The Write Practice

How to Write a Novel (Without Fail): The Ultimate 20-Step Guide

by Joe Bunting | 0 comments

What if you could learn how to write a novel without fail? What if you had a process so foolproof, you knew you would finish no matter what writer's block throws at you? The zombie apocalypse could finally strike and you’d still face the blank page to finish your novel.

How To Write a Novel Without Fear of Failure: The Complete 20-Step Guide

Every day I talk to writers who don’t know how to write a novel. They worry they don’t have what it takes, and honestly, they’re right to worry.

Writing a novel, especially for the first time, is hard work, and the desk drawers and hard drives of many a great writer are filled with the skeletons of incomplete and failed books.

The good news is you don't have to be one of those failed writers.

You can be a writer that writes to the end.

You can be the kind of writer who masters how to write a novel.

Table of Contents

Looking for something specific? Jump straight to it here:

1. Get a great idea 2. Write your idea as a premise 3. Set a deadline 4. Set smaller deadlines building to the final deadline 5. Create a consequence 6. Strive for “good enough” and embrace imperfection 7. Figure out what kind of story you’re trying to tell 8. Read novels and watch films that are similar to yours 9. Structure, structure, structure! 10. Find the climactic moment in your novel 11. Consider the conventions 12. Set your intention 13. Picture your reader 14. Build your team 15. Plan the publishing process 16. Write (with low expectations) 17. Trust the process and don’t quit 118. Keep going, even when it hurts 19. Finish Draft One . . . then onward to the next 20. Draft 2, 3, 4, 5 Writers’ Best Tips on How to Write a Novel FAQ

My Journey to Learn How to Write a Novel

My name is Joe Bunting .

I used to worry I would never write a novel. Growing up, I dreamed about becoming a great novelist, writing books like the ones I loved to read. I had even tried writing novels, but I failed again and again.

So I decided to study creative writing in college. I wrote poems and short stories. I read books on writing. I earned an expensive degree.

But still, I didn’t know how to write a novel.

After college I started blogging, which led to a few gigs at a local newspaper and then a national magazine. I got a chance to ghostwrite a nonfiction book (and get paid for it!). I became a full-time, professional writer.

But even after writing a few books, I worried I didn’t have what it takes to write a novel. Novels just seemed different, harder somehow. No writing advice seemed to make it less daunting. 

Maybe it was because they were so precious to me, but while writing a nonfiction book no longer intimidated me—writing a novel terrified me.

Write a novel? I didn’t know how to do it.

Until, one year later, I decided it was time. I needed to stop stalling and finally take on the process.

I crafted a plan to finish a novel using everything I’d ever learned about the book writing process. Every trick, hack, and technique I knew.

And the process worked.

I finished my novel in 100 days.

Today, I’m a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of thirteen books, and I'm passionate about teaching writers how to write and finish their books. (FINISH being the key word here.)

I’ve taught this process to hundreds of other writers who have used it to draft and complete their novels.

And today, I'm going to teach my “how to write a novel” process to you, too. In twenty manageable steps !

As I do this, I’ll share the single best novel writing tips from thirty-seven other fiction writers that you can use in your novel writing journey—

All of which is now compiled and constructed into The Write Planner : our tangible planning guide for writers that gives you this entire process in a clear, actionable, and manageable way.

If you’ve ever felt discouraged about not finishing your novel, like I did, or afraid that you don’t have what it takes to build a writing career, I’m here to tell you that you can.

There's a way to make your writing easier.

Smarter, even.

You just need to have the “write” process.

How to Write a Novel: The Foolproof, 20-Step Plan

Below, I’m going to share a foolproof process that anyone can use to write a novel, the same process I used to write my novels and books, and that hundreds of other writers have used to finish their novels too.

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1. Get a Great Idea

Maybe you have a novel idea already. Maybe you have twenty ideas.

If you do, that’s awesome. Now, do this for me: Pat yourself on the back, and then forget any feeling of joy or accomplishment you have.

Here’s the thing: an idea alone, even a great idea, is just the first baby step in writing your book. There are nineteen more steps, and almost all of them are more difficult than coming up with your initial idea.

I love what George R.R. Martin said:

“Ideas are useless. Execution is everything.”

You have an idea. Now learn how to execute, starting with step two.

(And if you don’t have a novel idea yet, here’s a list of 100 story ideas that will help, or you can view our genre specific lists here: sci-fi ideas , thriller ideas , mystery ideas , romance ideas , and fantasy ideas . You can also look at the Ten Best Novel Ideas here . Check those out, then choose an idea or make up one of your own, When you're ready, come back for step two.)

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2. Write Your Idea As a Premise

Now that you have a novel idea , write it out as a single-sentence premise.

What is a premise, and why do you need one?

A premise distills your novel idea down to a single sentence. This sentence will guide your entire writing and publishing process from beginning to end. It hooks the reader and captures the high stakes (and other major details) that advance and challenge the protagonist and plot.

It can also be a bit like an elevator pitch for your book. If someone asks you what your novel is about, you can share your premise to explain your story—you don't need a lengthy description.

Also, a premise is the most important part of a query letter or book proposal, so a good premise can actually help you get published.

What’s an example of a novel premise ?

Here’s an example from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum:

A young girl is swept away to a magical land by a tornado and must embark on a quest to see the wizard who can help her return home.

Do you see the hooks? Young girl, magical land, embark on a quest (to see the wizard)—and don't forget her goal to return home.

This premise example very clearly contains the three elements every premise needs in order to stand out:

  • A protagonist described in two words, e.g. a young girl or a world-weary witch.
  • A goal. What the protagonist wants or needs.
  • A situation or crisis the protagonist must face.

Ready to write your premise? We have a free worksheet that will guide you through writing a publishable premise: Download the worksheet here.

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3. Set a Deadline

Before you do anything else, you need to set a deadline for when you’re going to finish the first draft of your novel.

Stephen King said a first draft should be written in no more than a season, so ninety days. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, exists to encourage people to write a book in just thirty days.

In our 100 Day Book Program, we give people a little longer than that, 100 days, which seems like a good length of time for most people (me included!).

I recommend setting your deadline no longer than four months. If it’s longer than that, you’ll procrastinate. A good length of time to write a book is something that makes you a little nervous, but not outright terrified.

Mark the deadline date in your calendar, kneel on the floor, close your eyes, and make a vow to yourself and your book idea that you will write the first draft novel by then, no matter what.

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4. Set Smaller Deadlines Building to the Final Deadline

A novel can’t be written in a day. There’s no way to “cram” for a novel. The key to writing (and finishing) a novel is to make a little progress every day.

If you write a thousand words a day, something most people are capable of doing in an hour or two, for 100 days , by the end you’ll have a 100,000 word novel—which is a pretty long novel!

So set smaller, weekly deadlines that break up your book into pieces. I recommend trying to write 5,000 to 6,000 words per week by each Friday or Sunday, whichever works best for you. Your writing routine can be as flexible as you like, as long as you are hitting those smaller deadlines. 

If you can hit all of your weekly deadlines, you know you’ll make your final deadline at the end.

As long as you hold yourself accountable to your smaller, feasible, and prioritized writing benchmarks.

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5. Create a Consequence

You might think, “Setting a deadline is fine, but how do I actually hit my deadline?” Here’s a secret I learned from my friend Tim Grahl :

You need to create a consequence.

Try by taking these steps:

  • Set your deadline.
  • Write a check to an organization or nonprofit you hate (I did this during the 2016 U.S. presidential election by writing a check to the campaign of the candidate I liked least, whom shall remain nameless).
  • Think of two other, minor consequences (like giving up your favorite TV show for a month or having to buy ice cream for everyone at work).
  • Give your check, plus your list of two minor consequences, to a friend you trust with firm instructions to hold you to your consequences if you don’t meet your deadlines.
  • If you miss one of your weekly deadlines, suffer one of your minor consequences (e.g. give up your favorite TV show).
  • If you miss THREE weekly deadlines OR if you miss the final deadline, send your check to that organization you hate.
  • Finally, write! I promise that if you complete steps one through six, you'll be incredibly focused.

When I took these steps while writing my seventh book, I finished it in sixty-three days. Sixty-three days!

It was the most focused I’ve ever been in my life.

Writing a book is hard work. Setting reasonable consequences make it harder to NOT finish than to finish.

Watch me walk a Wattpad famous writer through this process:

Wattpad Famous Author Wanted Coaching. Here's What I Told Him [How to Write a Book Coaching]

6. Strive for “Good Enough” and Embrace Imperfection

The next few points are all about how to write a good story.

The reason we set a deadline before we consider how to write a story that stands out is because we could spend our entire lives learning how write a great story, but never actually write the actual story (and it’s in the writing process that you learn how to make your story great).

So learn how to make it great between writing sessions, but only good enough for the draft you’re currently writing. If you focus too much on this, it will ruin everything and you’ll never finish.

Writing a perfect novel, a novel like the one you have in your imagination, is an exercise in futility.

First drafts are inevitably horrible. Second drafts are a little better. Third drafts are better still.

But I'd bet none of these drafts approach the perfection that you built up in your head when you first considered your novel idea.

And yet, even if you know that, you’ll still try to write a perfect novel.

So remind yourself constantly, “This first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough for now.”

And good enough for now, when you’re starting your first draft, just means you have words on a page that faintly resemble a story.

Writing is an iterative process. The purpose of your first draft is to have something you can improve in your second draft. Don’t overthink. Just do. (I’ll remind you of this later, in case you forget, and if you’re like me, you probably will.)

Ready to look at what makes a good story? Let’s jump into the next few points—but don’t forget your goal: to get your whole book, the complete story, on the page, no matter how messy your first draft reads.

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7. Figure Out What Kind of Story You’re Trying to Tell

Now that you have a deadline, you can start to think more deeply about what your protagonist really wants.

A good story focuses primarily on just one core thing that the protagonist wants or needs, and the place where your protagonist’s want or need meets the reader’s expectations dictates your story's genre.

Plot type is a big subject, and for the purposes of this post, we don’t have time to fully explore it (check out my book The Write Structure here ).

But story type is about more than what shelf your book sits on at the bookstore.

The book type gets to the heart, the foundational values, of what your story is about. In my book The Write Structure , I define ten plot types, which correspond to six value scales. I’ll give an abbreviated version below:

External Values (What Your Protagonist Wants)

  • Life vs. Death: Action, Adventure
  • Life vs. a Fate Worse Than Death: Horror, Thriller, Mystery
  • Love vs. Hate: Love, Romance
  • Esteem: Performance, Sports

Internal Values (What Your Protagonist Needs)

Internal plot types work slightly different than external plot types. These are essential for your character's transformation from page one to the end and deal with either a character's shift in their black-and-white view, a character's moral compass, or a character's rise or fall in social status.

For more, check out The Write Structure .

The most common internal plot types are bulleted quickly below.

  • Maturity/Sophistication vs. Immaturity/Naiveté: Coming of Age
  • Good/Sacrifice vs. Evil/Selfishness: Morality, Temptation/Testing

Choosing Your External and Internal Plot Types Will Set You Up for Success

You can mix and match these genres to some extent. For your book to be commercially successful, you must have an external genre.

For your book to be considered more “character driven”—or a story that connects with the reader on a universal level—you should have an internal genre, too. (I highly recommend having both.)

You can also have a subplot. So that’s three genres that you can potentially incorporate into your novel.

For example, you might have an action plot with a love story subplot and a worldview education internal genre. Or a horror plot with a love story subplot and a morality internal genre. There’s a lot of room to maneuver.

Regardless of what you choose, the balance of the three will give your protagonist plenty of obstacles to face as they strive to achieve their goal from beginning to end. (For best results when you go to publish, though, make sure you have an external genre.)

If you want to have solid preparation to write you book, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of The Write Structure .

What two or three values are foundational to your story? Spend some time brainstorming what your book is really about. Even better, use our Write Structure worksheet to get to the heart of your story type.

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8. Read Novels and Watch Films That Are Similar to Yours

“The hard truth is that books are made from books.”

I like to remember this quote from Cormac McCarthy when considering what my next novel is really about.

Now that you’ve thought about your novel's plot, it’s time to see how other great writers have pulled off the impossible and crafted a great story from the glimmer of an idea.

You might think, “My story is completely unique. There are no other stories similar to mine.”

If that’s you, then one small word of warning. If there are no books that are similar to yours, maybe there’s a reason for that.

Personally, I’ve read a lot of great books that were a lot of fun to read and were similar to other books. I’ve also read a lot of bad books that were completely unique.

Even precious, unique snowflakes look more or less like other snowflakes.

If you found your content genre in step three, select three to five novels and films that are in the same genre as yours and study them.

Don’t read/watch for pleasure. Instead, try to figure out the conventions, key scenes, and the way the author/filmmaker moves you through the story.

There's great strength in understanding how your story is the same but different.

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Those were the three words my college screenwriting professor, a successful Hollywood TV producer, wrote across the blackboard nearly every class. Your creative process doesn't matter without structure.

You can be a pantser , someone who writes by the seat of their pants.

You can be a plotter , someone who needs to have a detailed outline for each of the plot points in their novel.

You can even be a plantser , somewhere in between the two (like most writers, including me).

It doesn’t matter. You still have to know your story structure .

Here are a few important structural elements you’ll want to figure out for your novel before moving forward:

6 Key Moments of Story Structure

There are six required moments in every story, scene, and act. They are:

  • Exposition : Introducing the world and the characters.
  • Inciting incident : There’s a problem.
  • Rising Action/Progressive complications : The problem gets worse, usually due to external conflict.
  • Dilemma : The problem gets so bad that the character has no choice but to deal with it. Usually this happens off screen.
  • Climax : The character makes their choice and the climax is the action that follows.
  • Denouement : The problem is resolved (for now at least).

If you're unfamiliar with these terms, I recommend studying each of them, especially dilemma, which we'll talk about more in a moment. Mastering these will be a huge aid to your writing process.

For your first few scenes, try plotting out each of these six moments, focusing especially on the dilemma.

Better yet, download our story structure worksheet to guide you through the story structure process, from crafting your initial idea through to writing the synopsis.

I've included some more detailed thoughts (and must-knows) about structure briefly below:

Three Act Structure

The classic writing advice describes the three act structure well:

In the first act, put your character up a tree. In the second act, throw rocks at them. In the third act, bring them down.

Do you wonder whether you should use three act structure or five act structure? (Hint: you probably don't want to use the five act structure. Learn more about this type with our full guide on the five act structure here .)

Note that each of these acts should have the six key moments listed above.

The Dilemma

I mentioned the importance of a character undergoing a crisis, but it bears repeating since, for me, it completely transformed my writing process.

In every act, your protagonist must face an impossible choice. It is THIS choice that creates drama in your story. THIS is how your plot moves forward. If you don’t have a dilemma, if your character doesn’t choose, your scenes won’t work, nor will your acts or story.

In my writing, when I’m working on a first draft, I don’t focus on figuring out all five key moments every time (since I’ve internalized them by now), but I do try to figure out the crisis before I start writing .

I begin with that end in mind, and figure out how I can put the protagonist into a situation where they must make a difficult choice.

One that will have consequences even if they decide to do nothing.

When you do that, your scene works. When you don’t, it falls flat. The protagonist looks like a weak-willed observer of their own life, and ultimately your story will feel boring. Effective character development requires difficult choices.

Find the dilemma every time.

Write out a brief three-act outline with each of the six key moments for each act. It’s okay to leave those moments blank if you don’t know them right now. Fill in what you do know, and come back to it.

Point of View

Point of view, or POV, in a story refers to the narrator’s position in the description of events. There are four types of point of view, but there are only two main options used by most writers:

  • Third-person limited point of view is the most common and easiest to use, especially for new writers. In this POV, the characters are referred to in third person (he/she/they) and the narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings to a maximum of one character at a time (and likely one character for the duration of the narrative). You can read more about how to use third-person limited here .
  • First-person point of view is also very common and only slightly more difficult. In this POV, the narrator is a character in the story and uses first person pronouns (I/me/mine/we/ours) and has access only to their own thoughts and feelings. This point of view requires an especially strong style, one that shows the narrator's distinct attitude and voice as they tell the story.

The third option is used much less common, though is still found occasionally, especially in older works:

  • Third-person omniscient point of view is much more difficult to pull off well and isn't recommended for first time authors. In this POV, the characters are referred to in third-person (he/she/him/her/they/them), but the narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of any and all characters at the same time. This is a difficult narrative to pull off because of how disorienting it can be for the reader. Readers are placed “in the heads” of so many characters, which can easily destroy the drama of a story because of the lack of mystery.

One final option:

  • Second-person point of view is the most difficult to pull off and isn't recommended for most authors. In this POV, the characters are referred to in second person (you/your). This choice is rarely (although not never) found in novels.

The Write Structure

Get The Write Structure here »

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10. Find the Climactic Moment in Your Novel

Every great novel has a climactic moment that the whole story builds up to—it's the whole reason a reader purchases a book and reads it to the end.

In Moby Dick , it’s the final showdown with the white whale.

In Pride and Prejudice , it’s Lizzie accepting Mr. Darcy’s proposal after discovering the lengths he went to in order to save her family.

In the final Harry Potter novel (spoiler alert!), it’s Harry offering himself up as a sacrifice to Voldemort to destroy the final Horcrux.

To be clear, you don’t have to have your climactic moment all planned out before you start writing your book . (Although knowing this might make writing and finishing your novel easier and more focused.)

But it IS a good idea to know what novels and films similar to yours have done.

For example, if you’re writing a performance story about a violinist, as I am, you need to have some kind of big violin competition at the end of your book.

If you’re writing a police procedural crime novel, you need to have a scene where the detective unmasks the murderer and explains the rationale behind the murder.

Think about the climactic moment your novel builds up before the final showdown at the end. This climactic moment will usually occur in the climax of the second or third act.

If you know this, fill in your outline with the climactic moment, then write out the five key moments of the scene for that moment.

If you don’t know them, just leave them blank. You can always come back to it.

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11. Consider the Conventions

Readers are sophisticated. They’ve been taking in stories for years, since they were children, and they have deep expectations for what should be in your story.

That means if you want readers to like your story, you need to meet and even exceed some of those expectations.

Stories do this constantly. We call them conventions, or tropes, and they’re patterns that storytellers throughout history have found make for a good story.

In the romantic comedy (love) genre, for example, there is almost always the sidekick best friend, some kind of love triangle, and a meet cute moment where the two potential lovers meet.

In the mystery genre, the story always begins with a murder, there are one or more red herrings , and there’s a final unveiling of the murder at the end.

Think through the three to five novels and films you read/watched. What conventions and tropes did they have in common?

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12. Set Your Intention

You’re almost ready to start writing. Before you do, set your intention.

Researchers have found that when you’re trying to create a new habit, if you imagine where and when you will participate in that habit, you’re far more likely to follow through.

For your writing, imagine where, when, and how much you will write each day. For example, you might imagine that you will write 1,000 words at your favorite coffee shop each afternoon during your lunch break.

As you imagine, picture your location and the writing space clearly in your mind. Watch yourself sitting down to work, typing on your laptop. Imagine your word count tracker going from 999 to 1,002 words.

When it’s time to write , you’ll be ready to go do it.

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13. Picture Your Reader

The definition of a story is a narrative meant to entertain, amuse, or instruct. That implies there is someone being entertained, amused, or instructed!

I think it’s helpful to picture one person in your mind as you write (instead of an entire target audience). Then, as you write, you can better understand what would interest, amuse, or instruct them.

By picturing them, you will end up writing better stories.

Create a reader avatar.

Choose someone you know, or make up someone who would love your story. Describe them in terms of demographics and interests. Consider the question, “Why would this reader love my novel?”

When you write, write for them.

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14. Build Your Team

Most people think they can write a novel on their own, that they need to stick themselves in some cabin in upstate New York or an attic apartment in Paris and just focus on writing their novel for a few months or decades.

And that’s why most people fail to finish writing a book .

As I’ve studied the lives of great writers, I’ve found that they all had a team. None of them did it all on their own. They all had people who supported and encouraged them as they wrote.

A team can look like:

  • An editor with a publishing house
  • A writing group
  • An author mentor or coach
  • An online writing course or community

Whatever you find, if you want to finish your novel, don’t make the mistake of believing you can do it all on your own (or that you have to do it on your own).

Find a writing group. Take an online writing class . Or hire a developmental editor .

Whatever you do, don’t keep trying to do everything by yourself.

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15. Plan the Publishing Process

One thing I’ve found is that when successful people take on a task, they think through every part of the process from beginning to end. They create a plan. Their plan might change, but starting with a plan gives them clear focus for what they’re setting out to accomplish.

Most of the steps we’ve been talking about in this post involve planning (writing is coming up next, don’t worry), but in your plan, it’s important to think through things all the way to the end—the publishing and marketing process.

So spend ten or twenty minutes dreaming about how you’ll publish your novel (self-publishing vs. traditional publishing) and how you’ll promote it (to your email list, on social media, via Amazon ads, etc.).

By brainstorming about the publishing and marketing process, you’ll make it much more likely to actually finish your novel because you're eager for (and know what you want to do when you're at) the end.

Have no idea how to get published? Check out our 10-step book publishing and launch guide here .

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16. Write (With Low Expectations)

You’ve created a plan. You know what you’re going to write, when you’re going to write it, and how you’re going to write.

Now it’s time to actually write it.

Sit down at the blank page. Take a deep breath. Write your very first chapter.

Don’t forget, your first draft is supposed to be bad.

Write anyway.

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17. Trust the Process and Don’t Quit

As I’ve trained writers through the novel writing process in our 100 Day Book Program, inevitably around day sixty, they tell me how hard the process is, how tired they are of their story, how they have a new idea for a novel, and they want to work on that instead.

“Don’t quit,” I tell them. Trust the process. You’re so much closer than you think.

Then, miraculously, two or three weeks later, they’re emailing me to say they’re about to finish their books. They’re so grateful they didn’t quit.

This is the process. This is how it always goes.

Just when you think you’re not going to make it, you’re almost there.

Just when you most want to quit, that’s when you’re closest to a breakthrough.

Trust the process. Don’t quit. You’re going to make it.

Just keep showing up and doing the work (and remember, doing the work means writing imperfectly).

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18. Keep Going, Even When It Hurts

Appliances always break when you’re writing a book.

Someone always gets sick making writing nearly impossible (either you or your spouse or all your kids or all of the above).

One writer told us recently a high-speed car chase ended with the car crashing into a building close to her house.

I’m not superstitious, but stuff like this always happens when you’re writing a book.

Expect it. Things will not go according to plan. Major real life problems will occur.

It will be really hard to stay focused for weeks on end.

This is where it’s so important to have a team (step fourteen). When life happens, you’ll need someone to vent to, to encourage you, and to support you.

No matter what, write anyway. This is what separates you from all the aspiring writers out there. You do the work even when it’s hard.

Keep going.

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19. Finish Draft One… Then Onward to the Next

I followed this process, and then one day, I realized I’d written the second to last scene. And then the next day, my novel was finished.

It felt kind of anticlimactic.

I had wanted to write a novel for years, more than a decade. I had done it. And it wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought.

Amazing, without question.

But also just normal.

After all, I had been doing this, writing every day for ninety-nine days. Finishing was just another day.

But the journey itself? 100 days for writing a novel? That was amazing.

That was worth it.

And it will be worth it again and again.

Maybe it will be like that for you. You might finish your book and feel amazing and proud and relieved. You might also feel normal. It’s the difference between being an aspiring writer and being a real writer.

Real writers realize the joy is in the work, not in having a finished book .

When you get to this point, I just want to say, “Congratulations!”

You did it.

You finished a book. I’m so excited for you!

But also, as you will know when you get to this point, this is really just the beginning of your journey.

Your book isn’t nearly ready to publish yet.

So celebrate. Throw a party for yourself. Say thank you to all your team members. You finished. You should be proud!

After this celebratory breather, move on to your last step.

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20. Next Drafts: Draft Two…Three…Four…Five

This is a novel writing guide, not a novel revising guide (that is coming soon!). But I’ll give you a few pointers on what to do after you write your novel:

  • Rest. Take a break. You earned it. Resting also lets you get distance on your book, which you need right now.
  • Read without revising. Most people jump right into the proofreading and line editing process. This is the worst thing you could do. Instead, read your novel from beginning to end without making revisions. You can take notes, but the goal for this is to create a plan for your next draft, not fix all your typos and misplaced commas . This step will usually reveal plot holes, character inconsistencies, and other high-level problems.
  • Get feedback. Then, share your book with your team: editors and fellow writers (not friends and family yet). Ask for constructive feedback, especially structural feedback, not on typos for now.
  • Next, rewrite for structure. Your second draft is all about fixing the structure of your novel. Revisit steps seven through eleven for help.
  • Last, polish your prose. Your third (and additional) draft(s) is for fixing typos, line editing, and making your sentences sound nice. Save this for the end, because if you polish too soon, you might have to delete a whole scene that you spent hours rewriting.

Want to know more about what to do next? Check out our guide on what to do AFTER you finish your book here .

