How To Start Writing A Novel

A Simple Set Of Tips To Help You Get Started On Your Book

writing a novel

Some of my cousins and friends have often passed a query by me. They wanted to know how they could actually start writing a novel or some written work of fiction and keep that flow going once they’ve begun. Well, being a debut author who’s going to have his first book published soon doesn’t make me a pro on the subject, not even close. However, I do feel obliged to share my thoughts on the matter.

This post goes out to all you creators out there who want to get your ideas down on paper or in a Word document. Hope you finally start and hopefully complete that story you’ve always wanted to tell.

Here’s the technique I follow. I hope you can draw inspiration from it and find your own style. What matters is you write and have your ideas communicated to a world that can potentially find a spark of inspiration from it that will lead to a change somewhere in someone’s life. You never can tell.

5 Steps To Start Writing A Novel

Step 1: Know The Basic To-Know’s

Some of the first things you need to know before you start your book is…

  • Genre: What’s it gonna be? A drama, comedy, fantasy, horror, thriller, suspense, detective, mystery, and any one of several other genres in the world of literature?
  • Characters: Are you going to have a few, many or just one protagonist to carry the plot along? It’ll be nice to have an estimate of how many supporting characters are going to help with the storyline, if just one protagonist is your pick.
  • Emotions: Make absolutely certain you know what kind of emotion you’re driving at. Is the story going to be a joyful read or a look into a tragic side portrayed by your character(s)? More often than not the emotion of your plotline will help set the flow in ways even your choosing a genre may not.

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Step 2: Framing The Outline

Don’t fret and fuss over the book’s title. If you already have one, leave your options open and expect the title to change, say, once you’ve completed your book and have a change of heart. The same applies to chapter names, if you feel you want to name each one. The same goes for chapter numbers too. Leave them all for later. Just put ‘Chapter:’ and begin with this step. Here’s the idea…

  • As mentioned earlier, put ‘Chapter:’ and hit enter and open up a nice easy-to-see set of brackets. I go for square brackets, [].
  • Inside those brackets just start randomly typing what you want the scene or setting to be and what your character(s) are going to be doing in this so called ‘first chapter’ of your book.
  • Once you start you’ll know what kind of outline you need to write or type, so don’t worry. Leave that chapter and hit enter, type in yet another ‘Chapter:’ and begin your makeshift ‘chapter 2′. Follow the same outline principle.
  • Carry this method all the way through to the end of your book. The main aim of this step is to help you get your ideas out there in tangible visible form and not have them swimming aimlessly about in your imagination.

Step 3: Filling The Outline

  • This is the main event. You are actually going to get into your story now and fill in the blanks, so to speak.
  • Head back to the first ‘Chapter:’ you outlined in brackets. Keep the details you first wrote down in brackets, don’t delete them yet. Get started writing or typing the whole chapter, add the details you want, introduce the characters where needed, describe the settings, etc. Pull whatever in your mind and throw it out there.
  • Go on to the next outline and start filling that up. Pull and throw, pull and throw.
  • Keep at it until you’ve completed your story. What you have at the end is a legitimate first draft.

Note: Don’t worry if some chapters are small while others are overly extensive. Don’t worry about your grammar or dialogues or whatever. The important things is you have a first draft, which is something millions of other people across the globe do not, so be happy and move to the next step.

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Step 4: Editing Your First Draft

This step is entirely dedicated to filling in the bare necessities in your first draft. These necessities include…

  • Your grammar, from punctuation marks to sentence corrections and so on.
  • Your writing style, namely how you tell the story and what makes the plot read like something you alone can tell people.
  • Adding or removing simple details where needed to save yourself time in the next step.

Step 5: Adding, Removing, Enhancing & The Final-Edit

This is where your story is given the breath of life. In editing you can play as much as you want and go anywhere in the plot, no restrictions. As such this can also be the most confusing stage.

I can’t really tell you how best to go about this part, because it requires your personal instincts and whatever experiences you gathered in the earlier steps and also the familiarity you gained in those steps until this moment in time. Here’s what can potentially happen in this step…

  • Your chapters and book may find names that suit it.
  • Chapters change places.
  • Characters get removed to other story-locations.
  • Settings change.
  • Grammar, style and/or punctuations are altered to make for a better read.
  • Details are either added or removed or both.
  • Dialogues are either added or removed or both.
  • Ideas you have had for a long time can get incorporated into the storyline. You can either put them into the narration or have a character speak them to another or to themselves or use that idea in the plot when they perform an action or say a line.

· …Well, and so on and so forth!

How Soon Can I Complete My Novel?

