How to Write a Novel

Before I mislead anyone with that highly original blog title, please know what follows is simply an explanation of how I’ve managed to write an average of three full-length novels a year, a bunch of short stories, and a novella or two. Now, I know there is plenty of online advice about how to write 10,000 words a day. “James Patterson your career” has been a buzz-phrase for a while now. I dig it. I just can’t write that fast. I’m guessing most of us can’t. But I have discovered that slow and steady (meaning a consistent daily effort) does win the race for productivity with minimal burnout.

Not easy, but doable!

So, if you’re looking for a little inspiration or you’re on a break between writing sprints (or just procrastinating), I’m happy to share my tips on how I get the proverbial lead out. Every writer is different, but here is what works for me.

Have an idea and a plan

I never start any work of fiction without deciding on the main characters, the setting, the twist, and the ending. Within those loose parameters are opportunities for creative exploration. The thing I love most about writing is discovering magical ideas along the way and allowing myself to make changes accordingly.

That’s the fun part.

The hard part is hating what you’re writing, having no idea what the hell you’re doing, realizing you wrote the same scene three days ago, and that you suck! Hang on. They’re only words. Without pulling a Jack Torrance, try to just get it down.

I love James Patterson’s advice to “freight train your way through it.” His Master Class is excellent, by the way. Even if you’re not a fan of his work, his practical positivity will set you on the right course.

Do I outline? Yes. Does it change? Absolutely, and always for the better. That’s why it’s essential to not only have a map but also to allow yourself to stray from it. As long as you can find your way back, you’re okay. Who knows what adventures await? It’s also imperative—nay, required—that you have fun.

Establish a routine and stick with it

The stick with it part is the most important here. Find when you write best and write then. Do you work best burning the midnight oil? Or does your muse appear during the 3 am witching hour as mine often does?

Discover what works for you and draw a sacred chalk circle around that space and time and allow no one to enter it.

If internet distractions are too great, get yourself a stripped-down computer and write on that. Use it only for writing. Invent an elaborate password for it (make sure you write it down somewhere). Light candles and incense, wear a black robe (can you tell I write horror?), or your varsity sweater. Whatever you need to do to get into that mental and physical space, do it. Your muse will magically appear. Really.

Set a challenging, doable word count

I can whip off 1,000 words easily, and that used to be my average word count. Then I challenged myself to write more and discovered 3,000 words a day was my sweet spot (challenging, but doable). I feel great when I reach that goal each morning. Challenge yourself to go just a little farther than your comfort zone.

Write everyday

This one might be unpopular. Even God took a day off! I believe in rest days. My rest day is when I write my weekly blog post, or maybe try my hand at poetry or write a few paragraphs for a new short story. My advice for your day off is be experimental, but write something. Try your hand at erotica. Remember, no one’s watching.

Don’t stop until you type “The End”

Don’t put down the half-written manuscript in some file, thinking you’ll get back to it someday with “fresh eyes.” No! That’s only for the second draft. If you put that first draft away unfinished, chances are you won’t get back to it. If you do force yourself to complete it, congratulations on your fortitude, but how did it feel? Lousy, I bet. You lost the flow. Everything felt wrong. I learned this the hard way.

When you’re writing the first draft, don’t stop until you’re done. Work every day (minus your rest day). When you come back to it, you should be kicking at the stall, ready to go. That’s the kind of enthusiasm and faith you need to move forward. You’re on a fool’s mission, and you’re having a blast. Never lose that energy, because you will never get it back, and that’s a damn shame. Also, never go back and edit until you’ve finished the first draft. That way madness lies.

Try not to go crazy.

Type “The End” and put it away

Only when you’ve finished the first draft it is safe to give it some space, air it out, let it rest. Hopefully, when you’re ready to get back to it for a second draft/edit (don’t wait too long), you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you’ve written. Perhaps you’ll be horrified, but at least you did it. Be proud. Polish it up and put it out there.

Let it go

Have you ever noticed writers (directors, actors) often seem bored when discussing new releases in interviews? Maybe they’re just sick of answering the same questions, but I suspect it’s also because they’ve moved on from the project.

It’s not healthy to hang on to the past too much. Let it go and make space for the next book.

Publish it!

Whether you try the traditional route or self-publish your book, get it out there. You may be writing in the dark, but you will want to share what you’ve written.

Are you scared? So, was I. My first one-star review devastated me. Now, I forget to read them, even the good one—honestly. You will develop a thick skin, and you will grow.

Keep writing! And good luck!

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