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Writers’ Best Tips on How to Write a Novel

I’ve also asked the writers I’ve coached for their single tips on how to write a novel. These are from writers in our community who have followed this process and finished novels of their own. Here are their best novel writing tips:

“Get it out of your head and onto the page, because you can’t improve what’s not been written.” Imogen Mann

“What gets scheduled, gets done. Block time in your day to write. Set a time of day, place and duration that you will write 4-7 days/week until it becomes habit. It’s most effective if it’s the same time of day, in the same place. Then set your duration to a number of minutes or a number of words: 60 minutes, 500 words, whatever. Slowly but surely, those words string together into a piece of work!” Stacey Watkins

“Honestly? And nobody paid me for this one—enroll in the 100 Day Book challenge at The Write Practice. I had been writing around in my novel for years and it wasn’t until I took the challenge did I actually write it chapter by chapter from beginning to end in 80,000 words. Of course I now have to revise, revise, revise.” Madeline Slovenz

“I try to write for at least an hour every day. Some days I feel like the creativity flows out of me and others it’s awkward and slow. But yes, my advice is to write for at least one hour every day. It really helps.” Kurt Paulsen

“Be patient, be humble, be forgiving. Patient, because writing a novel well will take longer than you ever imagined. Humble, because being awake to your strengths and your weaknesses is the only way to grow as a writer. And forgiveness, for the days when nothing seems to work. Stay the course, and the reward at the end — whenever that comes — will be priceless. Because it will be all yours.” Erin Halden

“Single best tip I can recommend is the development of a plan. My early writing, historical stories for my world, was done as a pantser. But, when I took the 100 Day Book challenge , one of the steps was to produce an outline. Mine started as the briefest list of chapters. But, as I thought about it, the outline expanded to cover what was happening and who was in it. That lead to a pattern for the chapters, a timeline, and greater detail in the outline. I had always hated outlines, but like Patrick Rothfuss said in one of his interviews, that hatred may have been because of the way it was taught when I was in school (long ago.) I know I will use one for the second book (if I decide to go forward with it.) Just remember the plan is there for your needs. It doesn’t need to be a formal I. A. 1. a. format. It can simply be a set of notecards with general ideas you want to include in your story.” Patrick Macy

“Everybody who writes does so on faith and guts and determination. Just write one line. Just write one scene. Just write one page. And if you write more that day consider yourself fortunate. The more you do, the stronger the writing muscle gets. But don’t do a project; just break things down into small manageable bits.” Joe Hanzlik

“When you’re sending your novel out to beta readers , keep in mind some people‘s feedback may not resonate or be true for your vision of the work. Also, just because you’ve handed off a copy for beta reading doesn’t mean you don’t have control over how people give you feedback. For instance, if you don’t want line editing, ask them not to give paragraph and sentence corrections. Instead, ask for more general feedback on the character arcs, particular scenes in the story, the genre, ideal reader , etc. Be proactive about getting the kind of response you want and need.” B.E. Jackson

“Become your main character. Begin to think and act the way they would.” Valda Dracopoulos

“I write for minimum 3 hours starting 4 a.m. Mind is uncluttered and fresh with ideas. Daily issues and commitment can wait. Make a plan and stick to the basic plan.” R.B. Smith

“Stick to the plan (which includes writing an outline, puttin your butt in the chair and shipping). I’m trying to keep it simple!” Carole Wolf

“Have a spot where you write, get some bum glue, sit and write. I usually have a starting point, a flexible endpoint and the middle works itself out.” Vuyo Ngcakani

“Before I begin, I write down the ten key scenes that must be in the novel. What is the thing that must happen, who is there when it happens, where does it take place. Once I have those key scenes, I begin.” Cathy Ryan

“In my English classes, I was told to ‘show, don’t tell,' which is the most vague rule I’ve ever heard when it comes to writing. Until I saw a post that expanded upon this concept saying to ‘ show emotion, tell feelings …’. Showing emotion will bring the reader closer to the characters, to understand their actions better. But I don’t need to read about how slow she was moving due to tiredness.” Bryan Coulter

“For me, it’s the interaction between all of the characters. It drives almost all of my novels no matter how good or bad the plot may be .” Jonathan Srock

“Rules don’t apply in the first draft; they only apply when you begin to play with it in the second draft.” Victor Paul Scerri

“My best advice to you is: Just Write. No matter if you are not inspired, maybe you are writing how you can’t think of something to write or wrote something that sucks. But just having words written down gets you going and soon you’ll find yourself inspired. You just have to write.” Mony Martinez

“As Joseph Campbell said, “find your bliss.” Tap into a vein of whatever it is that “fills your glass” and take a ride on a stream of happy, joyful verbiage.” Jarrett Wilson

“Show don’t tell is the most cited rule in the history of fiction writing, but if you only show, you won’t get past ch. 1. Learn to master the other forms of narration as well.” Rebecka Jäger

“We’ve all been trained jump when the phone rings, or worse, to continually check in with social media. Good work requires focus, but I’ve had to adopt some hacks to achieve it. 1) Get up an hour before the rest of the household and start writing. Don’t check email, Facebook, Instagram, anything – just start working. 2) Use a timer app, to help keep you honest. I set it for 30 minutes, then it gives me a 5-minute break (when things are really humming, I ignore the breaks altogether). During that time, I don’t allow anything to interrupt me if I can help it. 3) Finally, set a 3-tiered word count goal: Good, Great, Amazing. Good is the number of words you need to generate in order to feel like you’ve accomplished something (1000 words, for example). Great would be a higher number, (say, 2000 words). 3000 words could be Amazing. What I love about this strategy is that it’s forgiving and inspiring at the same time.” Dave Strand

“My advice comes in two parts. First, I think it’s important to breathe life into characters, to give them emotions and personalities and quirks. Make them flawed so that they have plenty of room to grow. Make them feel real to the reader, so when they overcome the obstacles you throw in their way, or they don’t overcome them, the reader feels all the more connected and invested in their journey. Second, I think there’s just something so magical about a scene that transports me, as a reader, to the characters’ world; that allows me to see, feel, smell, and touch what the characters are experiencing. So, the second part of my advice is to describe the character’s experience of their surroundings keeping all of their senses in mind. Don’t stop simply with what they see.” Jennifer Baker

“Start with an outline (it can always be changed), set writing goals and stick to them, write every day, know that your first draft is going to suck and embrace that knowledge, and seek honest feedback. Oh, and celebrate milestones, especially when you type ‘The End’. Take a break from your novel (but don’t stop writing something — short stories, blog posts, articles, etc.) and then dive head-first into draft 2!” Jen Horgan O’Rourke

“I write in fits and spurts of inspiration and insights. Much of my ‘writing’ occurs when I am trying to fall asleep at night or weeding in the garden. I carry my stories and essays in my head, and when I sit down to start writing, I don’t like to ‘turn off the tap.’ My most important principle is that when I write a draft, I put it out of my mind for a few days before coming back to see what it sounds like when I read it aloud.” Gayle Woodson

“My stories almost always start from a single image… someone in a situation, a setting, with or without other people… there is a problem to be solved, a decision to make, some action being taken. Often that first image becomes the central point of the story but sometimes it is simply the kick-off point for something else. Once I’ve ‘seen’ my image clearly I sit down at the computer and start writing. More images appear as I write and the story evolves. Once the rough sketch has developed through a few chapters I may go back and fill in holes and round things out. Sometimes I even sketch a rough map of my setting or the ‘world’ I’m building. With first drafts I never worry about the grammatical and other writing ‘rules.’ Those things get ironed out in the second round.” Karin Weiss

“What it took to get my first novel drafted: the outline of a story idea, sitting in chair, DEADLINES, helpful feedback from the beginning so I could learn along the way.” Joan Cory

“I write a chapter in longhand and then later that day or the next morning type it and revise. The ideas seem to flow from mind to finger to pen to paper.” Al Rutgers

“Getting up early and write for a couple of hours from 6 am is my preferred choice as my mind is uncluttered with daily issues. Stick to the basic plan and learning to ‘show’ and ‘not tell’ has been hard but very beneficial.” Abe Tse

If you're ready to get serious about finishing your novel, I love for you to join us!

And if you want help getting organized and going, I greatly recommend purchasing The Write Planner and/or our 100 Day Book Program .

Frequently Asked Questions

If you're working on your first-ever novel, congratulations! Here are answers to frequently asked questions new (and even experienced) writers often ask me about what it takes to write a book.

How long should a novel be?

First, novel manuscripts are measured in words, not pages. A standard length for a novel is 85,000 words. The sweet number for literary agents is 90,000 words. Science fiction and fantasy tend to be around the 100,000 word range. And mystery and YA tend to be shorter, likely 65,000 words.

Over 120,000 words is usually too long, especially for traditional publishing. Under 60,000 words is a bit short, and might feel incomplete to the reader.

Of course, these are guidelines, not rules.

They exist for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow them if you have a good reason. For a more complete guide to best word count for novels, check out my guide here .

How long does it take to write a novel?

Each draft can take about the same amount of time as the first draft, or about 100 days. I recommend writing at least three drafts with a few breaks between drafts, which means you can have a finished, published novel in a little less than a year using this process.

Many people have finished novels faster. My friend and bestseller Carlos Cooper finishes four novels a year, and another bestselling author friend Stacy Claflin is working on her sixty-second book (and she’s not close to being sixty-two years old).

If you'd like, you can write faster.

If you take longer breaks between drafts or write more drafts, it might take longer.

Whatever you decide, I don’t recommend taking much longer than 100 days to finish your first draft. After that, you can lose your momentum and it becomes much harder to finish.

That’s It! The Foolproof Template for How to Write a Novel

Writing a novel isn’t easy. But it is possible with the write process (sorry, I had to do it). If you follow each step above, you will finish a novel.

Your novel may not be perfect, but it will be what you need on your road to making it great.

Good luck and happy writing!

The Write Plan Planner

Discover The Write Plan Planner »

Which steps of this process do you follow? Which steps are new or challenging for you? Let us know in the comments !

Writing your novel idea in the form of a single-sentence premise is the first step to finishing your novel . So let’s do that today!

Download our premise worksheet. Follow it to construct your single sentence premise.

Then post your premise  in the Pro Practice Workshop (and if you’re not a member yet, you can join here ). If you post, please be sure to leave feedback on premises by at least three other writers.

Maybe you'll start finding your writing team right here!

Happy writing!

The Write Plan Planner

Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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The novel form is a large, unwieldy, towering project, and if you find yourself wondering how to write a novel, you might already be daunted by the project’s size and complexity. Good. How you’re feeling is how every great novelist has ever felt before approaching the blank page; you have already put yourself in the same annals as James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Toni Morrison. 

Writing a novel is like building a house: no matter how much planning and work you put into it, there is always more work you can do. No novel is perfect, and the effort required to build believable worlds, complex characters, and an entertaining plot that explores nuanced themes is certainly overwhelming. If you’re here, you’re probably wondering how you can fit all of these requirements into 300-odd pages. The novel writing tips in this article have you covered. 

The Successful Novel

Whether you find yourself nervous to start writing a novel for the first time, or whether you’re intrigued by the novel form but don’t know where to begin, this article will help ground you in how to write a novel. In truth, there’s no single, one-size-fits-all novel writing roadmap, but use these ideas as a diving board, and you will soon be swimming through the writing process.

This article answers the most important questions in writing a novel, including:

  • What is a novel?
  • How many words are in a novel?
  • What are some different approaches to writing a novel?
  • What are the elements of novel writing?
  • What fiction techniques can I use in my novel?
  • What are some books on how to write a novel?

So, are you ready to learn how to write a novel? Let’s dive into the novel form, the elements that make a novel come to life, and some other novel writing tips to support you on this long and wondrous journey.

How to Write a Novel: Contents

How Many Words Are in a Novel?

How to write a novel: a 6-phase approach.

  • The Pantser Method
  • The Plotter Method
  • The Plotser Method
  • Write a Discovery Draft
  • The Snowflake Method
  • The 5 Draft Method
  • Starting with Short Stories
  • Point of View
  • Plot and Structure
  • Style and Tone
  • Scene Vs Summary
  • Description

Novel Writing Tips: Find Your Voice as a Novelist

Books on how to write a novel, what is a novel.

Before diving into how to write a novel, let’s first demystify the novel itself. A novel is a book-length work of fiction that tells a complete story (or, as is usually the case, multiple stories). By immersing the reader in a world with complex characters, settings, plot points, and themes, novels emulate real life and inevitably impart wisdom about the human experience.

What is a novel? A novel is book-length work of fiction. By immersing the reader in a world with complex characters, settings, plot points, and themes, novels emulate real life and impart wisdom about the human experience.

Some people might balk at the idea that a novel always emulates real life. After all, there are many genres of fiction that ignore what everyday life looks like. How could a novel set on Mars, or a novel about secret agents, or a novel from the point-of-view of cats, reflect the human experience?

No novel can capture the totality of life, although it might try to. Novels like War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Les Misérable by Victor Hugo each total over 1,000 pages, and each novel examines the complexities and philosophies of simply being human, but none of them can convey the entirety of what it means to be alive.

Rather, novels capture a slice of the human experience. So, even a novel about cats will have its characters make tough decisions, like the ones that human beings make. Even a novel set in a galaxy far, far away might address philosophies of life, love, and conflict.

In fact, these elements—character, setting, plot, etc.—often act as metaphors for human experiences, representing our shared struggles in fictional realms. Such is the magic, the mystery, and the goal of novel writing.

Works of fiction can be categorized into different lengths, such as flash fiction, the vignette, the novella, and the novel. Although these categories are arbitrary, it is important to understand how the length of a work of fiction affects the story itself. It is also worth thinking about length, because length impacts the story’s publication opportunities—both literary journals and publishing houses pay a great deal of attention to word count.

How many words are in a novel? Fictional works of this length, as well as others, are summarized in the chart below:

Some publishers and literary journals may have different definitions for each category of fiction, but these lengths are common definitions. Most publishers claim a novel is 50,000+ words, although you will find some theorists argue that the minimum length is 40,000.

How many words in a novel: 50,000+, though definitions vary.

For a longer breakdown of fiction forms by approximate word count, see our interview with instructor Jack Smith .

Although the minimum length of a novel is 50,000 words, novels of this length are rarely published by conventional publishing houses. Why? The primary reason is that book buyers are less likely to purchase short novels. A 50,000 word novel will rarely satisfy the reader’s desire for a well-developed story, with complex characters and themes. Short novels—as well as novellas—simply don’t appeal to the modern reader.

So, what is the ideal length for a novel? If you are writing a novel, and you haven’t previously published any novels, then a good goal to reach for is 70,000-90,000 words. Novels of this length are long enough to satisfy the reader’s desires without being too drawn out that the story becomes boring. 

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, and there are certainly debut novelists who publish shorter and longer books. But, this Goldilocks zone is sure to please many traditional publishers.

One way to think about writing a novel is through a 6 phase approach. The following phases aren’t the only way to write a novel, but many novelists include these 6 things in their process:

  • Generating an Idea
  • Writing a Novel Outline
  • Establishing a Writing Schedule
  • The First Draft
  • Edit, Rinse, Repeat

Let’s explore this novel writing process. 

Phase 1: Generating an Idea

The first step to writing a novel is having an idea. Novel ideas can come out of anywhere: you might decide to expand upon a short story you had previously written, or you might decide to build an entirely new fictional world and use the novel to explore it. Your novel idea might try to dissect the psyche of an individual character, or it can try to comment on society as a whole. The novel is infinite, and so are the ideas that jumpstart one.

Generating an idea for your novel is much the same as generating a story idea . A story idea generally answers the following three questions:

  • Who is your main character?
  • What does your main character want?
  • What prevents the main character from getting what they want?

Novel Writing Tips: From Idea to Novel

Novel-length projects are complex. To push your writing past 50,000 words, your novel will likely confront complicated situations and ideas. Let’s compare two stories written by Agatha Christie, both of which share the same premise but are written at vastly different lengths.

“ The Plymouth Express ” (short story): A young naval officer discovers the body of the Honourable – and nearly-divorced – Mrs. Rupert Carrington.

The Mystery of the Blue Train (novel): Detective Hercule Poirot investigates the case of a woman murdered in her train compartment, whose death may have been motivated by death, jealousy, greed, or revenge.

The first premise works perfectly for a short story. We are given the basic event of the story, the central character in question, and enough detail to make the story vaguely interesting.

The second idea, by contrast, shifts the focus of the story onto the motive of the murderer. This allows the story to develop into a novel, as it can muse on the concepts of love and greed, while also giving a narrative framework from the lens of the detective.

So, to write a great novel, start with an idea that offers the basic components of a story, but also offers room to explore the world and its characters. In much the same way as Agatha Christie writes the dark side of the human psyche, your novel can write about people, history, or the world at large.

Novel Writing Tips: How to Start Writing a Novel

Most novels begin at or near the start of the story’s conflict. The reader must become acquainted with the protagonist(s), their motivations and challenges, and the conflict that fuels the story’s plot. Readers must also learn about what everyday life looks like before the conflict begins, and they must be given ways to relate directly with the protagonist(s).

Most novels begin at or near the start of the story’s conflict.

Some stories, of course, begin in the middle or the end of the conflict. If you decide to do this, you must still tell us how the story began, otherwise the reader will get lost in the weeds of a conflict they don’t understand.

If your novel starts at the beginning of the conflict, keep this advice at heart: do not start your novel on a typical day. Start your novel on the day that something changes. 

You might be wondering how to start writing a novel’s first line. This list of 100 first lines in novels might help you find inspiration.

Novel Writing Tips: Know Your Purpose

Once you have an idea, the novel writing process will feel much less daunting if you can identify three things: the genre for your novel, an audience that might enjoy your novel, and your intent for writing the novel.

Define Your Genre

Knowing the genre of your work will help you structure the story you want to write. You might know your novel will be fantasy, mystery, or literary fiction, but go one step further: is it urban fantasy or magical realism ? Is it noir mystery, a medical thriller, or both?

Delving into the genre of your novel requires some time, and it can bring up questions to motivate the plot and details of your fiction. This list of fiction genres is a great place to start unpacking your novel’s genre, though you might end up writing something even more niche.

Genres are just conventions for writing a novel, and while those rules can help guide your work, rules are made to be broken.

Now, “genre” is not a roadmap. Genres are just conventions for writing a novel, and while those rules can help guide your work, rules are made to be broken. Combine genres, avoid genres, or create a new one entirely; either way, know the conventions for your story, and plan accordingly.

Define Your Audience

Knowing your audience will help you plan out your story and develop a writing style for the novel. Of course, write your novel for yourself, not for your audience. But, if you know that a certain readership will gravitate towards your work, there’s no harm in considering what that readership will like.

For example, you might realize that a young adult audience will love your fantasy novel, so you decide to draw inspiration from The Hunger Games or from the Percy Jackson series. Or, you might write a mystery novel that appeals to women readers, so you consider making your main character a female detective. These considerations won’t define your work, but they will certainly guide it.

Define Your Intent

Answer this question: why do you want to write this novel?

Examining your own intent is one of the best tips for writing a novel. Because there is no set procedure on how to write a novel, many of the answers will come from inside yourself. You found yourself attracted to your novel idea for a certain reason, so whether you want to explore the human psyche, examine society, or build a lush and beautiful fantasy world, defining your intent will help you figure out where to start—and where to keep returning.

Phase 2: Research and Planning

All novels require research. Whether you’re writing romance, historical fiction, or autobiographical fiction , you will end up researching relevant details to make your novel more convincing. Having a plan for finding and organizing this research will make writing a novel much easier.

Research can help jumpstart ideas that you will work into your story outline ; more on that below. It will also make the act of writing go by much quicker, as your notes and knowledge base will be much easier to reference. Keep your research organized in a word processing software, like Bear, Scrivener, or Microsoft OneNote.

Here are some free resources to help you with your research:

  • Boolean search operators (for mastering search engines)
  • The Smithsonian
  • Archive today (for accessing paywalled journalism)
  • 101 free journals and databases

Most importantly, your local library or university may be able to provide free access to certain research databases. When in doubt, ask a local librarian!

Starting with research will help jumpstart the creative process and make the writing experience much smoother. Your preliminary novel research won’t be comprehensive, and you will likely have to do more research once you start the actual writing process. However, getting it out of the way now will help jumpstart the creative process and make the writing experience much smoother. It will also help you outline your novel, or even spark ideas for what happens in the story. 

Phase 3: Writing A Novel Outline

The story outline scaffolds your novel idea into a working plot. Outlining your novel is a long process, and some writers will take months to outline their ideas before they put the first word down. There are many different ways to write a story outline, but your outline should match your intent for writing the story.

For example, if you want to write a character-focused novel, then writing a novel outline that’s focused on character development might work best. Or, if your novel relies on heavy world-building and setting, then a scene-based outline will do the trick. Let your novel’s purpose guide the outline, then let the outline guide the novel itself.

Let your novel’s purpose guide the outline, then let the outline guide the novel itself.

Note: this method is called the “plotter” method, where you map out key details of the story before you start writing it. The opposite method is called the “pantser” method. If you write without outlining, you “write by the seat of your pants.” Both methods have their benefits: while plotting helps you work out the kinks in your story, pantsing allows you to surprise yourself with where the story might take you. If you’re daring enough, you can even do what our instructor Sarah Aronson does: write a “discovery draft,” where she pantses the first draft of the novel, then delete it (yes,  delete it entirely ), and write a new draft from scratch. 

If you’re uncertain which method to take, try writing some short stories using both plotting and pantsing methods.

For help getting started with this phase of writing your novel, see our practical guide to writing a story outline .

Phase 4: Establishing a Writing Schedule

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. —Stephen King

Wouldn’t it be great if we could dream up a novel one day, write it the next, and publish it the day after? Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint, so if you want to get to the finish line you’ll need patience, diligence, and discipline.

Stephen King put it best when he said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Of course, King has the resources to devote his entire life to writing, which is why he can churn out a first draft in three months. On the other hand, you might be writing your first novel while also working, caring for family, and living day-to-day life.

So, the next step for your novel is to build a working schedule. You might decide you have room to write 500 words a day, or time to write for 30-60 minutes a day. What matters is consistency: setting and keeping a defined schedule for you to sit down and focus your mind on your novel.

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint.

Give yourself a working timeline with weekly or monthly goals, and try to write every day. A consistent writing practice will carry you to the finish line.

Phase 5: The First Draft

Armed with an outline, a schedule, and a passion for your idea, it’s time to start writing. Your writing doesn’t have to come out quickly, and it doesn’t even need to be good writing. The first draft simply needs to exist: if it’s written, then it’s already successful.

The previous phases are intended to give you the structure to write your novel. When it comes to the writing process itself, everyone’s novel writing experience is different. However, remember to stay diligent, join a writing community , and remember that a first draft is allowed to be bad —that’s why we edit!

Phase 6: Edit, Rinse, Repeat

The editing process is often what takes the longest for a novel. You could write a novel in three months and edit it for three years or longer. Like the writing process, there’s no strict timeline for editing your novel, but don’t expect the editing to be quick and easy.

When you finish your first draft and get to the editing stages, give yourself a small brain break and reward yourself—because woohoo , you wrote it! Then when you get back to the drawing board, examine your writing with a critical eye, figure out what the novel needs, and set up an editing schedule like you set up a writing schedule.

A [story] is never finished, only abandoned. —Paul Valery

Follow this process for as many novel drafts until you’re satisfied—and remember, no novel will ever feel perfect. Paul Valery once said “a poem is never finished, only abandoned.” It’s the same with the novel.

Once you feel like you’ve worked on your novel for long enough, and you don’t know how to improve it further, find beta readers. Beta readers are people who read your novel and give useful feedback on how they experienced it, what’s working and what isn’t, and what you might want to do in your next revision. Typically, beta readers will swap ready novel drafts, so you’ll read theirs while they read yours. Do this with writers you trust and whose opinions you respect, and you’ll have feedback that can take your novel draft to the next level.

What comes after that? When you’ve finished writing a novel, check out our guides on publishing:

  • Tips on Self-Publishing
  • Self-Publishing on Amazon
  • Literary Agents (for traditional publishing)

How to Write a Novel: 8 Additional Approaches

How are novels written? What does the process look like for writing a novel? Different novelists have different approaches to the form, and indeed, different novels might require their own unique approaches. 

The following methodologies are tried and true, as they’ve been utilized by countless storytellers. Use these plans as structures to guide your own writing process, and go with what feels comfortable for both you and your work.

Here are 8 different approaches on how to write a novel:

1. How to Write a Novel: The Pantser Method

The “pantser” method gets its name from the phrase “writing by the seat of your pants.” This is the least structured of any particular novel writing approach. To be a pantser, you only need to do one thing: make things up as you go. 

Pantsers do not do much planning in advance. They will likely have a story premise and a sense of who the characters are, but after they’ve written the inciting incident, everything gets made up on the spot. Pantsers simply follow their characters around as they make decisions, mess things up, and follow the plot to its logical conclusion.

Some novel writers are scared of the pantser method, as the innate formlessness of this approach makes it hard to guarantee the first draft is even readable . But, others find this approach to be delightfully freeing. Novel writing is a long process, and if you can have fun with it by letting your imagination run wild, why not give it free rein on the page? 

2. How to Write a Novel: The Plotter Method

Plotting is the opposite of pantsing. If you’re a plotter, then you have all the important details written down before you pen the first word of your manuscript. 

Novel writing requires a lot of attention to detail. Later in this article, we discuss the elements of fiction writing that plotters must consider as they plan things out, including:

  • Characters and conflicts
  • Settings 
  • Point of View 
  • The plot itself

Plotters may also want to consider what kinds of themes they want to target, and the styles they want to employ in their writing. Of course, these things also develop organically, and it may be better to allow those elements to emerge naturally. 

Plotting in advance gives novelists a structure to follow. But, some writers feel constricted by having a strict roadmap to follow—they want to steer off course, to consider different ideas, but should they?

While some novelists are strict plotters or strict pantsers, some fall in the middle: the plotser.

3. How to Write a Novel: The Plotser Method

“Plotser” is a portmanteau of “pantser” and “plotter.” It’s an ugly word, but it’ll do. 

Plotsers use a mix of planning and pantsing in novel writing. They might sketch out the details of their characters and form a working plot, but also allow themselves to follow new ideas as they emerge. The plotser doesn’t view their plan as the final roadmap for the novel, but rather as a living document, much like the novel itself, that changes and adapts over time. 

So, which are you? A plotter, a pantser, or a plotser? Again, go with what feels natural to you, and what makes sense given your own traits as a creative writer. 

The following approaches to novel writing can be used by plotters, pantsers, and plotsers alike—they are simply other means for developing ideas and turning them into fully fledged first drafts. 

4. How to Write a Novel: Write a Discovery Draft (and Throw it Away!) 

A “discovery draft” is most closely aligned with the pantser method. It’s a first draft that you use simply to explore what your novel could be. Any idea is fair game, as you simply want to learn about who your characters are and what situations they’ll get themselves in as you’re writing your novel . 

This method, which our talented instructor Sarah Aronson uses, is simple. Write a discovery draft. Then, when you’ve written the last word, throw it away. 

What? Yes! Throw it away. Delete the copy. Kill your darlings. Goodbye, nice to see ya, I’ll never hear from you again. 

What’s the point of this? By deleting your discovery draft, you empower yourself to write a completely new draft with everything you learned by writing the first one. Instead of going back, copying and pasting, and fiddling with words you’ve already written, you write an entirely new draft based on what you remember.

This method might seem crazy. But it works. The second draft you write will be significantly improved than the first, because now you know your characters and plot much better than you did before. You have a better sense of what works for your novel, and what not to include. And, simply by the act of writing a first draft, you have improved your skills as a writer. 

If you’re not comfortable deleting your discovery draft, you don’t have to. One alternative is to reread your discovery draft, plot it out, and then consider how you might want to change the plot before starting a second draft—something more in line with a plotser method. In any case, no matter how counterproductive this method seems, it works , and it will certainly result in a much stronger final draft. 

5. How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method is a tried-and-true approach to novel writing. In a series of 10 steps, the novelist writes their novel from idea to finished draft, starting with the most basic details and fine-tuning them into something complete.

Here’s how to write a novel using the snowflake method: 

Step 1: Write a one-sentence summary of your novel. This is a big picture summary, hopefully under 15 words long, detailing the most basic details: what happens, why, and maybe where and when. For most, this summary is connected to the inciting incident. 

Step 2: Expand your sentence to a paragraph. In that paragraph, include broad plot details: the “disasters” or complications that arise from your protagonist trying to achieve something, and an idea of how the story ends. 

Step 3: Develop a list of your novel’s major characters. Write a 1-page summary for each character that includes their names, backgrounds, motivations, conflicts, and how they change (or don’t change) by the end of the novel. Also write a paragraph summary of each character’s storyline. 

Step 4: Take your summary paragraph from Step 2. Now, expand each sentence into its own unique paragraph, providing more detail about the plot points and complications arising for the characters. 

Step 5: Write a 1-page description of each major character. These descriptions should tell the complete story of the novel from each character’s perspective. For non-major (but still important) characters, your description can be a half page. 

