How to write a novel.
Those 5 words have so many different answers that, as a newbie to the writing world, left me baffled. I clicked onto as many “How To” articles that my hungry little eyes could handle but after reading one and moving onto the next it would leave me confused and frustrated. One would say DO this and the next would say DON’T do that. Complete contradictions… I even found contradictions residing in the same books. What’s a writer to believe?
If you are lucky enough to have a writing mentor then the decision is easy, go with their advice. However, if you are like me and are on this roller coaster ride by yourself (for the time being hopefully) then you have to take the plunge and either pick a strategy that sounds right or fly by the seat of your pants. I’m not a “pantster” as I’ve heard some writers call it. I’m a “planner”.
The following steps are what I’ve put together after reading over 100 articles on “How to Write a Novel”.
Step 1: An Idea
Some of us are lucky to already have an idea floating in our minds. If that’s the case skip to step two. If not, you can find ideas by:
- using an application or website that posts daily writing prompts
- using the inspiration that you’ve written in your writers notebook (more info coming in another post)
- Checking out websites that post writing jobs and write what they are looking for (more info coming in another post)
- Researching agents and or publishers. Take notes on what they are looking for and go from there. A great resource for this is the Novel and Short Story Writers Markets by Writers Digest. They come out with a new version every year and it is extremely useful. A must have for every writers bookshelf.
Tip: Know the difference between what’s an idea and what’s a story line that you can create into a book. For a great example check out this article “The Difference Between Idea, Premise and Plot” by Janice Hardy.
Step 2: Decide on the genre and the tone of the book
Every genre has basic guidelines to follow when writing a book. Do a quick Google search to find the guideline you should use for the genre you are looking to write in. If you are interested in writing a Romance (like me) then pick a publishing house that you might want to work with. On their website they should have guidelines for each of their “imprints”. Here is a list of guidelines that Harlequin created for their imprints. (A post of the different Romance Publishing houses and their imprints is coming soon). Use the guideline you find as a tool on how to structure your novel.
Step 3: Plan out Your Book
I started this writing process by filing out character worksheets and then from there an idea for a story formed. I thought, why not write that story. I got to chapter 4 when I realized that an idea does not equal a book. I had great characters but I had no idea what ordeals they were going to have to go through and how it would all work out in the end. So, as all writers who are stuck do, I googled my way out of that problem and into many many more. I found out how useful it is to take the time at the beginning of your novel to:
- Create in-depth character profiles by using Charolette Dillon’s Character Worksheets
- Come up with plots that help to move your story along.
- Create scenes and setting that make sense in your story (check out Jamie Gold’s Worksheets for Romance Plotting and Scene building ” Romance Planning Beat Sheets“)
- Create a chapter by chapter basic outline to follow along. Here is How to Write a Novel.net’s Outline Sheet.
Step 4: Research
Once you’ve got your books mapped out it’s time to do the fun part (in my mind at least), Research! To make a believable work of fiction you need to at least have a basic knowledge of what your writing about. The best tool I have found to gather and organize this information is through Pinterest. On Pinterest I can find ideas on how I want my characters to look, what kind of clothes they might wear, the places they might live or visit, the occupations they might have, etc… The best part about it is I can create separate boards for separate subjects and it’s all visual. It’s safe to say I am addicted to this website but it’s a good addiction 😉 You can find me here, feel free to follow and I will do the same.
Some links that will also help in your research are:
- Info Please
- The Internet Public Library
- The Library of Congress
- Reference Desk
- Occupational Outlook Handbook
- APB Online
These are just a few resources to tap into. Take some time to explore what the internet and your local library has to offer. You will be amazed!
Step 5: Write
Write your first draft from beginning to end without looking back or revising/editing. Many authors mention this as a key step in writing. Worry about getting it all out before you worry about getting it all right.
