How Do I Start Writing a Novel?

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How Do I Start Writing a Novel?

You can feel it. Maybe you can see it, like a movie, playing out in your mind, some characters more fleshed out than others, shining brilliantly and clearly as if you were watching them in HD. Sometimes it’s only a few key scenes: the middle, the ending, bits of the beginning. You know that the muse has chosen you to pen this epic tale, but where to begin?

It seems like a lot of effort just to sit down at the keyboard and start typing. What if what I write is bad? What if everything just comes out all wrong, even though it sounds good in my head?

I struggle with this because the answer is so obvious to me. Just write the thing, damnit! But not everyone has the initiative or can see the end of the project. Some people can only see the part of the project where you get frustrated and feel inadequate. Some people have romanticized the idea of writing a novel to the point where they don’t know where to begin. So here are some ways to help build your confidence and clear your mind when embarking on your writing project.


I know you’re inspired, but…


…you better learn this early. If you’re serious about writing, you have to learn to write on command. What I mean is that you can’t always wait for inspiration to strike. If you do that, it will take forever to get started or finish your current project.

Just sit down and write. The writing doesn’t have to be related to anything. Just open up that word processor and write the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes it just takes a few hundred words to get the juices flowing. Writing prompts are a good tool: they usually ask a question that you have to answer in a few paragraphs. Try and do one a day if you’re having trouble getting started.


Tell people what you’re doing…


…but don’t just talk the talk. Encourage your family and friends to support you. You could say to your partner, “Don’t let me watch TV until I’ve written a page.” Like I said in my article about creating a writing schedule, I often don’t like to go to the bathroom in the morning before I’ve written something (this could be dangerous though and is not for everyone, only for those with bladders of steel like me!).

Create benchmarks for your word counts and announce them on Facebook. Knowing that people are cheering for you will motivate you to get more done. It’s also some very early marketing for you if you are self-publishing.

That being said…


Don’t wait for people to “approve” of your writing.


I mean this in two senses. There may be some nay-sayers who snidely ask, “Why are you writing that?” and “Why bother writing when it takes forever to get published?” Just ignore them and listen to your heart. If you’ve got a strong urge to tell your story, it’s going to happen, whether they like it or not.

You may also get the urge to show people your writing after only a few pages, to get feedback. I personally don’t like to show anyone anything until it’s complete. I do occasionally give teasers, or synopses, wordles, or word counts, but first drafts are usually pretty rough, and sometimes aren’t representative of a writer’s true potential.


Don’t start by…


…posting on forums asking: “Hi. I’m thinking about writing a book and I want to know how to get into bookstores.” Or: “Hi, I’m writing a book, and I want to know how to get published.”

Write first. Then publish. It’s good to think about marketability and the publishing process while you’re writing, but don’t think about writing and pitch editors and agents when your book isn’t ready. Not much is worse than hearing from writers who don’t write.

Writing is sort of like riding a bike. You’ve got to practice. The more you do it, the better you get, and the further and longer you can ride. It’s not something you’ll master right away–like Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice for a person to become an expert at any skill. It’s probably safe to say that the first thing you write isn’t going to be the best thing you can produce. But that’s okay. Why? Because things can be re-written.

Join us next Friday in our little writer’s segment as we talk about what makes a believable character!

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