Step 6: Expand the 1-page synopsis from Step 4 into a 4-page synopsis (essentially: turn each paragraph into a full page). At this point, you are making strategic decisions about how your plot points go together, and developing the guiding logic of the story as a whole. 

Step 7: Expand your character descriptions into fully developed character charts. Write down everything you can possibly know about each character, even if those details won’t end up in the novel (you never know, they might!) Spend plenty of time thinking about each character’s transformation throughout the novel. 

Step 8: Turn your 4 page novel into a list of scenes. Chart out each individual scene that will eventually be strung together into the novel. If you want, you can do this in a spreadsheet, reserving different columns for different details relating to each scene (for example: the characters involved, the conflict, which subplot each scene is related to, etc.).

Step 9: Take each idea for a scene you’ve sketched out above, and write a 1-paragraph description of each scene. Allow yourself to be thinking about scene details, dialogue, and other useful notes as you move towards the actual writing process. 

Step 10: Actually write your novel’s first draft! At this point, all of the notes you’ve written down will (hopefully) make the writing process much easier, and much more rewarding. 

The Snowflake Method was developed by Randy Ingermanson. Learn more about this method at his site Advanced Fiction Writing . 

6. How to Write a Novel:The 5 Draft Method

The 5 draft method is a different way of developing raw ideas and material into finished, polished work. This method comes courtesy of Jeff Goins . 

Here’s how to write a novel using the 5 draft method:

Draft 1: The Junk Draft . Also, what we’ve termed, the discovery draft. This is exactly what it sounds like: write what you want, because anything goes. 

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” –Ann Patchett 

Draft 2: The Structure Draft . Now that you have your junk draft, it’s time to start making decisions about your story. Will it work? What’s the plot? What things are and aren’t working in your junk draft? (Don’t worry, necessarily, about writing a completely new draft. You can analyze what you wrote and create a working plot before your next draft starts.)

Draft 3: The Rough Draft . This is the draft you’ve written after you have a working plot. Hopefully, you will have written and feel confident about the story as a whole—the work from here is to start polishing the details and getting things just right. 

Draft 4: The Surgery Draft . Take your rough draft, and start shaping things towards a final draft. Cut superfluous details, unnecessary words, unnecessary scenes. Add whatever is needed to make the story whole. At this point, you will most certainly be relying on feedback from other readers to make revising and editing possible. 

Draft 5: The Last Draft . This is where revision turns to editing. The global details have been finalized, and your concerns are largely at the word, sentence, and paragraph level. This is also the point where you start to think about publication.

7. How to Write a Novel: Starting with Short Stories

Novels and short stories rely on the same fundamentals of fiction, yet they’re two vastly different crafts. There are some novelists who are incapable of writing short stories, and vice versa. But, if you feel comfortable experimenting with short-form fiction, you might want to try writing short stories first. 

Many contemporary novelists will use the short story as a space to explore new ideas. Some of those ideas remain as short stories; others end up being developed into novels. 

The novelist Haruki Murakami, for example, will often switch between novel writing and short story writing. After he’s finished a novel, he will work on short stories to tinker with different ideas, one of which often becomes a novel. Writing and publishing short stories can also make getting your novel published possible. Zadie Smith, for example, published her short story “ The Waiter’s Wife ” in Granta , which eventually became her debut novel White Teeth . Smith was discovered by her agent because of, among other things, the stories she was publishing in her university’s literary journal The Mays Anthology . 

Finally, starting with short stories can help you hone your voice and style as an author. Any attempt at writing fiction will naturally make you a stronger fiction writer. 

For more on short story writing, check out our guide:

8. How to Write a Novel: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, occurs every year in November. During this month, novelists will write 50,000+ words towards a first draft of a novel. 

NaNoWriMo started as an internet sensation, and has since developed local community chapters and a cult following of avid novel writers. Writing alongside other frantic novelists, even if just over the internet, can help keep you motivated to get that first discovery draft written. That said, you can also try doing your own NaNoWriMo, during whatever part of the year you’re reading this article. If tomorrow is May 1st, why not try to write a full novel by the time June 1st rolls around?

NaNoWriMo is best done with some preparation. Here’s our guide on the topic:  

How to Write a Novel: Honing the 6 Elements of Fiction

Jack Smith

Writing a novel requires the synchronous interplay of these 6 elements:

1. Writing a Novel: Character

A character is a person in a book. No matter what genre you’re writing in, readers are most drawn to compelling characters; moreover, a good plot is informed by the decisions that characters make, so you want to spend plenty of time developing your characters as you write your novel. 

Your main character is your protagonist . The protagonist is the main character because their conflicts shape the core of what the novel explores. The protagonist’s stakes must be high enough that readers care what happens. 

What do those stakes consist of? A small thing can be a big thing to one character and not to another. It’s the context that makes it work. Context is what affects the character in terms of needs, desires, goals, etc.

When we think of a character’s stake in the story, we think of conflict . Conflict is what drives fiction. Not all conflicts make for good fiction, but some conflict is essential for writing a novel.

Conflict is what drives fiction. Not all conflicts make for good fiction, but some conflict is essential for writing a novel.

For example, be careful with alcoholic, abusive fathers and husbands—these stories tend to be very clichéd. Stephen King did a marvelous job in Dolores Claiborne with an abusive husband, but generally speaking, it’s hard to escape the clichés ridden in this storyline.

Who should be your protagonist? To answer this question, ask yourself whose story needs to be told. Whose story is important enough to give full treatment to? Whose story is the most intriguing? You might opt for more than one point-of-view (POV), using a character who isn’t a protagonist, but simply an interesting (and necessary) additional perspective.

Let’s return to your protagonist, who is central to understand as you learn how to write a novel. More than any other character in the novel, your protagonist needs to come alive—to seem very real. Avoid writing a one-dimensional, cardboard character. We need to get to know this character in and out—their traits, loves, hates, goals, aspirations, disappointments, etc. Make your protagonist complex—or “round,” as E.M. Forster describes it in Aspects of the Novel .

Protagonists also need the potential for change. In Forster’s terms, they need to be “ dynamic characters .” They need a character arc, in which they change in some way—undergoing some sort of movement, perhaps coming to a newfound recognition.

But not every character needs to be multi-dimensional or undergo change. Secondary characters are an exception. Even so, make them as real as possible , if not fully developed. Who are secondary characters? They might be friends or associates. A secondary character might be an antagonist . They might serve as a foil for the protagonist, to reveal certain things about the protagonist that don’t come out elsewhere.

2. Writing a Novel: Point of View

Point of view is the lens through which the story is told. It is also the choice of person: first, second, or third. In The Great Gatsby , Nick Carraway is the POV character; in The Catcher in the Rye , it’s Holden Caulfield. All novels are “filtered” through these points of view, or perspectives. We’re in these characters’ heads, not in others’.

Generally speaking, the protagonist is the lens through which we view the story’s action. In other words, the protagonist defines the narrator.

There is also the choice of person. First person, in which the protagonist is usually the narrator (using the “I” pronoun), gives an immediacy that’s lacking in third. With the third person, you have the choice of a fully omniscient narrator, a limited narrator, or an effaced narrator (where the author makes no appearance, or presence) with multiple third-person points of view. There is also an objective or dramatic point of view, in which all we come to know about characters is what they say and do. Think of this as close to the script of a play—dialogue and action only.

The riskiest point of view when writing a novel is the omniscient one, because you can easily fall into mere telling, without giving your reader an experience to enter into.

You can find more help in Jack’s article entitled “ Tips on handling the omniscient POV in fiction .”

An unusual point of view for writing a novel is the second person—the “you” POV. Jay McInerney famously pulls it off in Bright Lights, Big City . I deal with the ins and outs of this point of view in a Writer’s magazine article entitled “ When to use the second-person POV in fiction. ”

3. Writing a Novel: Plot and Structure

Plot is what happens and why. It’s a matter of causality. Of course, this can be complicated, though if it’s too complicated your reader will get lost in a thicket of plot threads and story strands. When writing a novel, simple is better than excessively complicated.

Plot is based on conflict; conflict involves reversals. Readers look for foreshadowing (thoughts, events, etc.) that predict future happenings. They also look for echoing, or reminders of different developments. Foreshadowing and echoing stitch a novel together.

As we explore how to write a novel, keep in mind three basic types of narrative structure:

  • Five-stage plot structure: exposition (with inciting incident ; rising action; climax; falling action; resolution). Also known as Freytag’s Pyramid .
  • Three-act structure, as in screenplays.
  • Episodic structure, as in journey stories (e.g. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ).

If you have two protagonists, matters get more difficult. Not only do you need to decide on the overarching structure of the storylines of each character, but you must also decide on how you’ll alternate from one point of view to another.

For more help on structure, check out Jack’s article in The Writer magazine, entitled “ How to find your novel’s structure .” 

Also read Jeff Lyon’s article discussing the difference between a story and a situation. This guide is essential to any storyteller wondering how to write a novel. 

Stories vs. Situations: How to Know Your Story Will Work in Any Genre

4. Writing a Novel: Setting

Setting includes time and place. In fiction, as in real life, characters are someplace, somewhere, when they engage in action and speech. You need to situate your reader in a given environment, whether it’s an apartment, a workplace, a restaurant, a bar, or in the middle of the woods. If you need to create an atmosphere, choose the details that do this.

You need to situate your reader in a given environment.

In some novels, setting is really important and less so in others. In a workplace novel, setting might well be critical to understanding the conflicts the protagonist faces. In a survival story in the Alaskan wilderness, the rugged setting needs plenty of development to feel real to your reader. If you’re writing a novel set on a college campus, it might be enough to give what in movies is called an establishing shot, a wide shot of the campus—and perhaps only a few details about one classroom building where the protagonist has most of her classes.

No matter the importance of your setting, it should influence the decisions that your characters make. The more important the setting, the more personality it should have. Some writers even treat setting like it’s its own character. A great example of this is the novella  Especially Heinous by Carmen Maria Machado.

5. Writing a Novel: Style and Tone

Style refers to the manner of your expression. As you learn how to write a novel, you’ll find that a novel and its style are inseparable. Style affects the novel’s mood , how we understand the protagonist, how we picture the setting, etc.

As you learn how to write a novel, you’ll find that a novel and its style are inseparable.

Some writers are very dense with their language, very detailed—think Charles Dickens, Henry James, or Toni Morrison. At the opposite end there’s Cormac McCarthy, whose style is utterly stripped-down. Style also is related to the use of figurative language like metaphor, simile, and analogy . Style has to do with the sound of the language, with tone. Is it nostalgic, sarcastic, biting?

Style affects tone —the apparent attitude generated by the work. Tone isn’t just related to style, though. Tone is affected by everything in the work: the nature of the protagonist, the plot, the mood from scene to scene, etc.

Lastly, tone is related to voice. You might be interested in Jack’s article on voice in The Writer magazine, entitled “ Setting the tone: How to handle voice in your fiction .”

6. Writing a Novel: Theme or Idea

Theme is the most abstract idea or ideas of your novel. Any number of plots can suggest the same basic theme. Perhaps the theme is the seductive nature of the pursuit of money, or let’s say it’s the rite of passage from innocence to experience. Any number of plots have been borne out of familiar thematic patterns.

When writing a novel, should you begin with a theme in mind? Some writers do, but many writers argue against doing this, claiming that this leads to authorial intrusion, to manipulation intended to make a point. In other words, theme should be a natural byproduct of storytelling, not the primary focus of the storyteller.

Illuminate instead of preach.

Incidentally, be careful to avoid didactic novels. Illuminate instead of preach. The latter might work well in certain nonfiction works, but the novel reader wants to experience the world of the novel, not be told how to experience it.

How to Write a Novel: Fiction Writing Techniques

Now that we’ve covered the large, overarching elements of fiction writing, let’s get into the more granular elements of storytelling. Fiction writers have a few different modes of storytelling at their disposal, including:

  • Summary writing
  • Scene writing

These different uses of prose allow fiction writers to convey the most information possible, letting them create cohesive, immersive worlds. It is important to vary your uses of each of these storytelling modes: readers get tired if they read pages upon pages of description, or unending snippets of dialogue.

Of course, those considerations are more important in revision. For the purposes of how to write a novel, let’s explore these fiction writing techniques.

1. How to Write a Novel: Narrative Summary Versus Narrative Scene

A novel operates in two main modes of storytelling: summary and scene.

Narrative summary is a telescoping of life over a given period, perhaps a week, a month, a year or more. Here’s how it was for your protagonist from January to June when she was struggling to advance in her career.

Narrative scene, in contrast, is action at a given time. Your protagonist arrives at a meeting and overhears her bête noire making an ugly remark about her. A narrative scene involves us directly in a play-by-play action. It should reveal character and advance plot. It shouldn’t be dead space you fill up.

Good writing has a mix of scene and summary. You never want to bore the reader with too much summary, but you don’t want too much scene either, or else the reader might lose focus on what’s important. You need places where you stop with the action and distill experience in your protagonist’s head: here’s how it’s been; this is what it adds up to at this point…

For a closer look at scene vs summary, check out this craft analysis:

On Timing and Tension

2. How to Write a Novel: Scene Writing with Dialogue

Good dialogue makes a scene, but it’s not easy to write. You’ve got to get the right rhythm going. You have to avoid making it sound like a prepared speech. Listen to conversation. Notice how speakers interrupt each other, or don’t finish ideas… and move on. Notice how they dodge questions. Work with some back and forth. Get your reader involved.

Some ingredients of a good scene:

  • Interesting dialogue.
  • Revelation of character through language and gesture.
  • Setting details that situate the scene and create interest.
  • Depending on point of view, character thoughts.

But, there’s no strict formula here. Read it out loud. Does it move? Does it sound real? Make sure it does.

Novel Writing Tips: Character Tags

Avoid dull character tags like “she responded,” or “he replied,” or “she admitted.” Dead language. As much as you can, avoid “he said,” and “she said.” It’s true that Hemingway could make repetition of “said” sound lyrical and carry us right along, but so often it’s dull. As long as the speaker is clear, you can leave off the “said” bit. Now and then, it’s true, you need to insert the tag for clarification’s sake.

3. How to Write a Novel: Description

Description is a word picture. If you want to show versus tell , give your readers imagery that places them in a world of the five senses.

How much description? This is a matter of style. Some writers use very little description, but we feel like we know their characters because of what they say, and how they say it. Or if they do describe, they give a dominant impression, just enough details to individualize the character, place, or thing.

Some writers describe a lot, providing us a real thicket of language. Some don’t. When writing a novel, decide on the purpose. What is vital in telling your particular story? Which details will get at the essence of this character or place? Be careful, too, about inflated, overdone descriptive language, called purple prose —that can kill your writing right off.

4. How to Write a Novel: Exposition

You can think of exposition in two different ways. In terms of the five-stage plot structure, exposition sets forth the present equilibrium of your protagonist just before a complication, or an inciting incident.

A second way to think of it is expository prose, which explains or comments. This technique can be used anywhere in the story, where ideas and feelings need to be bounced around.

Exposition handled through an author can certainly work—and work beautifully—but you must avoid sounding like you’re telling. If this happens, readers will feel that they can’t enter into the story as well—they can’t experience the world you’re creating.

In the case of the third-person limited point of view, do as much as you can to make readers feel like they’re in the character’s head, experiencing their thoughts and feelings.

There are two key uses of expository prose in writing a novel: backstory, and the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings.

Novel Writing Tips: Backstory

Backstory is important in giving your reader context for present conflicts. Backstory shapes where your protagonist has been. You’ve got a choice in bringing in backstory. First, how much do you need to make the present time-frame of the novel clear? Second, you can either front-load it or bring it in as the novel proceeds in memories and flashbacks.

Novel Writing Tips: Thoughts and Feelings

Your protagonist struggles to make a decision, to understand what to do, to decide how she feels about different choices she’s got. Think of the many areas where we engage in private thoughts and feelings. We work things over in our minds. We analyze problems. We sum up.

The culmination of all these different skills—the elements of fiction, the tools of successful prose writing, and the honing of your own writing style—is “voice.” 

What is “voice?” It’s a difficult concept to define in creative writing. In short, voice is the nebulous, ineffable quality of a piece of writing that “sounds like” you. You can’t point to one specific thing and call it voice; it is the gestalt of everything happening in the text. Not just your style and word choice, but also your characters, your themes, your  perspective as a novelist. 

Our instructor Donna Levin puts it another way: voice is “you, artistically projected.”

Voice: you, artistically projected.

No guide on how to write a novel is complete without mentioning voice. Why? Because your voice is what your readers will fall in love with.

Yes, they will love your characters and plots, the ways your novel immerses them in worlds both strange and familiar. But the thing that sells these elements is your voice as a novelist. 

Think of a novel you love. You don’t just love the story and its characters, you love  the way the story is told . That’s voice. It’s a selling point for readers and, if you want to publish your novel traditionally, it’s a huge selling point for literary agents.

So, how do you find your voice as a novelist? That’s the hard part: there’s no easy way to teach it. After all, voice comes from within you. The only advice we can offer is the work you can do to find your voice and coax it onto the page.

So, here’s some advice on that—how to hone your voice as you write a novel:

  • Write often and regularly. The more you write, the better you get at writing, and the more you find your own style and approach to the page.
  • Write like yourself. Do not try to write like anyone else, and do not try to be a capital-W “Writer.” 
  • That said, experiment on the page. Try different styles and techniques. See what works for you, what feels good, and what doesn’t sit right in your ear. You will find what it means to “write like yourself” this way. 
  • Spend ample time in revision. You won’t hone your voice just in the first draft; it will emerge as you write, revise, and revise again. 
  • Write with confidence. This is easier said than done, of course. But the more you believe in yourself and your work, the easier it is to let your natural voice shine through on the page. 
  • Don’t just write a novel. Experiment with short stories, microfiction, essays, poetry, and other forms of writing. Every word you write is an exploration into your voice as an author. 

For more novel writing tips, here’s a list of books on how to write a novel:

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
  • On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
  • Write and Revise for Publication by Jack Smith
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
  • Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
  • Get That Novel Written by Donna Levin
  • Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  • Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster

Learn How to Write a Novel at

Do my characters seem real? Can you picture this setting? What parts of my novel need editing?

Writing a novel is an ongoing process, and the more you work on it, the more questions you’ll ask. Find your answers at With different novel writing courses to choose from, additional novel writing tips at our blog , and a supportive and caring Facebook group , we’re here to get your novel from idea to bestseller.

Jack Smith is the author of 6 novels and 3 books of nonfiction. He’s a regular contributor to The Writer magazine. He teaches novel writing, as well as other fiction writing courses, for

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This is wonderful! congrats!

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Thanks for this well-written and detailed article on the novel. I was interested in the discussion about what length/page/word count differentiates writing forms and had not heard of the term “novelette”. If novella length fiction is difficult to find a home for with the exception of small, independent presses, then the novelette length must be near impossible. Or so it seems.

Again, thanks for the informative article.

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Our pleasure, Rebecca! I’m happy you found it useful.

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I’m so pleased with your article. Thanks for this one! I was looking for some takes regarding this topic and I found your article quite informative. It has given me a fresh perspective on the topic tackled. Thanks!

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Good overview. Very helpful. It helps an aspiring writer to think about what he/she is missing, and helps the writer improve. Thank you.

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This article provides a comprehensive guide to tackling the daunting task of novel writing, offering insights into essential elements like character, plot, setting, style, and theme. The practical tips and diverse techniques presented here serve as a valuable resource for both novice and experienced writers, demystifying the intricate art of crafting a novel. Excited to apply these strategies to my own writing journey!

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POSTED ON Jan 9, 2024

Scott Allan

Written by Scott Allan

Wondering how to write a novel?  Learning how to write a novel is a dream for many people. But only a handful of could-be-published-authors succeed in writing, publishing, and selling a book. The compulsion to write is powerful, and for most serious authors, they must get those stories out and into the hands of readers who need them.

This is where you come in. The world needs your novel. 

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Learning how to write a book is hard work, and it takes more than a dream to make it happen. You must be willing to put in work every day to turn that dream into a reality.

How do I begin writing a novel , you ask? In this post, I’m going to dive into just that. You will learn how to write a novel from first idea to finished product.

The 14 steps for writing a novel are:

1. understand what a novel is.

If you want to learn how to write a novel, the first step is understanding what a novel is. A novel is a work of fiction told through narrative prose focusing on characters, action (or drama), and a plot with a certain degree of realism. A novel is structured with a set of master scenes, at least two pivotal complications (also known as inciting incidents ), and the ultimate climax that blows everything off its hinges. You will have several types of characters , major and minor characters, interacting through dialogue and action to drive the plot forward with relentless speed.

The main difference between a novel vs. novella is the length. The amount of words in a novel depends on the particular book genre you write, but most books on range from 60,000 to 90,000 words on average. 

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Novellas are between 10,000 to 40,000 words in length. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella The Old Man and the Sea is just 27,000 words, whereas Stephen King’s longest novel, The Stand , weighs in at just under 473,000 words (after he trimmed 500 pages!).  For a break down of how many words in a novel by genre, check out How Many Words in a Novel? Exact Word Counts Per Genre . Now that you know what a novel is, it’s time to determine the type of novelist you might be.

2. Decide what type of novelist you are

On top of knowing how to write a novel, you need to understand how to become an author , and what type of writer you are! Knowing if you are a plotter or a pantser will influence your entire writing style , so we want to nail this from the start. If you still aren't feeling confident in your writing style after reading this post, you can check out some writing websites for inspiration.

The Plotter

A plotter is someone who spends a great deal of time before writing the book. They know how to write a book outline for their novel complete with master scenes, pivot points, and character profiles . A plotter writes out every detail down to the smallest scene with a clear direction of how the book will begin…and how it must end. A detailed plotter generally won’t start writing until all of these details are worked out.

J.K. Rowling , worldwide bestselling author of the Harry Potter books, is a known plotter. Other known plotters are John Grisham ( The Firm , The Pelican Brief ) and James Patterson . So, what is a pantser? A pantser is…the opposite of a plotter.

The Pantser

In short, the term pantser means “writing by the seat of your pants.” You start with a seed of an idea and a few notes. You have a loose outline and some scenes but other than that, you begin writing your story. Well-known pantsers are Stephen King , Margaret Atwood , and David Morrell ( First Blood ). So, depending on the type of writer you are, this would influence how much time and energy you spend on drafting out an outline , storyboarding or scene creation, and character development .

Plotter and Pantser in Combination

You might not be a detailed plotter or a seat-of-the-pants pantser, but maybe you fall somewhere in between. Most writers do.  My style is to come up with the overall story, the main characters , several master scenes, and the beginning or opening scene. I have a brief outline and a tentative title. I start writing to get momentum moving forward. The story could take a number of directions, and the only way I can find out is by writing the story.

Momentum is key when it comes to writing. If you can see just beyond the outline, your imagination will fire up when you put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper).

Need A Fiction Book Outline?

3. Start with a novel idea 

Of course, every novel starts with a book idea . Maybe you have a thousand different story ideas in your head or written down somewhere, but to move forward with writing novels, you need to commit to one. 

So, what’s the big picture of your novel? Try to write your novel idea in one sentence. 

It can be something broad, like: Tragic teen love affair that ends in suicide. 

Or, it can be something a bit more specific, almost like a writing prompt : Two teens, from rival families, fall in love and in a shocking twist of events, choose to die together rather than live apart.  Whatever your novel idea is, write it down and keep it at the forefront of your mind – even if all the details or concepts aren’t known yet. 

Tips for picking your best book idea:

  • It must interest you. You’re writing 60k+ words of this novel so if you lose interest, you’ll stop writing. 
  • You have knowledge of this kind of book and the subject matter in it. If you write sci-fi, you must have read sci-fi a lot. Romance? You’re reading love stories every waking moment. Your passion for the book idea comes out of your passion for learning about telling this kind of story.
  • Test your idea. Talk about it and tell people 
  • Define the conflict . Can you identify the main conflict?

4. Read books in your genre

Stephen King said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” 

Writers must read as much as they write. 

For one, it helps improve the story structure of your book. By reading and paying attention to the structure of the books you like, when it comes time to writing novels of your own, this will come very naturally. This is true regardless if you are learning how to write nonfiction , fiction, or a memoir. Reading good writing helps you to become a better writer. You need to read the authors writing in your genre to show you how it is done. If horror is a genre you want to master, you’d better start with Clive Barker or Edgar Allan Poe . Thinking of writing sci-fi? Pick up the books by Arthur C. Clarke ( 2010 ) or Frank Herbert ( Dune ). If you want to practice writing technique, try copyinv passages out of your favorite books. Just read and type. This gets you into the habit of writing (even if it isn’t your material) and is training for the writing to come in your own book.

This technique works when you’re stuck in writing, too. Or you have a fear of writing (what we refer to as writer’s block ). So whenever you are struggling to move forward, grab a book from your shelf, open to your favorite scene, and start typing it out. Just don’t publish it!

5. Set up a productive writing space

When learning how to write a novel, you should ask yourself if your environment is the best place for writing.

Is it clean or cluttered? Can you focus or is your room filled with distractions? Are you alone or do you have friends, roommates and family members surrounding you? Is your space creative or chaotic? In my experience, if you live in chaos (ex: noise, distractions, beeps, a loud TV) you’re setting yourself up for failure. You won’t get far with writing before you’re doing something else. Over the years, I have learned to recognize what works and what doesn’t when it comes to preparing myself for pounding out words.

Here are a few ideas to boost author productivity and make your writer’s space something you can actually get writing done in.

  • Display your favorite author photos. Find at least twenty photos of authors you want to emulate. Print these out if you can and place them around your room.  An alternative idea is to use the photos as screensavers or a desktop screen. You can change the photo every day if you like. There is nothing like writing and having your favorite author looking back at you as if to say, “Come on, you’ve got this!”
  • Hang up a yearly calendar. Your book will get written faster if you writing goals for each day and week. The best way to manage this is by scheduling your time on a calendar. Schedule every hour that you commit to your author’s business. What gets scheduled, gets done .
  • Get a writing surface and chair. There are two types of desks and you should consider setting up your writing area with access to both. The first is the standing desk, which helps you avoid the unhealthy practice of sitting down for long periods. For sitting, you want a chair that is comfortable but not too comfortable. You can balance your online time between sitting and standing. For example, when I have a three-hour writing session, I do 50/50.
  • Create a clutter-free environment. If there is any factor that will slow you down or kill your motivation, it is a room full of clutter. If your room looks like this, it can have a serious impact on your emotional state. I believe that what you see around you occupies a space in your mind. Unfinished business is unconsciously recorded in your mind and this leads to clutter both physical and mental. Go for a simple workplace that makes you feel relaxed. A great book I recommend for this is the 10-Minute Declutter: The Stress-Free Habit for Simplifying Your Home by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport. 

6. Mindmap your novel and research different ideas

You have the idea for your book, but the next step in learning how to write a novel is researching.  For instance, I’m writing a story where the protagonist become involved in an international scandal that takes them from the U.S. to Europe, from London to Paris to Athens. They are pursued by a hit-squad of assassins with a lot of sophisticated weapons. At the end of the book, the protagonists escape via a submarine from Russia, only to be pursued by another submarine that ends in a big battle 3,000 meters underneath the ocean.