I am currently in this process and I have to say, it is extremely hard to not look back. I cheated once and went back a few chapters to reread and edit my first 5. It honestly screwed me up. My line of creativity towards the story stalled and I started focusing more on the rules of writing and how things needed to be towards the end of the writing process (something I am very far away from currently) and I freaked myself out. I started to think that my story wasn’t worth finishing. It took almost a month for me to get back into the groove of just writing the story out. Now I know, a story isn’t a story until it’s a beginning, a middle and an end.
Step 6: Read, Revise and Edit
After you have finished typing out your first draft, set it aside for a week or two and then come back to it. Doing it this way leaves you refreshed and feeling as though you are reading it for the first time. (Side note: I would go through the grammar and spelling check first. I don’t know about you but I just can’t focus on something that has a lot of errors.)
After rereading it start:
- Revision Process #1: This is where you will fix any obvious problems in the story line.
- Beta Reader: This can a friend, family member, or fellow writer who reads your book and gives you feedback on it.
- Revision Process #2: Revision after taking into consideration the critiques you received.
- Some writers will send their books to a Book Dr or to a professional Editor. That is completely up to you.
- Format it to fit into today’s submission standards
Step 7: Send it out
After your umpteenth revision and you feel comfortable with what you have created:
- Find an agent or publisher to work with
- Send out your queries
- Make revisions according to your agent or publishers direction
Step 8: Marketing
Today in the writing world, you don’t just write the book. You are responsible for at least half of the marketing to sell it. The best way to accomplish this is to create an Author Platform. (I will go into further detail about that in another post). Many suggest starting your Author Platform as soon as you decide to write a book you want to publish. Find your community of writer who can guide you to the right people and your beginning group of fans that will be eager to read your breakthrough novel.
I think the key thing I have learned is that if you have a story to write, write it. Then, go back and learn the right way to write a book and start slicing your book to pieces until it’s at its most purest form. Then, and only then will you have a chance at getting it published. Sounds pretty ruthless doesn’t it?! I hope I make it.
If you are a writer in the middle of writing your first book, let me know. I’d love to share this process with other people who are currently in the same situation as me.
12 thoughts on “8 Steps to Writing a Novel”
Thanks for linking to my worksheets! I hope they’re helpful for people. 🙂
Hi, I’m at the research stage and will be starting my first draft next month. The steps you outlined are nearly identical to mine except I’m marketing from the get go and will send mine to a critique service instead of a beta reader and then make revisions. Have you decided whether you are going to go trad/small press/self publishing?
Hi Cassandra, I have yet to make the final decision but I’m leaning towards a publishing house. So far, it seems to be the way to go if you want to make this a career but there is still so much to learn about both avenues that I’m not 100% sure which route is the the one for me.
What critiquing service are you going to use?
Yeah, there is a lot to learn!
I’m using a critiquing service that critiques middle grade/YA/New Adult fiction because my novel is a YA romance. The editors all write and have had work that has been traditionally published. I was going to find Betas to read my work for free but thought it would be best to use one critiquer to look at everything rather than have multiple.ones. Also, you never know who you’re going to get…
Since you’re leaning towards trad pub, have you looked into getting a literary agent yet?
Yes, I have. I definitely want an agent if one will have me. I’ve gathered my list of agents that work with contemporary romance and right now I’m trying to compare those agents with the authors that have been on the best selling lists this year. Then i want to figure out which agents work with which publishing houses and how often. Once I get all that info together I’ll know which agents to send a query to.
Great post! But I have to disagree with ‘deciding the genre and tone.’ As a writer you should read and write a lot because by doing these two things, you’ll get to know what genre you love reading (in which case, you should write these kind of books), and by writing a lot you’ll develop your voice. I do like that you talk about researching which other posts don’t.
Thank you for your comment and your advice. It is much appreciated. Contemporary Romance and Paranormal Romance has always been my preferred genre to read. I’m looking to venture out into other areas to help strengthen my writing. Do you have any specific books to suggest?
I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this website. I’m hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own website now 😉