How do you learn to write a novel?

How do you learn to write a novel? by Naomi Tepper

Answer by Naomi Tepper:

Writing a novel, all 70,000 words plus of one, can be a daunting task indeed. Even though it sounds intimidating, when it comes to novels, 70,000 words isn’t that long. When it’s all typed up and bound in a beautiful cover, the resulting book is only about two inches thick. A lot of novels can actually hit 80-90,000 words or more. (Check out these colossal word counts of epic fantasy novels!)

To get to 70k, however, you need to start with word one. What's stopping you?

A lot of writers sit on great novel ideas for years but are too intimidated to get started. You might be facing a procrastination problem, or you might just not know where to start.

To Outline or Not to Outline? That Is the Question

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but I’ll tell you some advice from my experience authoring six published books and drafting several more.
I always start with a brief outline. I don’t put a lot of detail into it (unless it’s non-fiction, but that’s a topic for another discussion) because I know, as I get into the writing process, that details are going to change. I’m not the only author who has discovered that characters will have their “own ideas” about what should happen as you go along.

For me, the purpose of an outline is to help avoid the absolutely terrifying stare of the blank page. Being at word zero of 70k+ is scary.

An outline is easy to construct, and it provides some footing for you to get started.

Write with Abandon

After you have created a brief outline, it's time to get to work! When writing the first draft of your novel, your best friend is “abandon.”

What do I mean?

I mean write without a second thought for what you are putting down on your page. Don’t self-edit as you go; you can fix problems later. Much later. For now, your goal should only be to dive in and write as many words as humanly possible that are even loosely related to your core idea.

The amazing thing about this method is that you will come up with characters and plot twists that you might have never before imagined. Allow your story to carry you away like the swift current of a raging river. Let go, and don’t try to swim to shore. You’ll be delighted to discover the amazing places the current will take you.

An Idea Is Just a Seed

An idea does not a novel make. Of course you are always going to start with an idea, but treat your idea like a seed. Just like when you plant a seed, water it, and help it grow, so, too, are you going to develop characters, themes, and plot elements to make that teeny, tiny idea expand into a full-grown novel.

Try to Finish Your First Draft Quickly

It’s important to finish your first draft within a reasonable amount of time. What is reasonable? Three months for a 70,000 word draft is very reasonable.

Writers who participate in NaNoWriMo are actually encouraged to write 50,000 words in a single month. (It’s hard! I’ve done it.)

The best way to finish your draft in three months or less is to write a little bit each day. If you are human, you are likely working a full-time job, have a family, and live a busy life. You want to carve out some sacred writing time. This could be the first hour after you wake up every morning, or perhaps it’s during your 45-minute train commute to work. The point is, write every day, and don’t let up until your draft is finished.

Use Scrivener and Write Like a Pro

When I write blogs, I use MS Word or Google Docs, but when I write a full-length book, I use Scrivener.

Novel writing has a lot of organizational considerations that just aren’t relevant to smaller bits of writing, and Scrivener covers these nicely.

Scrivener is set up so that you can divide your novel into short chunks or scenes and move them around so that they make more sense. This is a lot easier than doing a cut and paste in Word.

Of course, don't worry about shifting ANY scenes around until after you have completed your first draft.

In fact, I would recommend just opening your word processor or even an old-fashioned notebook so that you can hack out your first draft with absolutely zero concern for structure or order. (George R.R. Martin apparently uses a DOS computer from the 1980s to draft his masterpieces). Once your draft is ready for some work, use Scrivener to cut, revise, and rearrange your scenes.

Drafting Your Novel Is Only the Beginning!

Assuming you finish your first draft, you're going to have to revise, revise, revise, and have your novel edited and/or peer reviewed. Then you'll have to go through the publishing process (either self-published or traditional–both are a lot of work in their own ways). Finally, you'll have to promote the heck out of your book if you want anyone to read it.

For more information read my blog post  How to Start a Novel You've Been Wanting to Write for Years

Good luck!

How do you learn to write a novel?


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