But wait a minute… I’ve never been to Europe. And I’ve never handled “sophisticated weapons” that shoot real bullets. Submarines? I’ve read about them in Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October . How do I write a book that requires so much know-how? Research is a necessary part of your book when you learn how to write a novel. It must be believable. This is true regardless if it is a reverse harem story, sci-fi space epic, or underwater action-adventure.

The details must be right.

First, start by writing down all the ideas you have. Set a timer and start writing – don't worry about fact or accuracy. This is your time to mindmap.

Then, circle the ideas you like best and decide what the next steps are to create a believable and entertaining story.

You might need to talk to people with first-hand experiences taking place in your book. There could be technical details involving planes, subs, trains, guns, missiles, or robots. Geographical details might include street names, shops on those streets, or knowing what a particular street corner looks like even if you’ve never been there. Fortunately, we have the internet. Most of these things mentioned can be found within minutes. The challenge is in not getting bogged down in endless information and too many details. 

An interesting fact: When Tom Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October , was published, one former Soviet-watching intelligence officer made an accusation that “ Clancy must have had inside information from U.S. intelligence personnel who intercept Soviet communications.” How else could someone know so much?  “That’s a lot of crap,” Clancy replied. In fact, his basic sources were hundreds of books like The World’s Missile Systems , Guide to the Soviet Navy and C ombat Fleets of the World . Clancy also learned a lot from a war game called “Harpoon,” which the Navy used as an instruction manual for ROTC cadets.

Additional tips for your novel research process 

  • Visit your local library
  • Conduct interviews with real people
  • Gather data and info from “reliable resources” on the Internet
  • Watch YouTube videos
  • Read books in your genre (mentioned previously)
  • Refer to Atlases and World Almanacs to confirm geography and cultural facts

Keep it simple and to the point. Give readers what they need to know and no more. The best books use research to drive the story.

7. Establish a writing schedule

Before setting myself up with a schedule, I usually wrote when I felt inspired…and that wasn’t very often.

As prolific author William Faulkner has said: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning.” So there you have it. There isn’t any magic or secret formula. You learn how to write a novel by writing every day no matter what the day throws at you.

The single biggest reason people don’t get a book written is lack of commitment to the writing process, and not the book itself. A book writing coach can inspire accountability during this process and help you stick to a routine. But how do you establish a writing routine , you ask? Well, some writers would say:

  • Show up at your desk like any other job. 
  • Take five minutes to review your story notes.
  • Be clear on what you’re writing.
  • Type the first word.
  • Type the second word.
  • Continue typing for 30-45 minutes.

When I get asked the best way to write, whether you're learning how to write a novel or a nonfiction book, these are the steps I teach writers.

Of course, different authors have different writing routines:

  • Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 a.m. and works for five to six hours
  • W.H. Auden would rise at 6 a.m. and work hard from 7:00 to 11:30 when his mind was sharpest.
  • Stephen King sits down to write every morning from 8:00 to 8:30.

Whatever routine you decide to follow, remember that the focus is on preparing to write. The routine you implement will be your method for building a successful career as an author .

Create a writing routine that works for you. What time will you be writing novels each day? How many words will you target each writing session?

8. Get clear on the premise or theme of your novel

Setting up everything to write is great. You made it this far! But to learn how to write a novel, you need an actual story to write. And, at the heart of every story, is an overall premise or theme. A premise is your novel’s “big idea” or “big picture view.” So the question is, “What is your story’s premise? ” Write out the idea for your book in 40-50 words. I gave you a couple of samples here. This is your pitch and it has to be good. This nugget has to fire you up so you show up to write every day. 

Here are a few examples of story premises: 

Example One : A group of Navy Seals are sent on a black-ops mission to investigate the discovery of a United States submarine that vanished over 30 years ago. After discovery, the SEAL team is infected one-by-one with a deadly virus that has found its way into the abandoned ship 2000 meters beneath the surface…

Example Two : A couple of paleontologists and mathematician are among a select group chosen to tour an island theme park populated by dinosaurs created from prehistoric DNA. While the park's mastermind assures everyone that the facility is safe, they find out otherwise when the predators break free and go on the hunt.

Example Three : A young farm girl and her dog are whisked away to a magical land by a tornado, only to come face to face with a wicked witch that has vowed revenge for the death of her sister. The girl meets several friends along the way and together they journey to the land of Oz to find the wizard that can send her back home…

Did you recognize any of those story premises? 

9. Create and map out your characters

Your characters help tell your story, and play a huge role in guiding readers through your storyline. 

It’s time to create your character profile , and since each story has main characters and minor characters, we’ll walk you through this process. 

Knowing how to build life-like characters is a huge step in knowing how to write a novel successfully.

No matter which type of character you are creating for your novel, it’s important to make them believable. Think of the type of person your character is, and make them as realistic as possible. 

Initial questions to consider when you create a character are:

  • What motivates them?
  • What is their character name ?
  • What are their flaws?
  • What is their purpose?
  • What do they look like?
  • What’s their personality type?

Create a protagonist/main character

Every story needs a hero or heroine. But your main character doesn’t always start out as a hero. One day, he or she may be an ordinary citizen and suddenly forced into a situation where they must take action or suffer the consequences.

Your protagonist must be…

  • Challenged throughout the novel. There will be a series of scenes described as incidents or pivot scenes when everything is changed when the hero will be challenged to act in a way that pushes them out of their comfort zone.
  • Realistic and believable. They have a weakness and character flaws that makes them vulnerable.
  • In pursuit of a goal. By the end of the novel, this goal must be achieved.
  • Changed for the better. By the end, your main character will become a better person after winning against impossible odds.

Create a character portfolio for your main character. This includes personality type, physical features, recognizable habits, profession, and background. You don’t have to go into an extensive background check for the sketch. Save this for the actual writing of the story.

The conflict arises when your main hero’s goals and motivation conflict with everyone else, especially the antagonist villain. Your story will be crafted around this conflict, leading to the inevitable defeat of the villain, sometimes at the great sacrifice made by the hero.

You can use this to map out your character’s adversary, too.

Create an antagonist

Writing the villain , the bad guy, the character who is out to stop your hero/protagonist is a tough job. Both characters have similar goals—to overcome the other in hopes of winning the big game, whatever that may be.

The antagonist is motivated by something they absolutely must have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it. This goal is revealed right away in the novel and becomes the driving force behind the novel’s pacing.

As with the protagonist, your villain’s motivation has to be so strong, they are willing to do anything, go to any distance, to achieve it.

This results in a massive, edge-of-your-seat climax. 

The essence of your novel can best be described as your protagonists’ world clashing with the antagonist. Both characters try to bring balance to this world by overthrowing the other. If you learn how to write a novel with this goal in mind, you will be on track to write a gripping novel with scene-after-scene built on conflict.

Sketch out your minor characters

These are the characters that drop in and out of a novel, or they appear for a brief moment to deliver a message, play a part in the protagonist’s journey, but their appearance is brief. If you are a pantser, you might just drop these characters in as you write as I do, based on a moment of imagination. For a plotter, your minor character might have a few lines buried inside your outline. Learning how to write a novel requires making a list of your minor characters that will appear throughout the book. You don’t have to go into any lengthy descriptions. Keep details brief and remember: If your character isn’t engaged in the story, they shouldn’t be there.

10. Draft Your Five Key Milestones

You have your characters mapped out. But now you need scenes for them to carry out the story. The next step in how to write a novel is to carve out the scenes and plot the events in your story.

In fiction, most novels follow the “Five Key Milestones Approach.” There could be dozens of scenes in your book, but the critical scenes are the events that turn everything around.

The Five Key Milestones are: 

  • The Opening Scene/Setup

The Inciting Incident

  • The Pivotal Complication
  • The 2nd Pivotal Complication

The majority of novels, TV shows and movies (depending on genre) follow this formula. Your readers are trained to expect this kind of pattern. So, we must deliver to satisfy their expectations. Let's explain each milestone a bit further:

Opening Scene/Setup

The opening scene is telling readers the kind of story to expect. You must connect your reader to your character. You can show off a strength, reveal a weakness, or share an in-character insight. Each of these gives the reader a hook into the character, helping them to understand why they should follow along.

Here are the steps to create an opening scene:

  • Step One: Create a compelling first paragraph
  • Step Two : Introduce your main character
  • Step Three : Foreshadow the conflict
  • Step Four : Elicit emotion
  • Step Five : Leave the chapter on a cliffhanger (to keep them reading)

You also need to acclimate the reader to the setting. What is the setting of a story? Simply put, it is the climate and environment in which your characters are living.

In Fantasy and Sci-fi, you're building entire worlds and new social constructs. In historical fiction, you're taking the reader back into the moments of World War II, the Roman Empire, or whatever time period.

Ideally, you do this on the cover, with the book description, and the categories and keywords you choose. But, you'll also need to make sure that the first couple of chapters give the reader a clear picture of where this story takes place. Remember to show and not tell .

A decision is made or action is taken that changes everything. There is no going back after this happens. This is the event that sets the chase up or pushes the main character onto a path they have no choice but to take. This is known as the inciting incident. The inciting incident is the moment in your story when your hero’s life changes forever. It is the ‘no-going back’ moment, where nothing that happens afterward will return your hero’s world back to normal.

When this happens, it is full speed ahead and stays that way until the climax. The inciting incident is the doorway they walk through and can never return until things return to normal. That doesn’t happen until the end of the novel after the climax. But by then, your hero has changed and might decide she never wants to return back to the way things were.

Pivotal Complication: The First Slap

The first slap is the moment in our story when everything that our hero has gained is lost in one swift action. Your hero is brought down to nothing. All gains are lost, and your hero’s situation has never been bleaker. Readers need to squirm during this scene. Make your readers uncomfortable, and you will be distilling the storytelling down to perfect science.

Pivotal Complication: The Second Slap

If the first slap wasn’t enough, the second slap has to be worse. Just when your readers think your hero has a chance, you take most of that hope away, save for a sliver. In the second slap, we are setting up for the climax, which means that the hero needs to have an escape route. There should be some hope remaining. It is the “last chance”, the “only chance” for survival. If it fails, all is lost…

The Climactic Scene: “All Hell Breaks Loose”

No scene in your novel is as important as your climax. Everything that has happened up to now has been building towards this climactic chaos. The reader must be so engaged with the climax that by the time they put down the book (or turn off the eReader) they are sweating bullets…and already searching for your next book on Amazon.

11. Write your rough draft

Now that you have all the groundwork prepared for learning how to write a novel, it’s time to actually start writing your rough draft .

YouTube video

All the prepping you’ve done until this point means you are set up for success! You know what your novel is about, you’ve researched the idea, and you have your characters, plot, and overall storyline mapped out. 

It’s time to start writing the story that lives inside you! You can ask yourself the questions below to make sure you have everything prepped up to this point and you can also use a book template to speed up the process. But this is ultimately about you taking time each day to write.

  • I have determined my writing schedule.
  • My writing space is optimized and free of clutter or distractions.
  • I have selected a few books in my genre to use as inspiration for my writing.
  • I know what genre and subgenre I'm writing for and what type of fiction author I am.
  • I researched the heavy details of my book.
  • I understand the basics of writing a novel and have outlined my story.
  • I have crafted at least three master scenes for my novel.
  • I have sketched out my protagonist and antagonist profiles.
  • I have a list of minor characters to include.
  • I am clear on the Earth-shattering climax.
  • I am committed to writing now and editing later!

One thing the coaches always tell our authors is to just focus on writing. The editing will come later. As you'll see in the next step…

12. Self-edit your novel 

Once your rough draft or manuscript is written, it’s time for the editing process. There are multiple different types of editing we recommend each fiction novel undergo.

But you will start with a solid self-edit of your book before sending it to a professional editor. 

Self-editing will take your book to the next level. It will also challenge you as a writer. The material you have spent the past three months [or three years?] working on is ready to be brutally shredded. But we know this is okay. What is coming out through the other side will be a much cleaner, enjoyable read.

The first draft is the foundation of the book. The editing involves working with the real structure. 

Steps for self-editing any novel

  • Verbally read through to find any glaring errors. 
  • Find areas where depth can be added to the story. 
  • Identify any missing details or inconsistencies.
  • Catch any repetition.
  • Watch for showing vs. telling. 
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Do a spell check and grammar check. 
  • Don’t over edit.
  • Make sure there is a logical flow and order. 
  • Eliminate any fluff or unnecessary words. 

For some of these steps, you can use AI to help you edit your book . It's an excellent tool to catch typos and syntax errors that you may overlook!

Once you’ve done a thorough self-edit, it’s time to hand your book off to a professional editor to really trim away the fat and get your novel publish-ready!

During the editing stage, you may realize you still need to work through your fears and doubts as an author. You may second-guess some scenes or worry about omitting too much. This is why it's important to work with a very skilled editor and book coach during this phase. These people will be your support system and will keep your readers' – and your book's – best interests in mind.

13. Revise your novel

Real writing is about rewriting. The rewrite (or revision) is the stage when your book really starts to take shape. Learning how to write a novel is just as much revising than it is actually writing.

Now that your rough draft is written and has undergone a series of edits, it is time to rewrite your book using the feedback you’ve received.

When it comes to rewriting, we don’t want this to take forever. In the old days, writers would spend a year or more rewriting their books. But that was before they had any tools, computers, or the internet.

Your editor is probably the first person that will see your manuscript. They will (and should) give you the no-holds-barred truth about what needs to be fixed. This can be hard to take if you are sensitive to criticism, and many people are. 

So what do you do if you get your manuscript back and it has more red marks on it than white space?

Simple. You take it as constructive feedback and get to work. Maybe that isn’t the answer you wanted to hear, but there are two choices. You can question the corrections your editor has made, and in some cases, challenge them. Or, you can work through your manuscript line by line, accepting the corrections as you move through the book, making additions here and there.

Remember: Your editor isn't out to get you. They are there to help you learn how to write a novel better. Catching errors or story inconsistencies now is better than having readers catch them after they have paid for your book.

When it comes time to work through your editing, stick with your editor’s suggestions. Run through the book page-by-page, paragraph-by-paragraph, and line-by-line. Read it as if you are reading it for the first time.

Then, make the corrections and rewrite any sections based on their advice.

You may also want to get alpha and beta readers to read your novel at this point in the journey. These people will read through your current manuscript through the lense of your ideal reader. And their initial feedback could be invaluable when making touch editing decisions!

YouTube video

14. Plan your novel launch

Last on my list of how to write a novel is preparing your book for publishing. If you are self-publishing your first novel, this stage can be a bit overwhelming, and you will likely want to reach out to experts for help.

Because learning how to write a novel is pointless if you can't actually get your book out into the world!

A successful book launch can require a lot of components you might not think of, such as:

  • Learning how to get an ISBN number
  • Creating a book launch website
  • Hosting a book launch party
  • Email/social media marketing
  • Determining the correct Amazon KDP tags

Luckily for you, helping authors self-publish their books is what we do around here.

If you've read this guide on writing a novel and think you'd rather embark on this journey with some support, our team is here to help. Just reach out to one of our talented book writing specialists to talk about your novel idea today!

writing the novel


The proven path from blank page to 10,000 copies sold

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How to Write a Novel

Last Updated: February 1, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Grant Faulkner, MA and by wikiHow staff writer, Christopher M. Osborne, PhD . Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the co-founder of 100 Word Story, a literary magazine. Grant has published two books on writing and has been published in The New York Times and Writer’s Digest. He co-hosts Write-minded, a weekly podcast on writing and publishing, and has a M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.  There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,751,337 times.

Writing a novel takes time and effort, but the process can be a very rewarding experience. Start by taking the time to flesh out your plot and characters, then commit yourself to a consistent writing process. Once you’ve completed a first draft, keep on revising and editing until your novel feels complete to you. Then you can consider whether you’d like to see it published!

Quick Steps

  • Before writing, decide on your novel’s genre, target audience, setting, and main characters.
  • Outline a plot that builds tension and finds resolution within your main character’s POV.
  • Write your first draft with descriptive text and dialogue to flesh out your novel’s world.
  • Perform a self-edit, then have other trusted sources review your draft for feedback.
  • Keep getting feedback and revising until you’re happy with your novel.

Creating a Fictional World

Step 1 Seek out sources...

  • Don't simply wait for inspiration to come to you, however. Seek out examples of exceptional creativity to help spark your own. Your inspiration doesn't necessarily have to be a book—it can be a TV show, a movie, or even traveling to an exhibition or art gallery. Inspiration comes in infinite forms!
  • Think of something from your own life that has inspired, troubled, or intrigued you—how can you explore this topic more fully in a novel?

Step 2 Put some thought into your preferred genre.

  • Commercial novels are divided into many genres, including science fiction, mystery, thriller, fantasy, romance, and historical fiction, among others. Many novels in these genres follow broad formulas and are written in long series.
  • Whatever genre you like or choose to focus on, read as many novels as possible within that genre. This will give you a better sense of the tradition you'll be working in—and how you can add to or challenge that tradition.

Step 3 Envision your target audience as well.

  • Your likely audience usually depends on the genre for your novel. Think about popular novels within your chosen genre and who they seem to be targeted toward. You don’t have to aim for exactly the same target, but at least keep this readership in mind.
  • For instance, maybe your chosen genre of fantasy novel tends to attract readers in their teens and early twenties, or your romance genre tends to attract readers in their forties and fifties. But always remember that these aren’t hard and fast rules for readership!

Step 4 Develop an expansive, captivating setting for your novel.

  • Will it be loosely based on places that are familiar to you in real life?
  • Will it be set in the present, or in some other time?
  • Will it take place on Earth, or somewhere imaginary?
  • Will it be centered in one city or neighborhood, or expanded to a range of locations?
  • What kind of society does it take place in?
  • Will it take place over the course of a month, a year, or decades?

Step 5 Create memorable characters to populate your world.

  • If you have a primary antagonist to counter and conflict with your protagonist, they need to be three dimensional and relatable, even if they’re acting as the “bad guy” in your story.
  • Secondary characters may not need to be fleshed out so fully, but they still need to be humanized to some degree. Envision each character fully, even if you don’t end up utilizing them in great detail.
  • Many novelists describe thinking of their characters as real people, asking themselves what the characters would do in a given situation and doing their best to stay "true" to the characters.

Grant Faulkner, MA

Melessa Sargent

Put a twist on everything you write. Melessa Sargent, the President and CEO of Scriptwriters Network, says: “Make all your characters different — don’t do the same thing as others. If you’re writing a doctor, make him unique like House, or Doogie Howser who was different because he was young. Ask yourself why we would want to read about or watch your doctor.”

Step 6 Do research...

  • Even if you’re writing a futuristic sci-fi novel or a fantasy epic, use scientific and/or historical research to give your created world a realistic grounding.
  • Writing fiction rather than nonfiction does not make you immune from plagiarism . If you’re drawing from other sources, make sure to identify them through citations or acknowledgments.
  • As with other types of planning, walk the fine line between skimping on your research and letting it block your path to actually writing. Trust your instincts.

Step 7 Visualize the broad outlines of your novel’s plot.

  • One traditional plot approach is to have rising action (building the details and tension in the story), a conflict (the main crisis of the novel), and a resolution (the final outcome of the crisis)—but this is not the only way to do it.
  • Your novel doesn't have to neatly "resolve" the conflict. It's okay to leave some loose ends undone—if your readers like your novel, they'll be more than happy to tie up those loose ends themselves (speculation, fan fiction, discussion, and the like).

Step 8 Figure out the narrative perspective(s) you’ll employ.

  • You don't have to decide on the perspective of the novel before you write the first sentence. In fact, you may write the first chapter—or even the entire draft of the novel—before you have a better idea of whether it sounds better in the first person or the third.
  • There's no hard and fast rule about which point of view works best for particular types of novels. But, if you're writing a panoramic novel with a gaggle of characters, the third person can help you manage all of those characters.

Drafting Your Novel

Step 1 Set up a writing routine that works for you.

  • Try scheduling a specific writing time into your daily calendar. Even if you don’t really feel like writing then, or just can’t get the words to come out, sit down during your scheduled time and work at it.
  • Create a writing space to help you get into a routine. Find a cozy place where you can focus. Invest in a chair that won't cause back pain after a couple of hours of sitting and writing. You’ll be spending a lot of time in this place, so make it comfy and functional!

Step 2 Start writing immediately if you’re not the planning type.

  • For many writers, planning ahead makes the writing process go more quickly and smoothly. For others, though, planning can become a barrier that gets in the way of actually writing. Trust your own instincts on what works best for you.
  • Even if you are a planner, don’t get obsessed over every last detail as you set up your novel. If you're too preoccupied with details before even writing your first draft, you may be stifling your own creativity.

Step 3 Make an outline...

  • Your outline does not have to be linear. You could do a quick sketch of each character's arc, or make a Venn diagram showing how different characters' stories will overlap.
  • Your outline is a guide , not a contract . The point is simply to jump-start the writing process with a visual representation of where the story might go. It will certainly change as you begin the writing process.
  • Keep updating or recreating your outline throughout the process. Sometimes an outline can actually be more helpful after you've completed a draft or two of your novel.

Step 4 Use descriptive writing...

  • Practice writing descriptive paragraphs that introduce each of your main characters and settings. Start with a brief, catchy sentence that provides a simple yet intriguing fact about the character/setting, then use vivid descriptive phrasing to build the rest of the paragraph.

Step 5 Include scripted dialogue...

  • Listen to people talk to each other and observe how their conversations are—or aren’t—propelled forward and deepened by what they say.
  • Flesh out your characters fully so that you can envision them speaking the dialogue that you write for them. Make sure the content and style of the dialogue suits the character.
  • Don’t use dialogue to dump information on the reader. Instead, use it to humanize your characters, create conflict, and propel the narrative.

Step 6 Don’t ignore action...

  • Depending on your writing style, you might draft 8-10 key action scenes first, then build the rest of the novel around them.
  • You don’t need to create action for action’s sake—not every novel needs a high-speed car chase! But, every novel benefits from key moments when critical actions are introduced and described.

Step 7 Write your first...

  • Make the commitment to write on your established schedule and produce this first draft. Who knows how many wonderful writers go unnoticed and unread because their drawers are filled with unfinished novels?
  • Set small goals—finishing a chapter, a few pages, or a certain amount of words every few days—to keep yourself motivated.
  • You can also set long-term goals—you might, for example, be determined to finish the first draft of a novel in one year, or even in six months.
  • Reward yourself when you achieve one of your small or larger goals along the way. Celebrate your success, but then get back to writing!

Revising Your Drafts

Step 1 Write as many drafts as necessary until the novel feels right to you.

  • After you've written your first draft, take a break from it for a few weeks, then sit back and read it as if you were one of your readers. Which parts need more explaining? Which parts are too long and boring?
  • If you find yourself skipping over long chunks of your novel, your readers will, too. How can you make the novel more appealing to them by cutting down or revising these cumbersome parts?
  • You may feel like the drafting process will never end, but it will! Stay positive and confident.

Step 2 Give your “feels right” draft a thorough self-edit.

  • If you typed your novel on a laptop, print it out and read it aloud. Cut or revise anything that just doesn't sound right.
  • Don't get too attached to your writing—for example, a well-crafted paragraph that just isn't moving the story forward. Challenge yourself to make the right decision, and remember that you might be able to use the paragraph in a future novel!

Step 3 Get feedback on your draft from a range of sources.

  • Start a writing group. If you know a few other people who are writing novels, arrange to meet with them to share progress and ask for tips.
  • Join a writing workshop at a local college or writing center. You'll review other people's writing and receive notes on yours as well.
  • Apply to an M.A. or an M.F.A. program in creative writing. These programs offer a supportive and inviting environment for sharing your work with others. Additionally, they can help motivate you by setting deadlines for completing your work.

Step 4 Evaluate your publishing...

  • If you're going the traditional route, it helps to find a literary agent to shop your book around to publishers. You'll be asked to submit a query letter and a synopsis of your manuscript.
  • Self-publishing companies vary widely in quality. Before choosing a company, ask for a few samples so you can see the quality of their paper and printing.
  • If you don't want to go the publishing route, that's not a problem. Congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on to your next creative project!

Writing Help Samples

writing the novel

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • If you're stuck on how to move the story forward, imagine one of your characters standing behind you and telling you what they'd do in that situation. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Write your story the way you want. There are markets for all genres, and there will always be a slot for your story if it's well written and interesting. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Read lots of books (especially ones similar in genre or relevant to yours in any way) before, during, and after you've written your novel. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

writing the novel

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Begin Writing a Book

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  • ↑ Grant Faulkner, MA. Professional Writer. Expert Interview. 8 January 2019.
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About This Article

Grant Faulkner, MA

If you want to write a novel, first decide when your story happens, where the characters live, and how those settings will influence them. Then, create characters who will live in the world you are building, and give the characters some sort of conflict that must be resolved. When you start writing, make time to write every day, even if you don't feel like it. Set small goals to keep yourself motivated as you write, especially as you work on your first draft. For tips on how to revise your first draft and how to show your work to other people, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Novel Factory

Before we get to the steps, we'll explain a little about how the Roadmap is intended to be used. If you don't want to read the introduction you can jump straight to the descriptions of the steps.

What is the novel writing roadmap?

The Roadmap is a step-by-step guide to writing a novel, which takes you from initial idea all the way to seeking publication with your completed manuscript.

It’s based on established theory relating to:

  • key story elements
  • plot structure
  • character development
  • effective pacing
  • the current landscape for publication

Each of the steps builds on the previous one and it works by starting with your basic story idea, then building on it in a systematic way by developing plot, characters, settings and more, until you have a complete, polished manuscript.

Each step is explained in an article which includes:

  • Theory and background
  • Description
  • A clear, manageable task

Skip straight to the Roadmap steps, or read on.

Who is the roadmap for?

New writers.


The primary intended audience for the Roadmap is new writers, who have a hunger to write a book, but find the idea daunting and bewildering.

We’ve been there, and that’s exactly why we created the Roadmap. To try to create some order from the chaos of creativity.

There are an overwhelming number of resources available on the art of writing a novel, including books, blogs, online courses, magazines, local courses, writing groups and more. It can be confusing for a new writer to know where to start, and you might accidentally end up learning all about dialogue but not having a clue about structure. Or you might become a master prose writer, but not know how to move a plot along.

The Roadmap attempts to distil and order all of this information into a manageable process that gives you exactly the right information at exactly the right time.

Pantsers (people who prefer to write a book without doing any planning) have been in touch with us in the past to let us know that despite their preference for complete inspiration, they too have found value in the Roadmap.

Some enjoy just taking a few of the steps to ensure their first draft is a little more structured. Others turn to the Roadmap after writing their first draft to retroactively strengthen the key novel elements and discover where there may be weaknesses in the manuscript.


Established Planners (novelists who like to meticulously plan their novel before beginning to write) have a natural affinity with the Roadmap.

Planners are more likely to have already established their own personal writing process, but many find steps and techniques of the Roadmap useful in supplementing and enhancing their own practices.

