through whever is holding them back. Thanks for putting up this post. 

    • Rebecca Talley

      Thanks for stopping by! It’s hard to begin writing a novel (I have a free course on finding ideas that might help), but once you get going, it becomes easier. For me, taking it a step at a time helps prevent becoming overwhelmed.

  • Henderson

    Tbis is a very good post that you have written here on how to start off with writing a novel. I really did try to start writing a novel in the past. I had to let it go because it was too much of a daunting task for me to deal with. I think with this steps you have outlined here, I can try it out again. It truly is a lot of work to write a novel and setting out time is very paramount. Nice post

  • Dave Sweney

    This is an excellent article and guide on writing a novel. I do not know the number of people that I have talked to over the years that expressed interest or an intent to write their first novel. Unfortunately, most never get past that expressing stage and write that novel they have inside of them.

    I could tell reading through your detailed advice that you know what you are writing about, and it made the entire work much more meaningful to me. I have written using various styles for many types of content (i.e. business, journal articles, newspaper articles, regulations, training manuals, short stories, etc.) but never tackled a novel.

    I am seriously thinking of diving into one so decided to do a little research. I am glad that this led to your website and article, as it seems I have found the right place to learn more, I am a planner, not someone that dives in and hopes for the best. You have helped me today and I have bookmarked the website so I can come back again and learn more. Thanks!

    • Rebecca Talley

      Thank you for stopping by! I’m so glad this was helpful. I, too, know many people who want to write a novel but haven’t quite gotten there. I hope this article is helpful to others. 

  • Chloe

    Writing a novel for me isn’t much of a problem but as easy at it cam be I still sometimes have to put myself together to get it right. However for beginners especially I would say this is a really wonderful guide to arrive at a really good work. The idea of making other people read your work before publishing at least should be adopted because there are certain errors we can’t notice on our own. Best regards.

    • Rebecca Talley

      Thank you for your comments! It’s scary to have other people read your work, but it should be part of the process so other people can help us to make our writing as clear as possible. I’ve been surprised by errors that someone else caught even though I’d read that book many times. We just don’t catch errors as well because we see what “should” be there but isn’t necessarily “actually” there. 

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