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How to Write a Novel

Advice from Readers


With regard to novel writing, there's no one-size-fits-all approach, which is why we decided to ask our readers for their advice on how they went about writing a novel. Our article "How to Write a Novel" offers one perspective, but it wouldn't strike home with everyone, at least not for all aspects of the novel-writing process.

Some of these pieces of advice may contradict each other; follow the advice that resonates with you. And if we've missed something, please use the form at the end to add your two cents.

1. Have a Schedule . . .

Setting aside regular time to write is key because it keeps the momentum going . . . I think it is also important to realize that sometimes your writing session may focus on research, or developing an outline for your next chapter, or reading over what you’ve written already. (From Charlotte Rains Dixon)

2. Or Write When You Can.

I have had to change my expectations about myself when it comes down to choosing a time to write. I’m not one of those who can set a rigid schedule for writing, but I thought I had to. It didn’t work, and then I would feel guilty! What works best for me is to simply write every day, whether it’s a little or a lot. I can squeeze in time here and there, and know that at least I can keep going on my second novel and complete it by spring. Other writers’ suggestions are great and I love to try them, but you have to use whatever methods work best for you. So, guilt be gone! (From Barbara MacKiinnon)

3. Know What You Are Going to Write About.

Make an outline about your short story, with no particular order. That way you won’t write about everything outside of your story. But remember, there will be times when you will not have anything to write about on the subject you are working on; it’s called writer’s block. That’s when you write about anything you can think of . . . It’s not always about writing about your current subject; it’s about constantly writing until that idea hits you. (From D-Dub)

4. Approach Plot as an Observer.

One thing I’ve learned in the process is that it is far easier to let the novel write itself as if you are the observer of the story unfolding. I see the setting, the characters, the events and the minute details as if it were a movie playing out. (From Nina) Read more about plot.

5. Avoid Back Story for First Draft.

Unless you’re well-experienced at novel writing, I’d advise you to write that first draft in strict chronological order: no back stories, no digressions that don’t have a date-stamp, keep the ‘meanwhiles’ to a minimum, etc. Then, with plot and characters firmly in place, go back and decide where the novel should actually begin (anything before that point in fictional time can be told as back story, or deleted if inessential), and play fictional time against page sequence if you want to do that (sparingly! see Huxley’s Point Counter Point for an example of the extreme). (From Terence Kuch)

6. Once You Have Begun Writing, Don’t Stop!

I've watched writers turn in a chapter or two to be critiqued and then instead of moving to the next chapter, they keep reworking the first chapters. In my writing I found that after I wrote the entire novel (and had at least some sort of ending) the characters matured. I knew them and knew them well.

Of course my first chapters reeked. The characters were all over the place; setting, times, actions didn’t quite fit them anymore. But now, knowing them, seeing how they changed and became living breathing characters, the second draft was pretty easy.

7. Get the Story Out.

For the first draft I have learned not to worry about the craft of writing too much. I mean there are still a million minute decisions to make along the way but get that story out, get that story out. There will hopefully be plenty of time later to fix the mix. Make goals and stick to them. Reward yourself when you do. (From timsored)

8. Multiple Drafts.

In the 2nd draft I usually find the easy things –- spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors -- by running a spell check and reading it through once. The third draft is when I fix the big things –- discrepancies, plot holes, character development, dialogue. After the third draft is FINALLY done, I reread it and fix anything that still doesn’t sit right with me. Then I give it to family members and friends, and they each give me a critique. I decide whether or not to change things, all in my fifth draft.

Again, have determination for the first draft. For the second, an eye for detail. For the third, true creativity. For the fourth, ability to distance yourself, maybe. For the fifth –- thick skin!

(From Lily)

9. You Are Not Alone.

So you got it written –- good. When that happens, you have taken part in the best writing class ever: practical experience. You found your voice. You know your niche. Now, start on the next [novel]; this time it will be easier. Good luck.

By the way, the same sweat you are experiencing is the same thing we experienced. You – are – not – alone.

(From Darkenwulf)

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