What are the limitations of using a step-by-step guide to write a novel?

Using a formula stifles creativity (or does it).


(Photo credit: Cakes and Cupcakes Mumbai)

Some writers are concerned that the use of processes stifle creativity, and result in books that are all the same.

But a process is simply a way of consistently achieving a particular result – in this case around 90,000 words that excite and engage a reader.

A hundred people could follow this Roadmap and end up with novels so different from each other that it would be impossible to tell they even followed the same steps.

That’s because our novels come from our experiences, and no two of those are the same.

One writer couldn’t write the same book as another, even if they tried.

Having said that…

Sometimes you have to give the muse the reins


The Roadmap should never be slavishly followed at the expense of your inspiration.

It provides a framework to help you harness and guide your creativity, but at the end of the day writing is an art, and if your heart or gut is begging you to do something, then set aside the steps and follow your instinct.

Conciseness and comprehensiveness must be balanced

In order to create a guide that is useful in a meaningful, practical way, it is not possible to include every piece of useful writing advice and guidance that could benefit a new writer.

The Roadmap is a distilled version of the key points, as gleaned from dozens of books on writing, hundreds of articles, decades of writing, years of research and analysis and a heavy dollop of personal experience.

Therefore, we encourage further reading to support and deepen your knowledge of the principles laid out in these steps.

How should you use the roadmap?


Every writer is different, and every writer will find their own method of writing their book.

Therefore, the Roadmap is not intended to be a strict set of instructions that must be followed to the letter.

Not at all.

It’s a just a suggested route for getting from A to B, where A is where you are now, and B is having a completed novel in your hands.

But there are many roads, modes of transport, diversions and scenic points along the way that you may wish to intentionally deviate to.

You may wish to skip some steps and come back to them later, or ignore them altogether.

So if you’re on step four but you’re itching to get started writing your first draft – then do it! The best writing comes from the heart, so listen to yours.

We hope the Roadmap helps writers take steps towards achieving their dreams, and like all good mentors, it is happy to eventually stand aside and watch proudly as the student spreads their wings and soars on their own.

Preparing to become a writer

There are a few things you can do to help create the right conditions for successfully writing a book:

Intend to have a daily writing habit

In an ideal world, you will be able to write every day, for a reasonable amount of time.

For many of us with busy lives, this is an unrealistic dream.

The best we can do is carve out a few minutes from our busy schedules.

If possible, try to schedule in a set time every day, reserved for writing.

But if that’s simply not possible in your circumstances – or if that kind of routine doesn’t suit your personality, then just stick to this one simple rule:

Write every day.

Having a target of writing every day –  even if it’s just a single sentence  - will make a world of difference.

Have a ‘safe space’ for writing


Writers can write anywhere. In cafes; with their laptops balanced across sleeping babies; in a cupboard, in the garden or  even  in a dedicated office (my personal dream is to have my own writing turret one day).

The location itself isn’t important, but the sanctity of the space is.

This means that when you enter your writing space, you should be free from distractions and interruptions. These distractions may be family members, chores, mobile phones, emails, the Internet, or anything else that will take up your brainspace and time (the only allowable exception is cats – who must be given their due respect, even when walking on the keyboard or cleaning themselves directly in front of your monitor).

Do your best to establish and be ferocious in protecting your safe space.

Speaking of which…

Don’t apologise for taking time for writing

A common habit of unpublished writers is to feel guilty for time they take to write.

They feel that they ought to be doing something ‘more productive’ like doing the laundry, going to the gym, feeding the toddler, etc etc.

Of course, you must fulfil your duties as parent, worker, householder, whatever – but you are a person too, and you also deserve to spend time doing what brings you joy.

And if writing brings you pleasure, then it is wise and mindful to allow yourself some personal space to enjoy it.

Of course there is some sensible judgement involved here – if you lock yourself in a room for fifteen hours a day and refuse to converse with your children until the first 100,000 words are complete, then perhaps its time to reassess the balance. However, people who behave in this way rarely suffer from complicated feelings such as guilt.

No, in most cases, the people who feel guilty about taking time to write are the ones who are already giving everything of themselves to others, keeping their families and colleagues afloat, and barely have time to sit down for five minutes with a cup of tea.

If that sounds like you, then give yourself permission to nourish yourself doing what you love.

The first part of taking care of others is taking care of yourself.

If this resonated with you, then tweet us and we’ll reply with some words of encouragement to boost your resolve!

Now - let's get started writing a novel!

The Novel Writing Roadmap

Step one: the premise.

Before you write a novel, you need to make sure your story idea contains all the essential elements of a complete story.

Who is your main character? What is their situation? What do they want? What's stopping them getting it? What disaster is going to up the stakes of your novel?

Step Two: The Plot Outline

There are a tried and tested story structures that resonate with audiences, and becoming familiar with these will help ensure your novel and direction and pace.

When creating your plot outline you can start with some  basic plot templates  to ensure you're covering all your bases.

Most plot outlines include setting up the scene, an inciting incident , progressively harder challenges and conflict, and a climactic ending.

Step Three: Character Introductions

Characters are the most important part of your novel. This step offers a method of drawing key characters with broad brushtrokes, then filling in the detail to make them memorable and unique.

By answering key questions about your lead characters, you can start to build your cast.

Step Four: Short Synopsis

Describe the setup, major incidents and resolution of your story in a single page.

The short synopsis gives you a clear overview of the basic structure of your story, ensuring it's not meandering or stalling.

Step Five: Extended Synopsis

Start to develop the bones of your story, adding detail and expanding on each of the sentences in the short synopsis.

This step allows you to let loose a little more and let your imagination start filling in the detail of the basic plot outline you've come up with.

Step Six: Goal to Decision Cycle

The goal to decision cycle is a very helpful tool to ensure the actions your main character takes feel logical rather than erratic or out of the blue.

Breaking down the action into six parts: Goal >> Conflict >> Disaster >> Reaction >> Dillemma >> Decision also gives you visibility of the pace of your novel. It is easy to identify if your novel potentially contains too much action without breaks, which may fatigue the reader, or too long stretches of pondering, which may cause them to drift off.

Of course the balance and application of this technique largely depends on the type of story you're writing, and the effect you'd like to achieve.

Step Seven: Character Development

Delve deep into your characters, really learning what drives them, what they need to learn about themselves and how they need to change in order to reach fulfillment.

There are a range of options in this section for developing three-dimensional, memorable characters.

We consider Voice, which includes not only what they say but how they say it, and the influences that have made them that way. We also look at their inner-self, including their motivations, flaws, greatest fears and more. And of course we consider each major character's background, including their childhood, family background, most influential experiences and more. There is also an extensive character questionnaire to help prompt a wide range of details about each character.

Step Eight: Scene Blocking

Before you start writing your first draft, it's really helpful to outline each of the scenes.

This outline loosely blocks out what happens in the scene, including 'stage directions', key snippets of dialogue and anything else relevant.

Step Nine: First Draft

It's finally time to start writing your first draft.

With all the preparation in hand, your first draft will fly from your fingers in no time and be many times stronger than if you'd just started writing from scratch.

When it comes to writing a first draft, our recommendation is to let loose and steam through it as fast as possible. This is not the time for reflection, editing or perfection. Making the prose tight and effective comes later, during the editing process - what's important now is getting the story out. One way to help you write your first draft quickly is to use an AI essay generator . It will help you to write your first draft in a fraction of the time it would take to write it yourself.

This can be the most exciting part of writing the novel, as your creative juices are free to flow - and because of all the planning work that's in place, writer's block is unlikely to be a worry.

Also because of the background work you've put in place, your first draft is likely to be so much stronger than otherwise, saving a lot of reworking in future drafts.

Step Ten: Locations

Locations are more than just places for your characters to walk around in.

Great locations will influence the story, and their atmospheres will change depending on the plot and internal character arc .

Use the five senses and other tools at your disposal to develop locations that add atmosphere and theme, and enhance your story.

Step Eleven: Advanced Plotting with Subplots

This is the time to weave all your elements together and make sure there are no major holes. See how locations affect characters and how the characters move the plot.

Think about subplots, such as romances, items and political and cultural influences. Consider how each character's background will impact on the story and their relationships. Think about what clues you need to lead up to your final conclusion, and the best place to hide each of them.

Step Twelve: Character Viewpoints

This technique can help add depth and texture to your novel.

It involves watching the action, or telling the story from the point of view of each of your major characters. In this way you can avoid the danger of having characters who only seem to exist in the scenes they appear in, then pop out of existence at other times. Knowing what key characters have been doing while your hero has been progressing their arc can greatly enrichen the story and make it feel more grounded and real.

And seeing what they think about the major events can help you ensure they all have unique and contrasting motivations and objectives.

Furthermore, completing character viewpoints can also help you identify plot holes and story flaws.

Step Thirteen: Redrafting and Editing

According to many writers, redrafting is the real part of writing.

This is where you take the sand you shovelled into the box of your first draft, and turn it into sandcastles (thanks to Shannon Hale).

Editing will include high level structural edits, adding and deleting entire scenes, and sentence and word level polishing, making sure every single word contributes to the progress of your characters and plot.

Step Fourteen: Final Polishing and Feedback

There may be many more drafts before the final draft, but eventually you'll find you're only making small edits. Congratulations! You're on your final draft.

Once you feel you've made your novel as perfect as it can be, it's a really good idea to get feedback from other writers. The 'other writers' part is important - you need constructive criticism, not a pat on the back, or worse, uninformed discouragement. Other writers willing to give feedback can be found in local writers' groups or online communities.

Step Fifteen: Getting Published

Now you've got your novel, it's time to put it out into the world. This section gives advice on how to approach a publisher or agent (note - the Online version of the Roadmap now includes information on self-publishing).

When approaching an agent, the key things are to: research and find the right shortlist; carefully read and follow their submission guidelines; be patient and persevere. Submitting can be a disheartening business, but know that every rejection you receive is a badge of honour and a step towards your eventual success.

Self-publishing is by no means an easier route, and it's important to ensure you understand the business side of the industry before letting your brainchild out into the world. Launch day is the most important, and you should make sure you have a solid marketing plan in place right at the start.

Further Reading to Help You Write a Novel:

(some of these are affiliate links, but we never link to anything we wouldn't recommend regardless)

  • Techniques of the Selling Writer - Dwight Swain
  • Getting into Character - Brandilyn Collins
  • Self-editing for fiction writers  - Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Cracking Yarns - Screenwriting Advice from Allen Palmer
  • The Better Novel Project - deconstructing bestselling novels
  • Jerry Jenkins Blog - writing advice blog of 21 time NYT Bestselling author
  • Writers Helping Writers - lists and other resources
  • Live Write Thrive - website of C. S. Lakin
  • Well-Storied  - website of Kristen Kieffer

How to Write a Book From Start to Finish

How to Write a Book From Start to Finish: A Proven Guide

So you want to write a book. Becoming an author can change your life—not to mention give you the ability to impact thousands, even millions, of people.

But writing a book isn’t easy. As a 21-time New York Times bestselling author, I can tell you: It’s far easier to quit than to finish.

You’re going to be tempted to give up writing your book when you run out of ideas, when your own message bores you, when you get distracted, or when you become overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the task.

But what if you knew exactly:

  • Where to start…
  • What each step entails…
  • How to overcome fear, procrastination, a nd writer’s block …
  • And how to keep from feeling overwhelmed?

You can write a book—and more quickly than you might think, because these days you have access to more writing tools than ever. 

The key is to follow a proven, straightforward, step-by-step plan .

My goal here is to offer you that book-writing plan.

I’ve used the techniques I outline below to write more than 200 books (including the Left Behind series) over the past 50 years. Yes, I realize writing over four books per year on average is more than you may have thought humanly possible. 

But trust me—with a reliable blueprint, you can get unstuck and finally write your book .

This is my personal approach on how to write a book. I’m confident you’ll find something here that can change the game for you. So, let’s jump in.

  • How to Write a Book From Start to Finish

Part 1: Before You Begin Writing Your Book

  • Establish your writing space.
  • Assemble your writing tools.

Part 2: How to Start Writing a Book

  • Break the project into small pieces.
  • Settle on your BIG idea.
  • Construct your outline.
  • Set a firm writing schedule.
  • Establish a sacred deadline.
  • Embrace procrastination (really!).
  • Eliminate distractions.
  • Conduct your research.
  • Start calling yourself a writer.

Part 3: The Book-Writing Itself

  • Think reader-first.
  • Find your writing voice.
  • Write a compelling opener.
  • Fill your story with conflict and tension.
  • Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft.
  • Persevere through The Marathon of the Middle.
  • Write a resounding ending.

Part 4: Editing Your Book

  • Become a ferocious self-editor.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Part 5: Publishing Your Book
  • Decide on your publishing avenue.
  • Properly format your manuscript.
  • Set up and grow your author platform.
  • Pursue a Literary Agent
  • Writing Your Query Letter
  • Part One: Before You Begin Writing Your Book

You’ll never regret—in fact, you’ll thank yourself later—for investing the time necessary to prepare for such a monumental task.

You wouldn’t set out to cut down a huge grove of trees with just an axe. You’d need a chain saw, perhaps more than one. Something to keep them sharp. Enough fuel to keep them running.

You get the picture. Don’t shortcut this foundational part of the process.

Step 1. Establish your writing space.

To write your book, you don’t need a sanctuary. In fact, I started my career o n my couch facing a typewriter perched on a plank of wood suspended by two kitchen chairs.

What were you saying about your setup again? We do what we have to do.

And those early days on that sagging couch were among the most productive of my career.

Naturally, the nicer and more comfortable and private you can make your writing lair (I call mine my cave), the better.

How to Write a Book Image 1

Real writers can write anywhere .

Some authors write their books in restaurants and coffee shops. My first full time job was at a newspaper where 40 of us clacked away on manual typewriters in one big room—no cubicles, no partitions, conversations hollered over the din, most of my colleagues smoking, teletype machines clattering.

Cut your writing teeth in an environment like that, and anywhere else seems glorious.

Step 2. Assemble your writing tools.

In the newspaper business, there was no time to hand write our stuff and then type it for the layout guys. So I have always written at a keyboard and still write my books that way.

Most authors do, though some hand write their first drafts and then keyboard them onto a computer or pay someone to do that.

No publisher I know would even consider a typewritten manuscript, let alone one submitted in handwriting.

The publishing industry runs on Microsoft Word, so you’ll need to submit Word document files. Whether you prefer a Mac or a PC, both will produce the kinds of files you need.

And if you’re looking for a musclebound electronic organizing system, you can’t do better than Scrivener . It works well on both PCs and Macs, and it nicely interacts with Word files.

Just remember, Scrivener has a steep learning curve, so familiarize yourself with it before you start writing.

Scrivener users know that taking the time to learn the basics is well worth it.

Tons of other book-writing tools exist to help you. I’ve included some of the most well-known in my blog po st on book writing software and my writing tools page fo r your reference.

So, what else do you need?

If you are one who handwrites your first drafts, don’t scrimp on paper, pencils, or erasers.

Don’t shortchange yourself on a computer either. Even if someone else is keyboarding for you, you’ll need a computer for research and for communicating with potential agents , edi tors, publishers.

Get the best computer you can afford, the latest, the one with the most capacity and speed.

Try to imagine everything you’re going to need in addition to your desk or table, so you can equip yourself in advance and don’t have to keep interrupting your work to find things like:

  • Paper clips
  • Pencil holders
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Printing paper
  • Paperweight
  • Tape dispensers
  • Cork or bulletin boards
  • Reference works
  • Space heaters
  • Beverage mugs
  • You name it
  • Last, but most crucial, get the best, most ergonomic chair you can afford.

If I were to start my career again with that typewriter on a plank, I would not sit on that couch. I’d grab another straight-backed kitchen chair or something similar and be proactive about my posture and maintaining a healthy spine.

There’s nothing worse than trying to be creative and immerse yourself in writing while you’re in agony . The chair I work in today cost more than my first car!

How to Write a Book Image 2

If you’ve never used some of the items I listed above and can’t imagine needing them, fine. But make a list of everything you know you’ll need so when the actual writing begins, you’re already equipped.

As you grow as a writer and actually start making money at it, you can keep upgrading your writing space.

Where I work now is light years from where I started. But the point is, I didn’t wait to start writing until I could have a great spot in which to do it.

  • Part Two: How to Start Writing a Book

Step 1. Break your book into small pieces.

Writing a book feels like a colossal project, because it is! Bu t your manuscript w ill be made up of many small parts.

An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time .

Try to get your mind off your book as a 400-or-so-page monstrosity.

It can’t be written all at once any more than that proverbial elephant could be eaten in a single sitting.

See your book for what it is: a manuscript made up of sentences, paragraphs, pages. Those pages will begin to add up, and though after a week you may have barely accumulated double digits, a few months down the road you’ll be into your second hundred pages.

So keep it simple.

Start by distilling you r big book idea from a page or so to a single sentence—your premise. The more specific that one-sentence premise, the more it will keep you focused while you’re writing.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can turn your big idea into one sentence, which can then b e expanded to an outline , you have to settle on exactly what that big idea is.

Step 2. Settle on your BIG idea.

To be book-worthy, your idea has to be killer.

You need to write something about which you’re passionate , something that gets you up in the morning, draws you to the keyboard, and keeps you there. It should excite not only you, but also anyone you tell about it.

I can’t overstate the importance of this.

If you’ve tried and failed to finish your book before—maybe more than once—it could be that the basic premise was flawed. Maybe it was worth a blog post or an article but couldn’t carry an entire book.

Think The Hunger Games , Harry Potter , or How to Win Friends and Influence People . The market is crowded, the competition fierce. There’s no more room for run-of-the-mill ideas. Your premise alone should make readers salivate.

Go for the big concept book.

How do you know you’ve got a winner? Does it have legs? In other words, does it stay in your mind, growing and developing every time you think of it?

Run it past loved ones and others you trust.

Does it raise eyebrows? Elicit Wows? Or does it result in awkward silences?

The right concept simply works, and you’ll know it when you land on it. Most importantly, your idea must capture you in such a way that you’re compelled to write it . Otherwise you will lose interest halfway through and never finish.

Step 3. Construct your outline.

Writing your book without a clear vision of where you’re going usually ends in disaster.

Even if you ’re writing a fiction book an d consider yourself a Pantser* as opposed to an Outliner, you need at least a basic structure .

[*Those of us who write by the seat of our pants and, as Stephen King advises, pu t interesting characters i n difficult situations and write to find out what happens]

You don’t have to call it an outline if that offends your sensibilities. But fashion some sort of a directional document that provides structure for your book and also serves as a safety net.

If you get out on that Pantser highwire and lose your balance, you’ll thank me for advising you to have this in place.

Now if you’re writing a nonfiction book, there’s no substitute for an outline .

Potential agents or publishers require this in your proposal . T hey want to know where you’re going, and they want to know that you know. What do you want your reader to learn from your book, and how will you ensure they learn it?

Fiction or nonfiction, if you commonly lose interest in your book somewhere in what I call the Marathon of the Middle, you likely didn’t start with enough exciting ideas .

That’s why and outline (or a basic framework) is essential. Don’t even start writing until you’re confident your structure will hold up through the end.

You may recognize this novel structure illustration.

Did you know it holds up—with only slight adaptations—for nonfiction books too? It’s self-explanatory for novelists; they list their plot twists and developments and arrange them in an order that best serves to increase tension .

What separates great nonfiction from mediocre? The same structure!

Arrange your points and evidence in the same way so you’re setting your reader up for a huge payoff, and then make sure you deliver.

If your nonfiction book is a memoir , an autobiography , or a biography, structure it like a novel and you can’t go wrong.

But even if it’s a straightforward how-to book, stay as close to this structure as possible, and you’ll see your manuscript come alive.

Make promises early, triggering your reader to anticipate fresh ideas, secrets, inside information, something major that will make him thrilled with the finished product.

How to write a book - graph

While a nonfiction book may not have as much action or dialogue or character development as a novel, you can inject tension by showing where people have failed before and how your reader can succeed.

You can even make the how-to project look impossible until you pay off that setup with your unique solution.

Keep your outline to a single page for now. But make sure every major point is represented, so you’ll always know where you’re going.

And don’t worry if you’ve forgotten the basics of classic outlining or have never felt comfortable with the concept.

Your outline must serve you. If that means Roman numerals and capital and lowercase letters and then Arabic numerals, you can certainly fashion it that way. But if you just want a list of sentences that synopsize your idea, that’s fine too.

Simply start with your working title, then your premise, then—for fiction, list all the major scenes that fit into the rough structure above.

For nonfiction, try to come up with chapter titles and a sentence or two of what each chapter will cover.

Once you have your one-page outline, remember it is a fluid document meant to serve you and your book. Expand it, change it, play with it as you see fit—even during the writing process .

Step 4. Set a firm writing schedule.

Ideally, you want to schedule at least six hours per week to write your book.

That may consist of three sessions of two hours each, two sessions of three hours, or six one-hour sessions—whatever works for you.

I recommend a regular pattern (same times, same days) that can most easily become a habit. But if that’s impossible, just make sure you carve out at least six hours so you can see real progress.

Having trouble finding the time to write a book? News flash—you won’t find the time. You have to make it.

I used the phrase carve out above for a reason. That’s what it takes.

Something in your calendar will likely have to be sacrificed in the interest of writing time . 

Make sure it’s not your family—they should always be your top priority. Never sacrifice your family on the altar of your writing career.

But beyond that, the truth is that we all find time for what we really want to do.

Many writers insist they have no time to write, but they always seem to catch the latest Netflix original series, or go to the next big Hollywood feature. They enjoy concerts, parties, ball games, whatever.

How important is it to you to finally write your book? What will you cut from your calendar each week to ensure you give it the time it deserves?

  • A favorite TV show?
  • An hour of sleep per night? (Be careful with this one; rest is crucial to a writer.)

Successful writers make time to write.

When writing becomes a habit, you’ll be on your way.

Step 5. Establish a sacred deadline.

Without deadlines, I rarely get anything done. I need that motivation.

Admittedly, my deadlines are now established in my contracts from publishers.

If you’re writing your first book, you probably don’t have a contract yet. To ensure you finish your book, set your own deadline—then consider it sacred .

Tell your spouse or loved one or trusted friend. Ask that they hold you accountable.

Now determine—and enter in your calendar—the number of pages you need to produce per writing session to meet your deadline. If it proves unrealistic, change the deadline now.

If you have no idea how many pages or words you typically produce per session, you may have to experiment before you finalize those figures.

Say you want to finish a 400-page manuscript by this time next year.

Divide 400 by 50 weeks (accounting for two off-weeks), and you get eight pages per week. 

Divide that by your typical number of writing sessions per week and you’ll know how many pages you should finish per session.

Now is the time to adjust these numbers, while setting your deadline and determining your pages per session.

Maybe you’d rather schedule four off weeks over the next year. Or you know your book will be unusually long.

Change the numbers to make it realistic and doable, and then lock it in. Remember, your deadline is sacred.

Step 6. Embrace procrastination (really!).

You read that right. Don’t fight it; embrace it.

You wouldn’t guess it from my 200+ published books, but I’m the king of procrastinators .

Don’t be. So many authors are procrastinators that I’ve come to wonder if it’s a prerequisite.

The secret is to accept it and, in fact, schedule it.

I quit fretting and losing sleep over procrastinating when I realized it was inevitable and predictable, and also that it was productive.

Sound like rationalization?

Maybe it was at first. But I learned that while I’m putting off the writing, my subconscious is working on my book. It’s a part of the process. When you do start writing again, you’ll enjoy the surprises your subconscious reveals to you.

So, knowing procrastination is coming, book it on your calendar .

Take it into account when you’re determining your page quotas. If you have to go back in and increase the number of pages you need to produce per session, do that (I still do it all the time).

But—and here’s the key—you must never let things get to where that number of pages per day exceeds your capacity.

It’s one thing to ratchet up your output from two pages per session to three. But if you let it get out of hand, you’ve violated the sacredness of your deadline.

How can I procrastinate and still meet more than 190 deadlines?

Because I keep the deadlines sacred.

Step 7. Eliminate distractions to stay focused.

Are you as easily distracted as I am?

Have you found yourself writing a sentence and then checking your email? Writing another and checking Facebook? Getting caught up in the pictures of 10 Sea Monsters You Wouldn’t Believe Actually Exist?

Then you just have to check out that precious video from a talk show where the dad surprises the family by returning from the war.

That leads to more and more of the same. Once I’m in, my writing is forgotten, and all of a sudden the day has gotten away from me.

The answer to these insidious timewasters?

Look into these apps that allow you to block your email, social media, browsers, game apps, whatever you wish during the hours you want to write. Some carry a modest fee, others are free.

  • Freedom app
  • FocusWriter

Step 8. Conduct your research.

Yes, research is a vital part of the process, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfict i on .

Fiction means more than just making up a story .

Your details and logic and technical and historical details must be right for your novel to be believable.

And for nonfiction, even if you’re writing about a subject in which you’re an expert—as I’m doing here—getting all the facts right will polish your finished product.

In fact, you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve researched a fact or two while writing this blog post alone.

The importance of research when writing

The last thing you want is even a small mistake due to your lack of proper research .

Regardless the detail, trust me, you’ll hear from readers about it.

Your credibility as an author and an expert hinges on creating trust with your reader. That dissolves in a hurry if you commit an error.

My favorite research resources:

  • World Almanacs : These alone list almost everything you need for accurate prose: facts, data, government information, and more. For my novels, I often use these to come up with ethnically accurate character names .
  • The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus : The online version is great, because it’s lightning fast. You couldn’t turn the pages of a hard copy as quickly as you can get where you want to onscreen. One caution: Never let it be obvious you’ve consulted a thesaurus. You’re not looking for the exotic word that jumps off the page. You’re looking for that common word that’s on the tip of your tongue.
  • : Here you’ll find nearly limitless information about any continent, country, region, city, town, or village. Names, monetary units, weather patterns, tourism info, and even facts you wouldn’t have thought to search for. I get ideas when I’m digging here, for both my novels and my nonfiction books.

Step 9. Start calling yourself a writer.

Your inner voice may tell you, “You’re no writer and you never will be. Who do you think you are, trying to write a book?”

That may be why you’ve stalled at writing your book in the past .

But if you’re working at writing, studying writing, practicing writing, that makes you a writer. Don’t wait till you reach some artificial level of accomplishment before calling yourself a writer.

A cop in uniform and on duty is a cop whether he’s actively enforced the law yet or not. A carpenter is a carpenter whether he’s ever built a house.

Self-identify as a writer now and you’ll silence that inner critic —who, of course, is really you. 

Talk back to yourself if you must. It may sound silly, but acknowledging yourself as a writer can give you the confidence to keep going and finish your book.

Are you a writer? Say so.

  • Part Three: The Book-Writing Itself

Step 1. Think reader-first.

This is so important that that you should write it on a sticky note and affix it to your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write.

Every decision you make about your manuscript must be run through this filter.

Not you-first, not book-first, not editor-, agent-, or publisher-first. Certainly not your inner circle- or critics-first.