If you work diligently and keep at it, you can complete a nice 45,000 word novel in about a month, to offer one estimate. How soon you can finish a novel depends on your daily routines.

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For Housewives…

If you’re a housewife you must consider managing chores and cooking and taking care of the family and still be in the mood for writing when you get that precious free time you’ve been searching for.

However, if you are absolutely set on writing your book then it’s time you gave it due priority and made time for it in your day. Allocate work to other members of your family and manage them while they carry out the daily routine. It makes your job easier.

Meanwhile you take at least 5 hours for yourself each day to write/type. You can either spread those 5 hours throughout the day or write continuously in one stretch.

For Officer Goers…

If you’re a working man or woman, you certainly can’t tell your boss you need time off to write a book and still hope to hold on to your job. You guys certainly have it tough and most of my friends are working the usual hours every day, so I can understand and truly praise you guys for the workload you face and the passion for writing some of you still keep burning on the side.

For you, I suggest a new sleep idea. You can spend time on your novel for 2 hours after you return from office (before going to bed) and you can wake up slightly earlier than usual to spend at least an hour perhaps two on your book before heading off to work.

Energy will be the top issue for you writer-workers out there. I suggest, and it’s all I can do to help, you take more fluids, especially fruit juices with pulp and fiber still in them or one of those healthy sports drinks that resupply your body’s electrolyte content.

I’m guessing this will afford you the energy and health needed to work at your office and also on your book, given the sleep time and tiredness you have to balance each day.

For Work-From-Homer’s…

If you’re working from home you have your own upsides and downsides to consider. There is the desire you get to sleep or eat at all the wrong times or play games on your computer when you feel the guilty call to work on your book. There are tons of other simpler but just as tricky issues you have to deal with.

I work from home so I guess I can kinda relate to this. Discipline will be the best thing you can implement. If you want to play computer games set a schedule and no matter what excuse your imagination can throw up stick to the time limit, not a minute longer. Let yourself feel guilty if it helps get you back to working on your novel.

You can also follow the health drink idea I shared above for writer-workers.

Since you’re working from home you have it so much easier. You can sacrifice a lot of other things to gain time for your novel. At the end of the day you can literally see about 8 hours of time ready to be allocated for your novel (gosh!) so be grateful for the setting you have and the chance to finally use your creative skills to hopefully make a career out of.

What’s The Word Count For An Average Novel?

I came across this interesting blog entry online. It helped me understand word counts as they transform from a Word document to an actual print-and-bound novel. I own and have also read some of the books whose word counts are provided in the following link so I sorta have an understanding of how I can go about looking at my writing.

What Are Some Mistakes In Writing A Novel?

1. One of the first mistakes people do is telling themselves they can’t write a novel or that they haven’t the time. Freedom is what you make of it. You can sometimes find it in the least expected places. All you need is the will to write and the desire to share your ideas with the world as a work of fiction. A simple novel can change lives, as books have shown to do throughout history. So what you’re getting into is no small thing.

2. Another mistake people make is they don’t read but expect to write. You must be a good reader if you want to even think about being a competent writer. By reading novels similar to the genre you want to write you see what’s out there in the market and immerse yourself in the flow and concepts already used or in use. You get an instinctual feel for style and plot flow. Granted, you can’t read every last novel written under a certain genre but the ones you choose to read for the time being magically work on your behalf and you’ll be shocked how apt they are for you and your work.

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The story essentially writes itself. It’s something that happens, you can’t change it, so it’s best you don’t control or force the flow. Just let the ideas come to you. And when they come, be ready to write them down on paper or in a digital text document or in your phone. Just don’t trust your memory because the brain can often be a backstabbing *****.

Keep yourself calm, don’t worry about how long it will take. As my editor Wendy Smuts once wrote me in an email (I’m happy I received those words of wisdom)… She said, ‘We’re doing all we can, but it takes as long as it takes’. She also mentioned how a person can’t have a cake and eat it too, meaning you either choose one or the other. If you choose to write, just start writing. Thinking about doing so is not the same as actually doing so. That’s like sitting and staring at the shower and hoping you magically bathe yourself. That last part is mine, btw. :P

In my next post I’ll take you through my ideas on how to find a good publisher for your work. You’ll learn just how much there is to this industry and all the facts, tips, guidelines, must-know’s and tricks you must keep in mind before going on the hunt. Hope this post helped set fire to your creative fuse. See you in the next post…

Image Credit: Janeen, WOW.


  1. Thank you thank you thank you so much for this.
    Have been very guilty of procrastinating and blaming lack of time but frankly, the time can be made. Its just a step-wise approach that is needed.

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