Reader-first, last, and always .

If every decision is based on the idea of reader-first, all those others benefit anyway.

When fans tell me they were moved by one of my books, I think back to this adage and am grateful I maintained that posture during the writing.

Does a scene bore you? If you’re thinking reader-first, it gets overhauled or deleted.

Where to go, what to say, what to write next? Decide based on the reader as your priority.

Whatever your gut tells you your reader would prefer, that’s your answer.

Whatever will intrigue him, move him, keep him reading, those are your marching orders.

So, naturally, you need to know your reader. Rough age? General interests? Loves? Hates? Attention span?

When in doubt, look in the mirror . 

The surest way to please your reader is to please yourself. Write what you would want to read and trust there is a broad readership out there that agrees.

Step 2. Find your writing voice.

Discovering your voice is nowhere near as complicated as some make it out to be.

You can find yours by answering these quick questions :

  • What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you?
  • Who’s the most important person you told about it?
  • What did you sound like when you did?
  • That’s your writing voice. It should read the way you sound at your most engaged.

That’s all there is to it.

If you write fiction and the narrator of your book isn’t you, go through the three-question exercise on the narrator’s behalf—and you’ll quickly master the voice.

Here’s a blog I posted that’ll walk you through the process .

Step 3. Write a compelling opener.

If you’re stuck because of the pressure of crafting the perfect opening line for your book, you’re not alone.

And neither is your angst misplaced.

This is not something you should put off and come back to once you’ve started on the rest of the first chapter.

How to Write a Book Image 5

Oh, it can still change if the story dictates that . But settling on a good one will really get you off and running.

It’s unlikely you’ll write a more important sentence than your first one , whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Make sure you’re thrilled with it and then watch how your confidence—and momentum—soars.

Most great first lines fall into one of these categories:

1. Surprising

Fiction : “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nonfiction : “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man

2. Dramatic Statement

Fiction : “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

Nonfiction : “I was five years old the first time I ever set foot in prison.” —Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand

3. Philosophical

Fiction : “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Nonfiction : “It’s not about you.” —Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Fiction : “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Nonfiction : “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” —Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Great opening lines from other classics may give you ideas for yours. Here’s a list of famous openers .

Step 4. Fill your story with conflict and tension.

Your reader craves conflict, and yes, this applies to nonfiction readers as well.

In a novel, if everything is going well and everyone is agreeing, your reader will soon lose interest and find something else to do.

Are two of your characters talking at the dinner table? Have one say something that makes the other storm out.

Some deep-seeded rift in their relationship has surfaced—just a misunderstanding, or an injustice?

Thrust people into conflict with each other . 

That’ll keep your reader’s attention.

Certain nonfiction genres won’t lend themselves to that kind of conflict, of course, but you can still inject tension by setting up your reader for a payoff in later chapters. Check out some of the current bestselling nonfiction works to see how writers accomplish this.

Somehow they keep you turning those pages, even in a simple how-to title.

Tension is the secret sauce that will propel your reader through to the end . 

And sometimes that’s as simple as implying something to come.

Step 5. Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft.

Many of us perfectionists find it hard to write a first draft—fiction or nonfiction—without feeling compelled to make every sentence exactly the way we want it.

That voice in your head that questions every word, every phrase, every sentence, and makes you worry you’re being redundant or have allowed cliches to creep in—well, that’s just your editor alter ego.

He or she needs to be told to shut up .

Turning off your inner self-editor

This is not easy.

Deep as I am into a long career, I still have to remind myself of this every writing day. I cannot be both creator and editor at the same time. That slows me to a crawl, and my first draft of even one brief chapter could take days.

Our job when writing that first draft is to get down the story or the message or the teaching—depending on your genre.

It helps me to view that rough draft as a slab of meat I will carve tomorrow .

I can’t both produce that hunk and trim it at the same time.

A cliche, a redundancy, a hackneyed phrase comes tumbling out of my keyboard, and I start wondering whether I’ve forgotten to engage the reader’s senses or aimed for his emotions.

That’s when I have to chastise myself and say, “No! Don’t worry about that now! First thing tomorrow you get to tear this thing up and put it back together again to your heart’s content!”

Imagine yourself wearing different hats for different tasks , if that helps—whatever works to keep you rolling on that rough draft. You don’t need to show it to your worst enemy or even your dearest love. This chore is about creating. Don’t let anything slow you down.

Some like to write their entire first draft before attacking the revision. As I say, whatever works.

Doing it that way would make me worry I’ve missed something major early that will cause a complete rewrite when I discover it months later. I alternate creating and revising.

The first thing I do every morning is a heavy edit and rewrite of whatever I wrote the day before. If that’s ten pages, so be it. I put my perfectionist hat on and grab my paring knife and trim that slab of meat until I’m happy with every word.

Then I switch hats, tell Perfectionist Me to take the rest of the day off, and I start producing rough pages again.

So, for me, when I’ve finished the entire first draft, it’s actually a second draft because I have already revised and polished it in chunks every day.

THEN I go back through the entire manuscript one more time, scouring it for anything I missed or omitted, being sure to engage the reader’s senses and heart, and making sure the whole thing holds together.

I do not submit anything I’m not entirely thrilled with .

I know there’s still an editing process it will go through at the publisher, but my goal is to make my manuscript the absolute best I can before they see it.

Compartmentalize your writing vs. your revising and you’ll find that frees you to create much more quickly.

Step 6. Persevere through The Marathon of the Middle.

Most who fail at writing a book tell me they give up somewhere in what I like to call The Marathon of the Middle.

That’s a particularly rough stretch for novelists who have a great concept, a stunning opener, and they can’t wait to get to the dramatic ending. But they bail when they realize they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill the middle.

They start padding, trying to add scenes just for the sake of bulk, but they’re soon bored and know readers will be too.

This actually happens to nonfiction writers too.

The solution there is in the outlining stage , being sure your middle points and chapters are every bit as valuable and magnetic as the first and last.

If you strategize the progression of your points or steps in a process—depending on nonfiction genre—you should be able to eliminate the strain in the middle chapters.

For novelists, know that every book becomes a challenge a few chapters in. The shine wears off, keeping the pace and tension gets harder, and it’s easy to run out of steam.

But that’s not the time to quit. Force yourself back to your structure, come up with a subplot if necessary, but do whatever you need to so your reader stays engaged.

Fiction writer or nonfiction author, The Marathon of the Middle is when you must remember why you started this journey in the first place.

It isn’t just that you want to be an author. You have something to say. You want to reach the masses with your message.

Yes, it’s hard. It still is for me—every time. But don’t panic or do anything rash, like surrendering. Embrace the challenge of the middle as part of the process. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

Step 7. Write a resounding ending.

This is just as important for your nonfiction book as your novel. It may not be as dramatic or emotional, but it could be—especially if you’re writing a memoir.

But even a how-to or self-help book needs to close with a resounding thud, the way a Broadway theater curtain meets the floor .

How do you ensure your ending doesn’t fizzle ?

  • Don’t rush it . Give readers the payoff they’ve been promised. They’ve invested in you and your book the whole way. Take the time to make it satisfying.
  • Never settle for close enough just because you’re eager to be finished. Wait till you’re thrilled with every word, and keep revising until you are.
  • If it’s unpredictable, it had better be fair and logical so your reader doesn’t feel cheated. You want him to be delighted with the surprise, not tricked.
  • If you have multiple ideas for how your book should end, go for the heart rather than the head, even in nonfiction. Readers most remember what moves them.
  • Part Four: Rewriting Your Book

Step 1. Become a ferocious self-editor.

Agents and editors can tell within the first two pages whether your manuscript is worthy of consideration. That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. But it’s also reality, so we writers need to face it.

How can they often decide that quickly on something you’ve devoted months, maybe years, to?

Because they can almost immediately envision how much editing would be required to make those first couple of pages publishable. If they decide the investment wouldn’t make economic sense for a 300-400-page manuscript, end of story.

Your best bet to keep an agent or editor reading your manuscript?

You must become a ferocious self-editor. That means:

  • Omit needless words
  • Choose the simple word over one that requires a dictionary
  • Avoid subtle redundancies , like “He thought in his mind…” (Where else would someone think?)
  • Avoid hedging verbs like almost frowned, sort of jumped, etc.
  • Generally remove the word that —use it only when absolutely necessary for clarity
  • Give the reader credit and resist the urge to explain , as in, “She walked through the open door.” (Did we need to be told it was open?)
  • Avoid too much stage direction (what every character is doing with every limb and digit)
  • Avoid excessive adjectives
  • Show, don’t tell
  • And many more

For my full list and how to use them, click here . (It’s free.)

When do you know you’re finished revising? When you’ve gone from making your writing better to merely making it different. That’s not always easy to determine, but it’s what makes you an author. 

Step 2. Find a mentor.

Get help from someone who’s been where you want to be.

Imagine engaging a mentor who can help you sidestep all the amateur pitfalls and shave years of painful trial-and-error off your learning curve.

Just make sure it’s someone who really knows the writing and publishing world. Many masquerade as mentors and coaches but have never really succeeded themselves.

Look for someone widely-published who knows how to work with agents, editors, and publishers .

There are many helpful mentors online . I teach writers through this free site, as well as in my members-only Writers Guild .

Step 1. Decide on your publishing avenue.

In simple terms, you have two options when it comes to publishing your book:

1. Traditional publishing

Traditional publishers take all the risks. They pay for everything from editing, proofreading, typesetting, printing, binding, cover art and design, promotion, advertising, warehousing, shipping, billing, and paying author royalties.

2. Self-publishing

Everything is on you. You are the publisher, the financier, the decision-maker. Everything listed above falls to you. You decide who does it, you approve or reject it, and you pay for it. The term self-publishing is a bit of a misnomer, however, because what you’re paying for is not publishing, but printing. 

Both avenues are great options under certain circumstances. 

Not sure which direction you want to take? Click here to read my in-depth guide to publishing a book . It’ll show you the pros and cons of each, what each involves, and my ultimate recommendation.

Step 2: Properly format your manuscript.

Regardless whether you traditionally or self-publish your book, proper formatting is critical.

Because poor formatting makes you look like an amateur .

Readers and agents expect a certain format for book manuscripts, and if you don’t follow their guidelines, you set yourself up for failure.

Best practices when formatting your book:

  • Use 12-point type
  • Use a serif font; the most common is Times Roman
  • Double space your manuscript
  • No extra space between paragraphs
  • Only one space between sentences
  • Indent each paragraph half an inch (setting a tab, not using several spaces)
  • Text should be flush left and ragged right, not justified
  • If you choose to add a line between paragraphs to indicate a change of location or passage of time, center a typographical dingbat (like ***) on the line
  • Black text on a white background only
  • One-inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides (the default in Word)
  • Create a header with the title followed by your last name and the page number. The header should appear on each page other than the title page.

If you need help implementing these formatting guidelines, click here to read my in-depth post on formatting your manuscript .

Step 3. Set up your author website and grow your platform.

All serious authors need a website. Period.

Because here’s the reality of publishing today…

You need an audience to succeed.

If you want to traditionally publish, agents and publishers will Google your name to see if you have a website and a following.

If you want to self-publish, you need a fan base.

And your author website serves as a hub for your writing, where agents, publishers, readers, and fans can learn about your work.

Don’t have an author website yet? Click here to read my tutorial on setting this up.

Step 4. Pursue a Literary Agent.

There remain a few traditional publishers (those who pay you and take the entire financial risk of publishing your book rather than the other way around) who accept unsolicited submissions, but I do NOT recommend going that route. 

Your submission will likely wind up in what is known in the business as the slush pile. That means some junior staff member will be assigned to get to it when convenient and determine whether to reject it out of hand (which includes the vast majority of the submissions they see) or suggest the publisher’s editorial board consider it.

While I am clearly on record urging you to exhaust all your efforts to traditionally publish before resorting to self-publishing (in other words, paying to be printed), as I say, I do not recommend submitting unsolicited material even to those publishers who say they accept such efforts.

Even I don’t try to navigate the publishing world by myself, despite having been an author, an editor, a publisher, and a writing coach over the last 50 years.

That’s why I have an agent and you need one too.

Many beginning writers naturally wonder why they should share any of their potential income with an agent (traditionally 15%). First, they don’t see any of that income unless you’re getting your 85% at the same time. And second, everyone I know in the business is happy to have someone in their corner, making an agent a real bargain.

I don’t want to have to personally represent myself and my work. I want to stay in my creative lane and let a professional negotiate every clause of the contract and win me the best advance and rights deal possible.

Once under contract, I work directly with the publishing house’s editor and proofreader, but I leave the financial business to my agent.

Ultimately, an agent’s job is to protect your rights and make you money. They profit only when you do.

That said, landing an agent can be as difficult and painstaking as landing a publisher. They know the market, they know the editors, they know what publishers want, and they can advise you how to put your best foot forward.

But how do you know who to trust? Credible, trustworthy agents welcome scrutiny. If you read a book in your genre that you like, check the Acknowledgments page for the agent’s name. If the author thinks enough of that person to mention them glowingly, that’s a great endorsement.

If you’re writing in the inspirational market, peruse agents listed in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide . If you’re writing for the general market, try The Writer’s Market . If you know any published authors, ask about their agents.

The guides that list agents also include what they’re looking for, what they specialize in, and sometimes even what they’re not interested in. Study these to determine potential agents who ply their trade in your genre. Visit their websites for their submission guidelines, and follow these to a T.

They may ask for a query letter, a synopsis, a proposal, or even sample chapters. Be sure not to send more or less than they suggest. 

The best, and most logical place to start is by sending them a query letter. Query simply means question, and in essence the question your letter asks is whether you may send them more.

Step 5: Writing Your Query Letter.

It’s time to move from author to salesperson.

Your query letter will determine whether a literary agent asks to see more, sends you a cordial form letter to let you down easy, or simply doesn’t respond.

Sadly, many agents stipulate on their websites that if you hear nothing after a certain number of weeks, you should take that as an indication that they’re not interested. Frankly, to me, this is frustrating to the writer and lazy on the part of the agent. Surely, in this technological age, it should be easy to hit one button and send a note to someone who might otherwise wonder if the query reached the agent at all.

But that’s the reality we deal with.

So, the job of your one-page single-spaced email letter is to win a response—best case scenario: an invitation to send more: a proposal or even the manuscript. 

Basically, you’re selling yourself and your work. Write a poor query letter and an agent will assume your book is also poorly written.

Without being gimmicky or cute, your letter must intrigue an agent. 

Your query letter should:

  • Be addressed to a specific person (not to the staff of the agency or “To Whom It May Concern”)*
  • Present your book idea simply
  • Evidence your style
  • Show you know who your readers are
  • Clarify your qualifications
  • Exhibit flexibility and professionalism

*If you see a list of agents in a firm, choose one from the middle or bottom of the list. It could be that they get less personal mail than the person whose name is on the door. Who knows? That you single them out may make them see your query in a more favorable light.

For some great advice on writing a query letter, check this out:  

  • You Have What It Takes to Write a Book

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How to write a first novel: 10 Do’s and Don’ts

When you’re starting out, nobody shows you how to write a first novel. Writing a novel requires focus, planning, motivation and discipline. Here are 10 do’s and don’ts for writing your first book:

  • Post author By Jordan
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How to write a first novel - Now Novel explains do's and don'ts

When you write your first novel, do:

Plan and structure your book and your time.

Writing a book is a mid- to long-term project (unless you are one of those rare authors who can churn a book out in a week or two).

If you don’t want writing your novel to drag on, planning is essential. Planning also makes sense because an underlying plan will help to avert writer’s block.

To start writing a novel , set a deadline for completing your first draft. From here you can work out how many words you need to write per day on average. If, for example, you give yourself a year to finish, your necessary word count per day will be (length of your novel)/365. If you want to write a standard length novel (80 000 to 100 000 words), your word count will be 220 to 280 words per day approximately. When you look at it this way, it’s entirely possible to write your book in a year (or a much shorter period if you have more time to write).

If possible structure each writing session in advance so that you have a clear plan of what you will be working on and where it fits into the larger picture. If you already have a story outline, build which parts of the story arc you will work on during each session into your plan. In a week or month planner, write, for example, ‘Write first scene (protagonist receives word of an approaching army, forms party to defend the village)’. If you are not sure how to outline, try one of these 7 outlining methods .

Keep any research you need in an organized, accessible place

how to write your first book - organize your research

Some books demand more background research than others. If you are writing about an unfamiliar location, take a tour on Google Street View and note down landmarks and what the architecture or natural environment is like.

One way to organize your research is to keep a master document that is like an alphabetized dictionary of your story-in-progress. Under each letter, add any relevant information. For example, under ‘L’ you could have ‘Locations’. Write down each of the locations of your novel as you write your story and create new ones (or use real places). Note any important features next to each entry, for example:

‘Cape Town, South Africa: Seaside city. Center of tourism. Wine-growing region. Ethnically and culturally diverse. Wide wealth gap.’

Having an overview of the individual places, themes, characters and other elements of your novel that you can refer back to will keep you focused on the details that bring your fictional world to life.

Write every day, without fail

As author Steven Raichlen says in his post on how to write a first novel for Writer’s Digest :

‘The secret to writing a novel — or any book — is writing. You won’t turn out elegant prose every day. But it’s important to keep cranking it out. Bad writing eventually leads to good writing and paragraphs eventually add up to pages, chapters, and a finished novel.’

Write every day, even when you least feel like it. When you don’t feel in the mood to write, your writing might feel stale, forced and not worth keeping. Persist and keep the ‘bad’ writing for now: You may find later that it is not that bad or simply needs a revision with fresh eyes to be transformed.

‘I don’t have time to write’ is one of the most common reasons for not writing that we hear from Now Novel members. If this is a challenge while you write your first novel, divide your writing sessions into smaller units. It’s much easier to squeeze in 15 minutes than a full hour. If you write every day, even if for only a short while, your writing can only improve.

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Put excuses for not writing and put them to one side

As writers we find endless reasons why we  can’t  write: “I don’t have the time” and “my writing sucks” are two common ones. Yet as author Susan K. Perry says of writing your first novel :

‘Distractions are powerful. Writers are famous for coming up with buckets of rationalizations for not writing, including the suddenly-urgent need to thin out who you follow on Twitter, decluttering old files you had forgotten existed, or dusting the back of your printer. If you must, build in an allowable pre-writing period of miscellaneous tasks, but make it short.’

If you’re writing your first novel (or your second, third or fourth), it’s helpful to journal about the process itself. Write down doubts, surprises, insights, self-discoveries – anything that is worth keeping in mind. Sometimes simply writing down the doubts makes it easier to put them to one side and focus on the most important task: Finishing your book.

Write out helpful questions to ask yourself as you go

If you’re detail-oriented by nature, you might get lost in describing the particulars of a scene and lose sight of how your novel will read as a whole. On the other hand, if you’re focused on the whole plot arc and not individual characters, motivations and scenes, your novel might meander. Neither is a catastrophe, but you can keep a balanced perspective by keeping a list of useful questions to ask yourself as you write:

How to write a first novel: Questions to ask as you go

  • Are my characters’ distinct from each other: Does each have an identifiable voice and set of goals and motivations?
  • Am I including enough sense detail – can the reader see, smell, touch my fictional world in her mind’s eye?
  • Am I being original enough? (No ‘dead as a doornail’ and other clichés). As Joanna Penn says, ‘Keep in mind that fans of sci-fi read a lot of sci-fi, fans of chick lit read a lot of chick lit, and so on. They’ve seen many variations of the same story. You don’t need to recreate the wheel, but a fresh voice or a new approach to a tried and true formula will delight the reader.’
  • Is it clear to my reader who’s talking, where the scene is set, why x event is occurring?

Make sure that your story events show cause and effect (x leads to y) and that your characters are interesting. Create enough intrigue and detail to draw readers in. Show as much as you can without telling in a way that blocks the reader’s imagination.

When you’re working on your first book, don’t:

Continuously change your mind about your story idea and start over.

If you are just working out how to write a first novel, committing to one story idea can feel daunting. Resist the urge to continuously abandon your novel for a ‘better’ story idea. It could simply be that the better idea appeared superior because it promised an escape from writing challenges you are currently facing. Instead, get help from a writing group or writing coach to find a way forward with your existing idea.

The risk of starting your novel over perpetually is that you’ll end up with twenty-something story starts and no finished book manuscript. Each time a great new story idea occurs to you, write it down and store it away. Be disciplined and start on it once you’ve finished your current project.

Underestimate what it takes to write a novel

Some aspiring writers have visions of publishing success and acclaim from the start, but it will take hard work and perseverance to get to the submitting and publishing stage. Writing your first novel means having to find strategies for maintaining the following things:

  • Confidence in your story

These are all essential aspects of writing a book a fiction writing coach can help you with . Read our best posts on how to maintain your motivation to write a book, as well as how to improve and increase confidence in your writing.

Focus on building your world to the exclusion of compelling relationships

Portrait of Vladimir Nabokov to accompany advice for first-time authors

This important advice on writing a first novel is courtesy of author Robert Twigger. Twigger cautions against focusing so much on descriptive detail that you neglect to create vivid relationships between your characters:

‘Nabokov informed us, convincingly, that a novel is a world. Reading this, a new writer of fiction hares off and starts describing this world in intricate detail, inventing all manner of places and events. But think of your own world – it isn’t about detail, it’s about relationships.’

While your fictional world stimulates the reader’s senses, the relationships in your book will anchor the reader’s feelings, letting them invest something in your characters’ lives and choices.

Make everything fit your preconceived plot

Sometimes writers learning how to write a first novel follow commonplace advice to put plot interest first. Yet if every event in your novel is made to fit a template, it can feel forced and over-cautious. Instead, come up with the main events of your novel and describe each separately – you don’t even have to write them in sequence, necessarily. Combine them at a later stage when you have a clearer sense of how they will all fit together. This will make sure that no unnecessary scenes are included.

Tell the reader everything about your character at first introduction

When you first meet someone new, they are a mystery to you. Over time you discover details – their backstory, their core beliefs, values, likes, dislikes and details such as their favourite sayings and expressions. The same should go for characters in a novel. If you begin a character description with details of the character’s face, feelings, wants, fears and beliefs, this can be overwhelming. It also is less likely to leave the reader tantalized – the reader has less reason to want to get to know your character better.

Keep the above do’s and don’ts of writing a first book in mind and the writing process will flow smoother.

Start and finish writing a book with the help of the Now Novel process now .

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  • Tags writing process , writing your first novel

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Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

29 replies on “How to write a first novel: 10 Do’s and Don’ts”

wow! I love your blog.

Thanks so much, Kassie. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

I can’t thank you enough for thorough posts; this one was especially helpful! The tip about world building and character relationships is great.

Thank you so much, J. I’m glad you found that tip helpful. All speed in your writing.

There are some nice tips, but I disagree about writing every day, “without fail”. Some of my best story ideas as well as solutions to story problems have come when I stepped away from the computer. Sometimes for extended periods. If you have to force yourself to write, rather than feel excited at the opportunity to do so, you shouldn’t be writing. How and when a writer writes is as individual a decision as writers themselves. This is why I don’t believe in generalized word-count goals. The schedule that works for me might not work for others. Additionally, writing doesn’t improve simply by continuing to do it. A writer must receive constructive criticism, both from within and from others if he or she expects to improve. Should you self-edit to perfection as you go? No, but you learn through the editing and proof-reading processes. Writing is the creation and assembly of ideas into words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books which others will find engaging upon reading them. It’s supposed to be fun.

That’s fair comment, B.L. Thank you for adding your perspective. As I’ve said elsewhere, taking time out when you need to is important too. Just not so long that you lose momentum altogether. However, it’s true that every writer has to find the set of practices that work best for their creative process.

Having the discipline to write every day is so hard, especially with a very active family, but I can see why it is so critical. Thanks for this post. I needed it.

It’s a pleasure! It truly is a challenge, Erin, and I can relate on that count with two toddlers. I find waking up earlier while everyone is still asleep affords some valuable distraction-free time.

Thank you for the the 10 Do’s and Don’ts. I have definitely fell into the trap of starting and restarting a story. I just had these unrealistic need or idea of my first novel being a hit,but realize this is stunning my growth. In addition, I want this to be a fun journey for me. As a mom, nurse, and graduate student I am extremely busy. However, in order for my novel to start I need to just put words to paper.

Question: Do you reccomend typing novel or writing it in a book? Thank you in advance!

Saya senang sekali menemukan tips ini. Terimakasih.

An amazing post with great tips as always. Anyone will find your post useful. Keep up the good work.

Telling stories and sharing your knowledge with the world is one of the most amazing feelings there is.

I hope you can take the time to read my post as well Effective Steps on Writing Your First Novel .

Really great tips, thank you!

It’s a pleasure, Kathryn! Thank you for reading our blog.

Thank you so much for these Awesome tips, I’am 22 YO, I want to start writing my first novel and this is too helpful!

Hi Omaima, that’s great! Good luck with your first novel, have fun writing it.

Great words of advice for one about writing his or her first novel, I am 17 am working on writing my first novel and this blog is all I ever wanted for a go. Thanks and shine on

Thank you, Meshack! Good luck with your first novel, enjoy the process.

Thanks this was help ful

It’s a pleasure, Shillah. Thank you for reading our blog.

So helpful. It motivated me further. Cut and dry instructions. Very positive.

Thank you, Richard, I’m glad to hear this motivated you. Happy New Year, here’s to further motivation and inspiration throughout the year ahead.

This was a great inspiration for me Thank you so much

Hi Diamona, I’m so glad to hear that. It’s a pleasure, thank you for reading and sharing your feedback on our blog.

Thank you, This was great information, I really like how everything was broken down. This is what I needed to continue the novel I’m working now.

Hi Nikki, I’m glad to hear that. Thanks for sharing your feedback and good luck with your novel-in-progress.

This blog was very helpful and encouraging. Thank you for taking the time to put this together for those seeking to put their vision to paper. Cheers.

Hi Joseph, I’m so glad to hear that you found this helpful, thank you for reading our blog and sharing your feedback. Good luck with your story!

have you ever written a book or novel before, also this was really helpful and I cant wait to start my novel the dream walker!!!

Hi Serenity, thank you for your feedback. Start it! I love the title. I haven’t, though I have written workbooks and have had poetry published. My primary experience I draw on as an editor and for the blog is the past eight years I’ve spent helping and editing writers on Now Novel and before that my undergrad and postgrad in English Literature (there was a lot of deep analysis of novels from all eras during that which helped me develop my understanding of storytelling and story craft a lot).

I’ll write a book one day, I’m still banking up the life experience to decide what I want my debut to be :). In the meantime helping other writers is just as rewarding.

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Last updated on Sep 01, 2022

How to Start a Novel: 8 Steps to the Perfect Opening Scene

With every novel he writes, Stephen King tries to invite the reader into the story with his opening. "Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this." Want to extend your readers an invitation they can't resist? Look no further! Here are 8 powerful steps to help you start a novel:

1. Identify the novel premise

2. pick a point of view for your prose, 3. write a strong opening sentence, 4. set reader expectations in the first scene, 5. introduce major characters early in the writing process, 6. establish conflict-heavy stakes, 7. develop an inciting incident that will drive the plot, 8. edit what you’ve written of the book.

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As King says, the best novel openings aren’t just beautiful sentences — they’re invitations into a world of the author’s creation. That means the beginning of a novel should set the tone for all the writing that follows, letting the reader know what to expect as they make their way deeper into the story.

Consider your novel's overall tone

Now, don’t worry if you’re the kind of writer who likes to figure things out as they go . We’re not suggesting you plan out your whole plot scene by scene: there’s still plenty of room for spontaneity here. You should, however, consider the overall tone of your story from the beginning , whether it’s as soft as spun sugar or as sharp as a blade.

Make sure you keep this tone in mind from the very start. An out-of-place opening, after all, is like a bloody knife on the cover of a wholesome romance: sure to have your readers blinking in confusion instead of eagerly turning the pages. To avoid this kind of tonal whiplash, you’ll need to have a sense of where your novel’s going before you craft its opening lines. This is especially important if you hope for this novel to be the first in a trilogy or series.



How to Write a Novel

Author and ghostwriter Tom Bromley will guide you from page 1 to the finish line.

With your novel’s overall mood and tone in mind, you’re ready to make one of the most important writing decisions for your book: its point of view. Will you opt for colorful, voice-driven first person like in Huckleberry Finn ? Or adopt a bird’s-eye view of the story with a third person omniscient narrator, like in Pride and Prejudice ?

Of course, these are only two options from a vast array of possibilities. If you’d like to learn more about all the possible POVs and see examples of each in action, check out our detailed guide here .

Determine the right POV for your genre

No matter what, the POV you adopt should serve the needs of your story. Consider what’s typical of your genre — that gives you some indication of which POVs complement the literary conventions you’re likely to play with. Young adult novels, for instance, often use first-person narration so readers can really get to know their quirky, relatable protagonists. Mysteries, however, lean on third person limited to build up suspense and keep readers in the dark.

Now you’ve reached the hardest part of starting a novel — coming up with the actual opening line. Luckily, this is also where it gets really fun. After all, you get to do what you do best: write!

K66Km2r4Njw Video Thumb

We’ve got a post on how to start a story that’s chock full of tips from editors and examples from the greats. But the truth is, there’s no one right way to craft an amazing opening line. You can startle the reader, like George Orwell...

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

… or enter your story in a low-key way, like Charlotte Brontë.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

The crucial thing is, whatever you come up with, it has to feel right at the beginning of your novel. And if you want some inspiration for your opening sentence, take a look at First Line Frenzy , where editor Rebecca Heyman critiques first lines submitted by writers like you. She also gives plenty of advice for starting your novel off right.

How do you create a mood for your novel, and keep it going right from the beginning? It’s all about setting your reader’s expectations.

If you’re writing a high-octane spy thriller with a shootout in every other chapter, you’ll need to orient your readers to that fast-paced, action-packed world right away. A more contemplative beginning, where your gun-toting hero reflects on his abandoned Catholic faith while recreating his mother’s gingerbread recipe from memory, might not be the best match. By the same token, your thoughtful, dialogue-driven novel about the psychological pressures of middle age probably shouldn’t open with a car chase.

How to Start a Novel | Make sure your novel strikes the right tone

Again, you don’t have to have every plot point in place to write an opening that’s tonally consistent with the rest of your book. Think of yourself as a painter choosing the palette for your next canvas. You may not have the whole composition in your head just yet, but you know whether to reach for yellow pigment, or blue.

With your opening line in place, you’re ready to ground your story with a human element. That’s right — it’s time to bring some characters on-stage and let them move the story forward.

Go light on the backstory

Introducing characters right from the start helps you avoid one major novel-writing mistake: an overly descriptive, info-dumpy beginning. You may have seen these before. There’s the travelogue opening, which pans slowly over a landscape with nary a human figure in sight. There’s also the worldbuilder’s info-dump: the author piling on details upon details about their alien homeworld or fantasy realm. No matter how beautiful the description or how fascinating the tidbits, this sort of opening will make the reader's mind wander.

How to Start a Novel | Don't introduce too much worldbuilding detail at the beginning of your novel

To avoid a stagnant, detail-clogged opening, introduce a key character — or a few — right away. They’ll act as lightning rods for the reader’s attention and their sympathy, getting them emotionally invested the way a sun-drenched meadow or a lecture on wizarding coinage never could.

Don't start with character description

A word of warning here: don’t replicate all the disadvantages of a scenic opening by starting off with a block of character description! To really hook your readers, make sure your characters come on-stage doing something reflective of their personality, not just gazing at their own reflection for the reader’s benefit.


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Don't introduce too many characters all at once

One bad way to start a novel is opening without any characters. Another bad way? Introducing too many characters right from the get-go. Even if you’re writing a sprawling epic with a cast of hundreds, you want to be selective about the characters you introduce in your opening. Allow too many of them on-stage right away, and your reader’s attention will be split in too many directions. That makes it hard for them to get emotionally invested in any of your characters, or even remember their names!

Starting your novel with well-drawn characters makes it easy for readers to feel like there’s something at stake: these are the people who will hurt when it all goes wrong. And make no mistake — something should go wrong. No one wants to read a novel without any conflict.

Of course, the conflict at the heart of your story doesn’t have to be life-and-death: not every book needs to open on a smoking gun or an unidentified corpse. But a sense of tension should be present from the very beginning of your novel, even if you’re writing the quietest literary fiction.

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Show the reader what your character wants

In the end, establishing the stakes comes down to showing what your character wants. Now, that want can be grand, or it can be deeply personal, anything from overthrowing an oppressing regime to getting into college. The key is, it has to matter deeply to the character.

Of course, what your character wants can't be too easy to attain. To give your novel the right about of tension, pursuing their goal needs to put something at risk, whether that's their life or their peace of mind.



Get our Book Development Template

Use this template to go from a vague idea to a solid plan for a first draft.

Once you’ve established what’s at stake in your narrative, you have to bring the tension to the forefront with a compelling inciting incident. If you’d like to learn more about this all-important plot element, we’ve got a post that goes into the ins and outs of how to write a great one. But in a nutshell, your inciting incident is the event that sets your plot in motion.

Get to your inciting incident early

The inciting incident triggers the main action in your story, but it doesn’t have to be the first thing to happen. Still, if you want to hook your readers from the get-go, place it early in your novel — don’t make them wade through forty pages of backstory first.

How to Start a Novel | Put your compelling incident early on in your novel

Make sure it strikes the right tone

Like everything else about your novel opening, your inciting incident should be engaging while matching the overall energy of your plot. If you're writing a quieter story, your inciting incident can be far subtler than a car chase.

Say you're writing about a violinist who applies to music school against his parent's wishes. Your inciting incident might be as simple as an acceptance letter from Juilliard showing up in the mail. A big envelope arriving by (non-owl) post may not be as much of a bombshell as Harry Potter learning he’s a wizard. But it gets the story moving without feeling tonally out of place.

Once you’ve written the beginning of your novel — inciting incident and all — you’re not stuck with it forever. In fact, you should revisit it as your story develops. To make sure your opening scene still makes sense in the context of your book as a whole, work your way through this checklist when it's time to revise:

✅ Does the tone of your opening still fit?

The premise — even the genre — of your novel can change over the course of the writing process. Make sure your opening isn't an artifact of an old draft. If you started out with an earnest romance, only to see it morph into something more tongue-in-cheek, your opening scene should now have that satirical bite.

✅ Are you giving the right background info?

Like your genre, your setting can evolve as you write — you might end up refining some worldbuilding that was murkier at first. Make sure all of these changes have been incorporated into your opening. Do the details introduced still make sense, given how the world of your story looks now?

✅ Is your characterization consistent?

Of course your characters will grow and change over the course of the plot. But there should be a thread of continuity that makes each character recognizable. Take look at everyone who appears in your opening scene. Are they portrayed in a way that's consistent with their behavior in the rest of the book?

Remember, revising the beginning of your novel is an ongoing process. And once you feel you’ve taken it as far as you're able to, you can always loop in a professional editor to polish it even further. The key is to keep tinkering with it until you've got an opening that just feels right . We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Are you working on the perfect opening for your book? Make sure the chapters that follow are just as strong as our post on how to write a novel !

Continue reading

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How to Write a Novel: Writing a Book in 4 Steps

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Writing a book doesn’t have to be hard. Here’s a simple 4 part process for how to write a novel to go from a book idea to published novel, including tips for plotting, planning, writing, and publishing.

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how to write a novel

Today I am going to share with you my simple system for how to write a novel. Writing a novel does not have to be difficult or overwhelming – and it can be a lot of fun and very rewarding!

When I started writing my first novel at age 14, I had no idea how to actually sit down and write a novel. Even so, I spent most of my summer vacation that year typing away each day like a mad person does whenever they have a good story idea.

Within a few weeks of daily writing, my novel was complete. I still vividly remember that sweet feeling of accomplishment when it was finished. I was 14 and holding an entire manuscript in my hands!

Trust me when I tell you there is nothing like that I-just-wrote-a-book feeling!

That "I Just Finished Writing a Book" feeling!

Seriously, finishing the book you are writing will make you feel like you are free, full of joy, and so immensely happy and proud!

Be careful though: You may even feel like you can fly and that maybe you have secretly possessed super powers all these years. You might feel powerful and wise. You might even think you are ready to rule the world.

Other side effects include running to the nearest mountain top and yelling, “I JUST FINISHED MY NOVEL!!!!!!” at the top of your lungs.

You may also find yourself writing with way too many exclamation points, which you as a writer know is not grammatically correct or necessary!

Needless to say, it’s a pretty incredible feeling when you finish writing your novel.

Even if you do not publish your first novel, you will still have that sense of accomplishment from writing a book – and you will be ready to write many more books after that first one!

All You Need is This Simple Method for How to Write a Novel

What I’m about to share with you on how to write a novel comes from 22 years of daily writing-like-a-madman practice. Over the years, I’ve developed a sort of system to how I write novels and other books. Today I am sharing my method with you so that you too can get over that hurdle of writing your first novel and just get it written.

Don’t worry though: it’s not complicated. I like to keep things simple, and don’t believe in making things more complex than things actually need to be for the process for novel writing. Albert Einstein says it well:

“Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.” ― Albert Einstein

It’s never a good idea to make the novel writing more complicated than it actually needs to be. However, it’s not as simple as “Just sit down and write!”

If that actually worked, I would just say “Just sit down and write” and you would write your novel and likely this whole article and entire blog would have no need to exist. Obviously, there is more to writing a novel than just sitting down and typing out random words as they enter your head.

For me, when it comes to writing a book, I think it’s helpful to have a plan that functions like a road map. This way, if you get lost, you know how to identify where you are, find your destination, and follow the path to getting that book written!

novel writers road map step by step

Using the map analogy, think of it as a treasure map with your finished and published book the final destination.

Along the way, we’ll be making a few stops to ensure the process goes smoothly. Should you ever get off the path in your writing, you will be able to see where you left off and get back on track.

This 4 part guide goes through everything you need to start writing your book – and also the important steps to ensure you actually sit down and write to finish your novel. By breaking it down into 4 parts, it is no longer as quite the preposterous task to write a novel as it may seem at first.

Writing your novel doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming and can be a lot easier than you might think!

So, are you ready to write your novel? If you follow the process and steps I share in this article, I promise you really will be writing a novel! All you have to do is sit down at your computer or laptop and actually write it!

Let’s get on to it, shall we?

how to write a novel

How to Write a Novel: From Idea to Draft to Final Book

To help simplify the novel writing process, we’ve organized this article to break it down into 4 sections. Each of these sections shares specific actionable steps you can do in order to begin writing your novel – and actually make sure it gets finished!

Here are the 4 Parts of the Process for Writing a Book:

Part 1: Creative Brainstorming, Research & Planning – A VERY IMPORTANT STEP!

Part 2: Writing the First Draft – How to Reach Your Goals and Get Unstuck

Part 3 : Revising and Editing – From Good to Great

Part 4: Publishing and Marketing – Sharing Your Novel with the World!

By breaking down the process into these 4 parts and the small steps to follow in each part of the process, the entire undertaking of writing a novel seems a lot less overwhelming. Using these steps can help you make writing your novel a much more fun and enjoyable experience, as it should be!

Writing a novel can be a very exciting and satisfying experience – even if you don’t have any intentions of becoming a best selling author. {Although, that IS always the dream for many of us!}

Part 1: Gathering and Organizing Ideas for Writing Your Novel

how to write a novel part 1: creative brainstorm

Your novel all starts with an idea. For many writers, you may find you have a LOT of ideas. Finding a way to gather and organize all of your ideas is very important.

While the amount of structure you need for organizing these ideas is often a matter of personal preference, having everything haphazardly jotted down in a notebook can sometimes make the novel writing process a lot more difficult than it needs to be!

A little organization can go a long way to help you maintain focus while writing and stay motivated to see your novel from idea to completion.

Step 1: The Creative Brainstorm

The creative brainstorm part of writing is my favorite part of any idea I have for a book I am writing, whether it is a non-fiction book or a fictional narrative novel.

Where you as a writer find inspiration might be different from other writers of course, but I have always strongly believed INSPIRATION IS EVERYWHERE.

Here are some ways I like to come up with initial ideas for writing fiction novels:

  • Create a Mind Map : A mind map is a great way to come up with different ideas for your novel. See our article How to Create a Mind Map for Your Novel  for some ideas and inspiration.
  • Draw Sketches : In addition to writing, I also love doodling and drawing, so sometimes it can be fun for me to draw sketches of the characters or important scenes in the book. Don’t worry if you aren’t a fantastic artist – sometimes just getting the idea expressed visually with stick figures can be helpful for turning it into words later.
  • Music Soundtrack : Sometimes when I write certain scenes and books, I like to have appropriate music playing in the background to bring the right mood and feeling to my writing. For example, if I were writing a sad tragic love story, I would probably head on over to a website like and type in “sad love songs” as a keyword to search for.
  • Pinterest Boards: As someone who is a visual learner, I find that the more visual imagery and inspiration I use, the more descriptive and vivid my writing will be. You can pin pictures of the types of clothes your characters wear or even photos of different places and scenes where your story takes place.

Step 2: Planning Your Novel

Now that we have all of our inspiration, we’re ready to plan the actual writing of our novel.

There is no wrong way to plan a novel, and the process you use to plan out the scenes and chapters for each part of your novel is often up to your own individual preferences.

However, it is SO VERY IMPORTANT to have some type of planning before you start writing those first words.

arrows for planning your novel - have some direction

Without a plan, it is too easy to become derailed and get lost while writing. Instead of sticking to the scenes you already have figured out, you might instead find your mind – and your characters, wandering about aimlessly.

Having a plan can help you stay focused, and meet your goals for writing your novel in a set specific period of time. When you know where you’re going, it is a LOT easier to get there!

Here are some popular methods for planning your fiction novel:

The Outline Method : I like to use an outline for my novels, as it gives me a specific series of events. If I already created a mind map for the novel, I will export the mindmap to outline format and then import into my writing software so I can create a proper outline. Your outline can be as detailed or as brief as you like, so don’t worry about whether or not it is long enough.

The Index Card Method: I do not use the index card method myself much, but for some authors and writers, it is what they swear by! The Index Card Method is where you write down different scenes onto index cards. You can then sort and arrange them as necessary. If you are using a software program such as Scrivener, this allows you to do the process digitally, which can make it a little less messy!

The Planning Calendar Binder Method: Some writers find it helpful to actually plan their novel just like they would plan out their week or even a special event like a wedding or other big celebration. While this method requires more work upfront, it can actually help you save a lot of time later down the road! Using this method, you would use a 3 ring binder and include a calendar with dates and writing goals, as well as detailed information for writing your novel, such as character profiles and fact sheets.

Whatever method that works for you and you are comfortable with is the best one to choose.

The main goal of planning is to know what you are writing about, so that when you go to sit down at the computer to start typing, you don’t get stuck or waste time backtracking.

As I wrote in my article on how to reach your word count goals , it’s very important to have clear and complete thoughts when writing, as this helps the words flow easily when you actually sit down and write.

Most of our time spent sitting down to write should be actually typing and getting the words down. You do not want to be sitting at your computer or laptop keyboard and struggling to figure out what it is you are trying to say while writing!

Step 3: Building a Strong Foundation

Now that we have all of our inspiration, and our plan for what we are writing about, it’s time to start building a strong foundation before you actually begin writing your book.

building a strong foundation

A strong foundation is what helps you avoid weak characters, weak plot points, and weak conflicts in your novel.

Think of it as the “vision before the revision”. This part of the planning process is basically to go back and do any revisions to the characters or plot line now – before you start writing.

It is in this step of writing a novel that I will conduct the character development interview questions  and think about whether there may be any points in my novel that could be stronger.

By really analyzing your plot and characters now, it can help save you a lot of hassle and headaches later!

Now is a good time to also do any supplemental research your novel might need before you start writing. If you do your research now, you will be able to reduce the amount of time you are distracted by fact checking.

No writer wants to disappear into research and get lost in the black hole known as the internet later while writing!

researching phase of writing a novel

For example, if you are writing a historical romance novel set in the Civil War period, you will want to do your history fact checking NOW, before you start writing!

The same goes for if you are writing about a specific location, medical condition, profession, or other information specific type of research that needs to be done.

Even if you are not writing anything specific that requires a heap of research, you may want to double check your plot again just to be sure there isn’t anything you are not familiar with.

Trust me when I say this: You do not want to be mid-sentence as you write the critical scene when your main character is rushed to the hospital – only to be wondering what the standard procedure is for treating a gunshot wound!

The less research you do while writing, the more productive you will be and the better your writing will flow through the story. Take notes now, so that later you don’t need to worry about other things later and you can focus on fully writing your story and the lives of your characters.

Once you have all of your planning and research ready – it’s finally time to get to the good part: actually writing your novel instead of just thinking about how to write the novel !

Part 2: Writing The First Draft of Your Novel

novel writing first draft

The first draft of your novel is the most exciting part to write. The best part? You don’t need to write perfectly at this point, because we will be doing our editing and revising in a later step.

In fact, it’s usually best to write with zero editing and revising when you first start – this way you can get through your word counts faster. Before you know it, you’ll be on the track to a completed book without getting stuck on trying to come up with something “perfect” right off the bat.

Being a perfectionist at this point can be dangerous to your writing and the outcome of your novel, so it’s best to ignore any and all concerns about grammar, spelling, and what to keep or cut out at this point.

Writing your first draft can be done in 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Set a Daily Word Count Writing Goal

Most novels are somewhere between 40,000 and 75,000 words. By setting a daily word count goal, it can help you stay on task to actually finishing writing the novel within a given timeframe.

Giving yourself a deadline is one of the best ways to stay on track, especially when many writers tend to work from home or on the go. It is not like you have a boss who is breathing down your neck to make sure you finish your assignment on time.

In this case, you need something to guide you and motivate you to actually get to the work of writing, and this is where keeping a daily word count can be so useful! Having a daily word count can help you stick to a writing schedule .

In order to set a daily word count, you’ll want to estimate a rough amount for how many words you want your book to be, and then determine how soon you want your first draft finished.

Once you have these two things figured out, simply divide the number of words by the number of days. Now you know how many words to write each day in order to finish writing your book!

Step 2: Start Where You Are Ready to Start

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to start writing your novel with the first sentence of chapter 1.

start writing a novel

Sometimes writing the beginning of a novel can be too daunting. Starting somewhere mid-point in the story takes off the pressure of having to have your story start out perfectly.

There are many writers who will actually even begin at the very end where all the action and conflict happens. This can set you up for the tone and style for the rest of the events leading up to the main action scenes.

As long as you have a plan for how many words you want to write each day, and a good plan for how your story needs to progress from Point A to Point B all the way to the final conclusion, you can write whatever it is you feel like writing.

Just write, stick to the loose ideas of your scenes, and let it flow as naturally as you possibly can.

Step 3: Don’t Panic if You Get Stuck

I think one of every writer’s greatest fears is that you start writing a book, it goes great, and then you get hit with the most severe case of writer’s block, where you’ve written your characters into the world’s most predictable and boring corner and you see no way out.

It can be scary to think about, but getting stuck while writing can happen to almost anyone.

Now is NOT the time to go back and rewrite anything.

Just refer to your original roadmap, outline, or other plan for this novel and keep writing until you get to the finish line.

Remember this most important tip while writing your novel’s first draft: DO NOT EDIT. DO NOT REVISE. JUST KEEP WRITING UNTIL YOU ARE FINISHED.

tips for writing novel first draft

Don’t worry if the chapters and scenes don’t flow into one another as smoothly as they should.

Whatever you do, don’t go backwards and delete pages and pages of work .

You can always save your document as a copy, rather than possibly destroy something that would be useful later when you enter the revising phase of writing your novel.

If you get stuck, take a break for about 15-20 minutes. Walk around. Take a stretch. Sometimes moving around or even taking a break to take a quick shower can help you regroup and get back to writing.

You can also always skip around to different sections. It’s OK if you lose steam on writing the third chapter, so decide to write Chapter 7 instead – AS LONG AS YOU GO BACK to chapter 3 and finish writing that part of the book at some point!

Step 4: Write as Badly as You Possibly Can

If the feeling of being stuck is still there after a short break, challenge yourself to write towards your word count goals anyways. Remember: What you are writing at this moment doesn’t have to be good. This is only the rough draft .

This is so important, it bears repeating: It’s only a rough draft of your novel.

Writing badly is better than writing nothing!

it's only a rough draft novel quote

Since this is a rough draft, you can make mistakes. You can write terribly. You’ll have plenty of time to fix problems and make changes when we get to the next part of the novel writing process. Instead of getting hung up and not writing, just write as badly as humanly possible.

You won’t like your writing when you do it this way, but at least you’ll like that you aren’t staring at a blank screen.

So yes, I fully support and encourage that you embrace the art of writing terribly! Instead of writing well, try to write as terribly as you can! It’s one of the best ways to actually get words down on the page.

Seriously : If you can’t write well, write as terribly as you can.

Use every cliche in the book you can think of. 🙂

As someone who frequently writes thousands of words a day, I tend to use the “write as badly as possible” trick to get things written that ordinarily would still be unwritten.

If I didn’t write all the times I got stuck or times I didn’t really feel like writing, there would be a lot of things I would have never written. Sometimes you just have to write as horribly as you can, get out the horrible-ness and then get back to work.

Will you have to do more for the revising and editing process when this happens? Yes, of course.

But at least you will have something to revise and edit! You cannot edit a blank screen!

Step 4: Don’t Give Up

The difference between the writers who publish books and the ones who don’t is mostly whether one writer gave up or not. Staying motivated as a writer is very important!

Sure, some writers are naturally more gifted with the ability to connect words together into stories than others. Being a good writer is no guarantee that you are going to finish writing your novel.

Even the best of storytellers struggle with writing their novels – the difference in whether you actually write is simply a matter of motivation and getting past those creativity blocks.

If you can fight the perfection monsters and just get it all out of your head onto the page, you’re ahead of the crowd.

And if you just keep writing and writing, before you know it, you’ll find it becoming easier and easier to work through those periods where your motivation levels have crashed.

Part 3: Revising and Editing

how to write a novel part 3

First of all: If you made it this far, congratulations! Seriously – you just wrote a book!

Maybe your book at this point is not great, and of course we all know it’s not perfect – at least not yet.

But seriously, you wrote a book at the point when you are editing and revising, so this is a MAJOR accomplishment!

The revising and editing process is not nearly as hard as one might think. This is when we take the rough draft of your novel and turn it into the novel masterpiece it deserves to be!

First of all, if you are not already familiar with the differences between revising and editing , it is important to know that they are NOT the same thing!

  • Revising means to change, alter, and improve your work.
  • Editing means to check for spelling errors, typo, and correct any grammar mistakes.

Here’s the dictionary definition for each, just in case you need to explore further:

edit and revise

In this part of the novel writing process, you are basically doing two things: you are going to read what you wrote, and make any changes as necessary.

The steps during this process can be a bit painful, but it is 1000% absolutely necessary and is what will take your finished book to the professional level ready for publishing.

Step 1: Print Out Your Book and Read It

You may be wondering why on earth I would recommend you actually physically print out your book. Can’t you just read the book on the screen?

Well, I suppose you could, but there tends to be one slight problem with that: you can’t easily add notes and write comments.

Also, it’s worth noting that at this point, after all the hours of sitting at your desk, it will likely be good for you and your eyes to take a rest! No matter how comfortable of an ergonomic office chair you may have – you still need to take breaks from the screen!

For me, printing out the work and reading the novel makes it special, and all the more real to have that physical feeling of a stack of paper in your hand. It also greatly helps reduce the amount of burnout you might experience as a writer.

Give your eyes, your wrists, and your back a rest – print out the book and read it!

print your novel for editing

Yes, you really should print your finished book – even if it’s not quite technically finished yet!

I like to print my books so that there is about  3″ margin on the right side, and with the lines double spaced. You should be able to specify these print settings in just about any type of word processing software that you might be using.

This gives you enough space for notes and to make any corrections while you read if you desire. Sometimes I read without any intentions of editing, but it never hurts to have a pen handy, especially if you are the type of writer who goes crazy when you find a typo!

Step 2: Ask Yourself What Revisions Are Necessary

Your first draft is unlikely perfect the way you wrote it the first time. Going through the book is important, because it gives you a chance to identify any weak spots in the plot, dialogue and character development.

Here are some of the questions I like to ask during the revision process:

Is it necessary? Often times, we have scenes in our novel that are not absolutely necessary. They don’t move the story forward, they don’t provide any deep enlightenment to the character’s personalities, and some scenes can even be on the boring side. If you have scenes that aren’t necessary, your book may be better off without them entirely.

It is consistent? It’s always important to make sure that everything in your novel is consistent. If you write about your character’s blue eyes in one scene and then three chapters later write about how his eyes are brown, you are going to confuse your reader. These minor details can be easy to catch – but make sure you look for other signs that something may not be consistent. Using the search/replace tool in your word processing software can be helpful for finding any possible mistakes.

Is there enough conflict and character development? All good novels have conflict – a lot of it. Conflict, after all, is what gives us a story! No one wants to read about perfect characters with a perfect life without challenges – who can relate to that? Does your character change and grow enough throughout the book? Is there enough emphasis put on the events that lead to building up the main climax of the story? Do your characters engage in powerful dialogue exchanges ?

Step 3: Make the Changes

Once you identified the scenes that aren’t necessary and any other weak spots in your novel, you are ready to make the changes. I recommend saving your novel as a copy for your revisions – and make multiple backups of your work at this point if you haven’t done so already!

In this step, rewrite any necessary parts of the book which need a little attention. This is not the time to go on a tangent of wild creativity or come up with a whole new storyline – use what you have! Think of this step as polishing a rock to really shine and reveal that it is a diamond!

Step 4: Become a Spelling and Grammar Tyrant:

While grammar can be somewhat relaxed when you write fiction, you still do not want any glaring errors that would cause someone to question your credibility as a writer.

Your word processing software likely already has a built in spell check and grammar checker, however these tools are not always 100% accurate. Be sure that you actually check each and every single word individually as you read through your novel.

Many things can slip through the built-in spell checking tools, so be sure you don’t neglect this very important step!

Step 5: Have Someone Else Read Your Book

have someone else read your work

At this point, your novel is pretty close to done! However, this is a good time to get a trusted second opinion.

There are many ways to go about this. You can ask a close family member or friend to read your book.

However, keep in mind that family members and friends can sometimes be the worst people to read your work! They can sometimes be too close to you on a personal level to truly give you the objective and unbiased opinions necessary.

You can also join a writing group to gain support and share your work with other writers. This can be very beneficial on many levels. With other writers in a writing group, at least you can be sure they have some knowledge and experience in regards to the novel writing process.

The third, and often best option, is a professional editor. Hiring an editor may seem like an unnecessary expense, however your editor can be your best ally in giving you unbisased and objective opinions on your final novel.

After your novel is completed, you are ready for the final step: to actually publish and market your book!

Part 4: Publishing and Marketing

publishing your novel

The process of publishing and marketing your book is very exciting, but it can be equally terrifying as well!

Fortunately, today there are many publishing options available for all types of writers – whether you choose to self-publish your novel, or submit your novel to a traditional publishing house .

Step 1: Choose Your Publishing Method

There are many ways to publish your book, but it’s important you carefully weigh the pros and cons of the many options in front of you!

With traditional publishing , you will need to submit your manuscript to the publisher according to their specifications, and then wait hopefully for a response! It can be nerve racking to submit your novel to multiple publishers, especially if your novel manuscript is rejected at first.

Keep in mind many now successful authors first faced rejection – so you should not let it disappoint you too much if at first you do not have the results you are hoping for.

Once your novel is accepted by a publisher, it will be very important for you to carefully read your publishing contract. Any contract you sign will be a legally binding agreement, so if you are unsure of the terms and conditions, it may be advisable to consult with an attorney who is well-versed in publishing law.

With self publishing , you are responsible for every aspect of publishing your book. While this is easier than ever thanks to the many options available for writers, it can still be a difficult process, as you are 100% responsible for everything you do and ensuring your book is published and sold.

No matter which method you choose, you will want to very carefully consider what the best choices will be for you and your needs.

Step 2: Build Your Author Platform

Your author platform includes your own website and your social media network channels. There are many things you will want to make sure you include on your author website , which will help you establish credibility as a writer.

While there are endless possibilities for reaching your audience online, keep in mind there are many other things that might distract your audience’s attention! Knowing your novel’s target audience can help you focus on which channels make the most sense to use to reach your readers.

Some of the popular ways you can reach out to potential readers for your book from your website:

Email Marketing : Creating an email newsletter as an author can help you reach your readers directly in their inbox. There are many newsletter ideas for things you can send your readers to keep them engaged and interested in your work as an author.

Pinterest Marketing : Pinterest is an excellent way to reach potential readers for your novel. Read our article on Pinterest Marketing for Authors for some great tips and ideas for how you can use this social network search engine to find your target audience.

Step 3: Begin Marketing Your Book

Even if you are publishing with a major publishing house, it is still very important for you to do the crucial marketing to help you sell copies of your novel.

There are a number of free ways to promote your book, both online and off. If you are in need of ideas for ways you can market your book without spending a lot of money, our post on 50 Free Author Marketing Ideas can help.

You can also consider investing in advertising for your book. Online, this can be done through paid advertisements on a variety of different websites. You may also want to opt for traditional print advertisements, especially in niche-focused materials that would be of interest to the same audience as your readers.

Once you’ve successfully marketed your book and sold enough copies, now for the fun part: You’re ready to write your NEXT novel!

Now That You Know How to Write a Novel, What Are You Waiting For?

It may seem like a daunting task, but I truly do believe you can write your novel. When you break down the process of writing a book down to these 4 parts and follow the steps necessary to see your book to completion, you are well on your way to succeeding as a writer!

You’re ready to stop reading this article and go start out at step #1 and GO WRITE THAT BOOK ALREADY ! I know you can do it, and you are going to feel SO GOOD when it is finally finished!

Now that you know the entire process of how to write a novel, you are ready to get started. My hope is this guide for writing a novel will help you avoid common mistakes, stay focused and on task, and see your story come to life on the pages.

Do you have any experiences with writing a book you would like to share? Any tips to add to our discussion? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below! Just getting started? Let us know what resources we can add to our website that will help you along your writing journey as an author!

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Chelle Stein wrote her first embarrassingly bad novel at the age of 14 and hasn't stopped writing since. As the founder of ThinkWritten, she enjoys encouraging writers and creatives of all types.

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Thank you for this! I needed to see this. I ‘ve done some of the stuff you recommend not to do and it makes sense why I felt stunted and stress when creating a story should be fun.

Thanks Sasha, I’m glad it’s helpful for you!

I so appreciate your kind and thoughtfully planned guide. I’ve read lots of helpful articles as I made my way through my initial attempt at a book. I’ve also been to sites that nearly derailed my whole process. I understand people will be critical. But some of the people assisting are downright vicious toward other peoples works. Worse they were shouting loud enough in my head that I felt like a failure and completely quit at one point. I’m still terrified to share my own work for fear of beheading.

Even so, I’ve written my first novel, I now know some of the pitfalls I failed to avoid. (I look at the work and am imagining myself as the little avatar in the old Atari favorite). I hope someday it will be more than my own guilty pleasure hobby. Likely not to soon though, (Refer to fear mentioned above). But after this article I have faith now.

I will not quit trying because I’ve been dying to write since I was a child watching “The Walton’s” and “Little House on the Prairie.” I never had the guts. At 48 years of age, I reckon, it’s now or never. So what if I end up with nothing but the feeling of knowing “I did that!”

You’re absolutely right I think it’s perhaps the best feeling in the world. Now I made it, one complete novel still in revision. I have also started my second now trying to make a better run of it. I still hope to polish the other in time. But “I did that!” finally. So as my niece says, “Don’t worry, I’m good.”

I still struggle with show not tell and the evil on the nose dialogue. I’m not an idiot, but I’m also a self taught writer with no prior experience. I have a hard time grasping it because they can’t make me see it in other articles. If you have the opportunity I certainly could use some guidance on those.

Either way, I just wanted to tell you where I am at, also how important it is to have a kind voice say, “Hey there you beyond the screen, you got this!” Sincerely, thanks for making me feel like an author and inspiring my smile today!

Thank you, Tisha! I’m glad you found this inspiring and I wish you much success in your writing journey! Keep us updated!

I thank you for the article. I received many great ideas. Why does he have to look so dam good? Jane was working in the library on a brief when the bell on the door rings, she glances standing in the door was the last person she expects to see is Paul standing in the door, slim, handsome, he stoops to enter. Walks confidently to the desk asks about a book. In a flashback, Jane is thinking about all the time he terrorized her. Jane is a 8, singing and dancing to Bonce’ “Put a Ring On It” she inspires to be singing & dancer. How do I bring Paul back into the story?

Loved the article and found it very helpful. I liked the idea of keeping writing and not worrying about whether it’s good or bad at the draft stage. This is great for getting ideas to flow onto the page without standing in your way by being too critical. I also liked the advice of writing scenes whenever they come to you and not necessarily having to start at the beginning. Thanks.

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Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print

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Lawrence Block

Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print Paperback – January 1, 1985

  • Print length 197 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Writers Digest Books
  • Publication date January 1, 1985
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • ISBN-10 9780898792089
  • ISBN-13 978-0898792089
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  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ 0898792088
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Writers Digest Books (January 1, 1985)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 197 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9780898792089
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0898792089
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 8 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
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About the author

writing the novel

Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block has been writing crime, mystery, and suspense fiction for more than half a century. He has published more than 100 books, and no end of short stories.

LB is best known for his series characters, including Matthew Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, Evan Tanner, and Keller. LB has also published under pseudonyms including Jill Emerson, John Warren Wells, Lesley Evans, and Anne Campbell Clarke.

His monthly instructional column ran in Writer’s Digest for 14 years and led to a series of books for writers. He has also written television and film screenplays. Several of LB’s books have been filmed, including A Walk Among the Tombstones.

LB is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America. He has won multiple Edgar and Shamus awards, the Japanese Maltese Falcon award, the Nero Wolfe and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Diamond Dagger for Life Achievement from the Crime Writers Association of the UK, been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir, and has been awarded the Société 813 trophy.

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Author Interviews

How the art world excludes you and what you can do about it.

Elizabeth Blair 2018 square

Elizabeth Blair

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In her new book Get the Picture, journalist Bianca Bosker explores why connecting with art sometimes feels harder than it has to be. Above, a visitor takes in paintings at The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London in 2010. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images hide caption

In her new book Get the Picture, journalist Bianca Bosker explores why connecting with art sometimes feels harder than it has to be. Above, a visitor takes in paintings at The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London in 2010.

When Bianca Bosker told people in the art world she'd be writing a tell-all about their confounding, exclusive ecosystem, "bad idea," they responded.

"They didn't come right out and threaten my safety or anything," she writes in Get the Picture , "My reputation, well-being, and livelihood as a journalist —that, however, was another story." Judging from the book's recent reviews , she need not worry too much.

Bosker's motivation for writing the book was partly frustration. "I didn't know how to have a meaningful experience of art and that bothered me," she tells me, "But also like I think the art fiends that I got to know, it's not just that they look at art differently. They behave sort of like they've accessed this trapdoor in their brains and I envied that."

Get the Picture by Bianca Bosker

Other journalists might have relied on research and interviews. Bosker went gonzo. She spent five years immersed in the New York art scene, working as a gallery assistant and helping artists in their studios. After getting a license to be a security guard with the state of New York, she got a guard job at the Guggenheim.

Bosker didn't necessarily set out to write a takedown of the art world, though the result is pretty much just that. She writes about the time a performance artist sat on her face. And recounts a conversation with a dealer who said her mere presence (he didn't like her clothes) was "lowering my coolness." It's unvarnished, awkward and eye-opening.

Borderline hostile

"Working at galleries, I became initiated into the way that the art world wields strategic snobbery to keep people out. And I think it's deliberate and I think it's unnecessary," says Bosker.

Take the wall texts you often see at art museums. While they might be well-intentioned, Bosker believes they're part of an over-emphasis on context .

"For the last 100 years or so, we've been told that what really matters about an artwork is the idea behind it." Bosker says that "art connoisseurs" were very interested in "where an artist went to school, who owns her work, what gallery had shown it, who he slept with" and was surprised by "how little [time they] actually spent discussing the work itself."

Of those wall labels, "I thought they were annoying, like borderline hostile ... they just drove me crazy."

At a recent visit to the Guggenheim, we saw one that included the phrase:

"...practice explores the liminal spaces of human consciousness..."

Bosker shudders. "If I had a dollar for every time someone in the art world used the word 'liminal,'" she laughs. One artist she worked with told her, "'Reading the wall labels is like you're trying to have a conversation with the artwork, but someone keeps interrupting.'"

As a museum guard, Bosker occasionally took the matter into her own hands.

"I would actually try and stand in front of the wall labels so that people wouldn't just fall back on the approved interpretations. They would challenge themselves and really wrestle with their own eye, which is so strong," she says.

Small galleries deliberately keep out the 'schmoes '

If museums make some people feel unwelcome, Bosker learned that small, contemporary art galleries can be even worse. One that we visited in downtown Manhattan was hard to find. That's typical, Bosker explains.

She says a lot of galleries "deliberately ... hide themselves from the general public ... I worked for someone who referred to general public as 'Joe Schmoes' and I think there are a lot of ways to keep out the schmoes, and where you put your gallery is a big one."

Now, to be fair, those galleries are in the business of selling art.

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Gallery owner Robert Dimin likes that Bianca Bosker is unmasking "our opaque art world" with her new book Get the Picture . DIMIN hide caption

Rob Dimin, another gallery owner Bosker worked for, does not refer to the general public as "schmoes" but he does like that his new gallery is tucked away. It's on the second floor of a building with just a small plaque by the entrance.

Dimin's last gallery was a storefront. "You [were] more likely to get people that had no intention or idea about the art or really interested in the art, just maybe kind of stumbling in," he says, "There [were] moments when we were on the street level that people would come in and just have phone conversations on rainy days because it was an open space."

People walking into a gallery to get out of the rain aren't usually interested in buying art. But Dimin admits that the art world is "opaque" and he's glad Bosker is unmasking it. There are parts of it even he doesn't understand.

"Even as an art dealer, it sometimes is confusing," he says, "Like, why is X, Y and Z artists getting acquired by every museum and having these museum shows? What is challenging for a person like me who's been in this business for 10 years, I can only imagine a person not within the industry having more challenges."

How to have a meaningful experience with art

Intentionally confusing, elitist, cloistered. While Bosker's new book likens the art world to a "country club," she says her feelings about art itself haven't been diminished.

"Seeing artists in their studios agonize over the correct color blue, over ... the physics of making something stick, lay and stay, really convinced me that everything we need to have a meaningful experience with art is right in front of us," says Bosker.

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Bianca Bosker takes a close look at a work by Julianne Swartz at the gallery Bienvenu Steinberg & J in New York. Bosker says it's OK to "walk around a sculpture ... just don't touch it." Elizabeth Blair/NPR hide caption

Bianca Bosker takes a close look at a work by Julianne Swartz at the gallery Bienvenu Steinberg & J in New York. Bosker says it's OK to "walk around a sculpture ... just don't touch it."

Here are a few tips she has for readers looking to evade the snobbery:

"My philosophy had always been when I went to a museum ... a scorched earth approach to viewing. I was like, 'You have to see everything. That is how you get your money's worth.'" Bosker says "museum fatigue" is real and compares it to eating everything at an all you can eat buffet. "No wonder you feel a little ill at the end of it."

"If you find one work and you just spend your entire half hour, hour, hour and a half at that piece, you've done it. And I think that that can be oftentimes an even more meaningful experience."

Find five things

Don't 'get' art? You might be looking at it wrong

Don't 'get' art? You might be looking at it wrong

"An artist that I spent time with encouraged me to, in front of an artwork, challenge yourself to notice five things. And those five things don't have to be grandiose, like: 'This is a commentary on masculinity in the Internet age.' It could just be, you know, like this yellow makes me want to touch it." Taking the time to notice those things will help viewers think about the choices an artist has made, Bosker believes.

"I think being around art ultimately helps us widen and expand our definition of what beauty is. And I think beauty ... is that moment when our mind jumps the curb. It can feel uncomfortable, but it also is something that draws us to it. ... It's something that all of us need more of in our life. And art can be the gateway to finding more of it. It doesn't have to happen with the traditionally beautiful artwork."

Get as close to the source as possible

"What we see when we go to a museum is not necessarily the best that culture has to offer. ... It's the result of many decisions by flawed human beings. And one way to get around that is to widen your horizons. ... Go to see art at art schools, go see art at the gallery in a garage and just kind of go close to the source."

This story was edited for audio and digital by Rose Friedman. The web page was produced by Beth Novey.

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Books | How a senseless death fuels Claire Oshetsky’s…

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Books | how a senseless death fuels claire oshetsky’s hopeful novel, ‘poor deer’, the california-based author says it was a challenge to write a dark but redemptive novel, but worth it: 'i love that kind of book, and i wanted to see if i could write one.'.

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On the first page of Claire Oshetsky’s new novel , “Poor Deer,” a 16-year-old girl named Margaret sits at a motel desk. She’s decided to write her “confession” — the true account of what happened to her and her best friend, Agnes, when they were 4. The girls were playing in a tool shed, inventing a game that involved Agnes locking herself in a cooler, after which Margaret was to open it, revealing the princess inside.

But Margaret couldn’t open the cooler latch, and a panicked Margaret ran home, hid under a table, unable to tell her mother what had happened. Agnes died, and Margaret has lived with the crushing guilt ever since. She’s also lived with something else — Poor Deer, a creature who haunts her, urging her to confess what really happened that day. “ Enough of your pretty lies, ” Poor Deer insists. “ It’s time to tell the truth .” 

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“Poor Deer” is the third novel from Oshetsky, a former science journalist whose fiction debut, “The Book of Dog by Lark Benobi,” was published in 2018. They made waves with their second novel, “Chouette,” which garnered rave reviews upon its release in 2021. 

Oshetsky spoke about “Poor Deer” from their home in Santa Cruz, where they live with their family. This conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Q. There are two memorable characters, Margaret and Poor Deer, at the heart of this book. Did one of them come to you first?

Margaret came first, and I really started with a challenge. I wanted to see if I could start a book with a senseless tragedy, something that happens in the real world, and take my book somewhere redemptive. So I began with the idea of these two little girls at an age where they are completely innocent victims, both of them in different ways, and took it from there. Poor Deer evolved as I went. I didn’t originally have a ghostly presence or a conscience embodied — I don’t even know what to call Poor Deer in the novel, but as I was writing, I had this feeling that I wanted to make this go somewhere happy by the end. I was struggling with it as a writer, because in my heart, I feel like some things we never get over. So to write a true book about something that someone does get over was a challenge.

Q. Was it difficult for you to sit down every day and write about the effects of something that’s just so completely awful?

It was a challenge. I wanted it to be true to human experience, and not make it sentimental, but also not to make it so dark that I left my reader with a sense of hopelessness. It’s easy to write sentimentally. It’s easy to write with no hope. I think that that thin path of redemption that’s earned, that was my goal in writing this book. It’s certainly the kind of book that I love, something that challenges me with a dark premise, but ends up being hopeful about the human spirit, the human condition. I love that kind of book, and I wanted to see if I could write one.

Q. People talk about the stages of grief as if they’re a linear process, but in reality they’re not. It’s an unpredictable process for everyone. How do you think Margaret has been able to survive going through that for essentially her entire childhood?

I tried to write a character who, in the beginning, is simply not aware of what death is, and the finality of death. It takes her a long time to grow into the understanding that her friend has died, especially because the adults in her life are trying to hide that fact from her in a loving way, saying that her friend has passed on or is an angel in heaven. So Margaret takes a while to understand that she has lost her friend forever.

Margaret is the narrator of the story, and she’s 16 when she sits down and explains her experience as a 4-year-old, and she’s gone through childhood of being ignorant about death. She’s gone through feeling responsible for what happened, and feeling terrible in a way that really is still kind of naive since she was too young to understand the accident, and now she’s come to a point where she’s kind of becoming an adult and needing to really integrate this experience into her life and move on from it. That was my feeling, that she’s not continuously grieving through those years. She’s processing and learning how to grow out of her grief into something new where she can move on in her life.

Q. Margaret is wracked by guilt, of course. Do you think that the guilt is part of her grief, or are they two separate things that have combined to sort of make her life difficult?

I think there are some kinds of ways of losing people [in which] the grief is going to be mixed in with guilt, that we didn’t try hard enough to save them. We didn’t understand them. We didn’t realize what danger they were in. You still have that attached to your grief. I definitely wanted to explore that feeling in particular, not just that she’s sad, but that it is mixed up with this feeling that she could have done something and should have done something to save her friend. I think that it’s natural that very often we want to take responsibility.

It’s so strange, because the same event or action can be the same, and if it leads to a good outcome, we think, ‘Oh, OK,’ and if it leads to a bad outcome, we feel terrible, but we did the same thing, right? If you run a red light and you hit somebody, you think, ‘I did this terrible thing.’ But if you just zipped through, you probably never think about it again. It’s a mistake, but it’s not a devastating thing that changed your life. You can do the same thing, and in one case, because of the outcome, you never forget it, and you never forgive yourself, and in the other case, you never think about it again because nothing bad happens.

Q. Margaret was raised Catholic, and much of the novel is Margaret’s attempts to write her confession. It seems there’s almost something sacramental about that.

Yes. I was thinking about the sacrament of Confession, and I was raised Catholic, but I’m not a Catholic expert, so I looked it up. I wondered, how would this act of Margaret’s negligence or ignorance leading to a child’s death, be treated in the Catholic dogma? And of course, a 4-year-old child is not capable of mortal sin. You don’t have any reason to feel guilty, the Catholic Church would say, but of course she feels guilty. Anybody would, who remembered an event where maybe they could have done something. So she’s kind of left out hanging to dry as far as organized religion goes. She has to find another way to figure out how to forgive herself.

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Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.

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In this episode we’re discussing the new novel Fourteen Days . The book is a collaboration by 36 authors including Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Celeste Ng, RL Stine, and Dave Eggers – and part of the experience is guessing who wrote which part. So does the premise work as a novel? What do we want from experimental fiction? And are we ready to revisit the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which the action is set? Lilah is joined by the FT’s acting deputy books editor Andrew Dickson and assistant arts editor Rebecca Watson, author of the novel Little Scratch .

We love hearing from you. Lilah is on Instagram @lilahrap and we’re on X @ lifeandartpod . You can email us at [email protected] . We are grateful for reviews, on Apple, Spotify, etc.

Links (all FT links get you past the paywall):

– Fourteen Days , edited by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston, is out now where books are sold.

– The FT’s review of Fourteen Days is here:

– Rebecca’s novel is called Little Scratch (2021). Her second novel I Will Crash comes out on July 4th.

– Andy recommends novels by Sheila Heti and Jon Fosse for their experimental prose.

– Andy is on X, formerly Twitter, @andydickson . Rebecca is @rebeccawhatsun

Special FT subscription offers for Life and Art podcast listeners, from 50% off a digital subscription to a $1/£1/€1 trial, are here:

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Writer, Mother, Ex-Wife: Leslie Jamison Is a Self in ‘Splinters’

In her powerful new memoir, the author examines a life composed of conflicting identities — and fierce, contradictory desires.

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This illustration shows the fragmented face of a young woman with brown hair, as though reflected in a mirror that has broken into a dozen shards.

By Charles Finch

Charles Finch is the author, most recently, of “What Just Happened,” a chronicle of 2020.

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SPLINTERS: Another Kind of Love Story , by Leslie Jamison

We live in a golden age of autobiographical women’s writing. Real equality in publishing is still elusive, but the straight male inner world that was so meticulously, relentlessly documented in prizewinning books of the past century, from Roth to Styron to Ford, has been forced at last from its position of unchallenged supremacy. In its place has arisen a group of brilliant women, inclusive of trans women, with their own ideas for the form, among them Maggie Nelson, Eula Biss, Valeria Luiselli, Margo Jefferson, Alison Bechdel, Rachel Cusk, Carina Chocano — and Leslie Jamison.

Jamison, now 40, is the author of a new memoir called “Splinters.” It tells the story of her divorce and first years as a single mother. In her previous books, the finest of which remains “ The Empathy Exams ” (2014), Jamison often used hybrid forms, crossing autobiography with journalism and essays; in “Splinters,” however, as if the urgency of motherhood has retired the need for those inflecting techniques, she tells her tale straightforwardly.

Nevertheless, her true subject has stayed intact: the tormented ambiguity of all action, ethical and aesthetic and personal, and the consequent divisions of the self, what Virginia Woolf called the “ butterfly shades ” of consciousness. “One piece of me said, It’s unbearable ,” Jamison writes about being apart from her baby. “The other piece said, It’s fine . Both pieces were lying. Nothing was fine, and nothing was unbearable.”

As “Splinters” begins, Jamison and her husband, “C,” are in the initial stages of their separation: “At drop-offs, as I stood with the baby in the stroller beside me, he called from the vestibule, Why don’t you eat something, you anorexic bitch. Or he said, Don’t you [expletive] talk to me. When I said, Please don’t speak to me like that, he leaned closer to say, I can speak to you however I [expletive] want.” In another drop-off scene he spits at her.

This is bitter proof of how monstrous love can turn. But Jamison, whose powerful mind is geared toward dialectic, finds as ballast for that injury an immense, nuanced, often physical hope in her newborn daughter. “Sometimes I felt the baby belonged to me absolutely,” she writes. “Sometimes when she lay sleeping beside me in her bassinet, I ran my fingers along my scar in the darkness: the thick stitches, the shelf of skin above like an overhang of rock. It was just a slit that led to my own insides, but it felt like a gateway to another world. The place she’d come from.”

Soon, Jamison returns ambivalently to teaching (“I never felt doubled. I felt more like half a mother, half a teacher”) and begins seeing new men (whom, like “C,” she calls by distancing nicknames — “the tumbleweed,” “the ex-philosopher” — as if to declare the privacy of her reflections from them). “Splinters” is about how she is fragmented — splintered — into these different selves. “Part of me yearned for my daughter,” she writes. “But another part of me wanted only to be a woman on an open highway — with her feet on the dashboard and a man’s hand on her thigh.”

The recent high-water mark for this kind of book is probably “ I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness ” (2021), by Claire Vaye Watkins, a blazing comet of an autobiographical novel, which is also about motherhood. “Splinters” doesn’t possess its energy or drive; Jamison’s “The Recovering” (2018), a dense and courageous book about her alcoholism, did, but this is a more cautious, mercurial project.

Perhaps that’s because it shows an author in transition, not just a person. Jamison’s excellent prose has always retained the aura of the M.F.A. — the sacral feelings about writing as a vocation, the incredibly careful similes, as if a firing squad awaited each one in judgment. In some lines of “Splinters” (“That summer, I was invited to a literary festival on Capri”) this style threatens to give way under the weight of the book’s scarcely acknowledged privilege. Yet at other times, Jamison finds a voice that is wilder, angrier, funnier, free. “Lush milk nights and rumpled clothes,” she writes with fraught joy, in one of the many moments in “Splinters” that act as a passport directly into the experience of motherhood, “chapped lips and soaked bras.”

For a long time, “woman writer” was an epithet in literary culture. Jamison and her peers are something much subtler: writers investigating womanhood as a category in the world, a way of being perceived, a set of challenges and fears. In part, the subject of this beautiful, bittersweet memoir is the pressure of that task. “It’s true that I didn’t want her to be away from me, even for a moment,” Jamison writes of her daughter during her hospital stay after giving birth. “But it’s also true that once she was gone, I pulled out my laptop.”

SPLINTERS : Another Kind of Love Story | By Leslie Jamison | Little, Brown | 263 pp. | $29

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  15. How to Write a Book: 23 Simple Steps from a Bestseller

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  16. How to write a first novel: 10 Do's and Don'ts

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  17. How to Start a Novel: 8 Steps to the Perfect Opening Scene

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  18. A 7-Step Guide to the Novel-Writing Process

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  19. How to Write a Novel: Writing a Book Made Simple

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  20. How to Write a Novel: 8 Steps to Help You Start Writing

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  21. How to Write a Novel

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  22. How to Write a Book: Complete Step-by-Step Guide

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  23. Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print by Block, Lawrence

    IF you are very serious about writing a novel, this small book provides some thoughtful, though verbose information on tips and tricks and should and shouldn't's. In the same order package, I purchased 'Telling Lies for Fun and Profit -- A Manuel for Fiction Writers.' I was very dissapointed to find that the second book was an almost verbatim ...

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  25. How a senseless death fuels Claire Oshetsky's hopeful novel, 'Poor Deer

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  26. Culture Chat: Margaret Atwood, John Grisham and friends write a novel

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