It verges on the absurd to suggest that there is any single blueprint or way to write a novel. The pathway travelled from idea to finished manuscript is unique to each author, and even for a single author may vary from book to book.

This article, then, can only give one author’s point of view, one set of experiences that may or may not be useful to the closeted hoards of writers scribbling their way towards that golden-lit goal of becoming…an author!

What is a Novel?

To talk about writing a novel we should, before we get into mechanics, decide what we mean by the term. Is a novel any work of fiction long enough to fill out a book? Is it any long-form written work that tells a story? Many would say so. And many of those would be among the most popular writers on the planet. But is there a differentiation to be found between a book, the aim of which is solely, or at least primarily, to tell an entertaining story, and a book that exists in the main as an organ through which the author attempts to explore themes and experiences that are at the very heart of who he perceives himself to be?

It might be argued that all works of fiction necessarily reflect issues that are dear to the author, but it is, I think, a matter of degree, a matter of intent. For me, if you set out to tell a ripping yarn you’re writing a book. If you set out to eviscerate your past, your relationships or issues in life that obsess you, you’re writing a novel. A yarn may take just as much (and often more) skill in it’s construction, but it doesn’t require, as a necessary condition, that one essential ingredient the novel demands – blood on the page.

This differentiation has profound implications for the would-be author because the choice between book and novel will dictate not only where the author finds his material and in what form he sets it down on paper, but also the journey the author endures throughout the writing. It would seem indisputable that plumbing one’s psyche or one’s fractured personal history will result in an experience for the author of higher emotional peaks and deeper troughs than the clinical plotting of intrigue aboard a nuclear submarine.

Getting it Done

So… you’ve decided you want to write something that is intrinsically meaningful to you, you’ve accepted that sales of your novel are unlikely to exceed four figures, and you’re prepared for what may well be an emotional roller-coaster. How do you go about it?

Theme

To be meaningful, your novel must have some overarching theme. This theme is the arena within which your story plays out. Your characters and events will attempt to understand, explore, explain or otherwise throw light on this meta-idea.

Besides adding meaning to your story, a clear idea of theme is also a useful weapon to have in your writing arsenal as it provides a constant point of reference throughout the writing process. This will not only help keep your novel cohesive, but on those dark, soul-ripping days when your characters stand rigidly still and refuse to speak, it will at least give you somewhere to look for inspiration.

Plot

As mentioned at the opening of this article, writers write in different ways. Some writers never plot their books before they start writing, others spend months writing detailed plot outlines before they ever sit down and type “Chapter One…”.

How you approach this issue is up to you and your own particular writing style, but there are at least two advantages of outlining your plot beforehand:

  1. It provides a roadmap that can be referred to throughout the writing process and in this way helps reduce those times when you just can’t figure out what to write next.
  2. The writing of the outline will bring to light facets of your story that you may not otherwise have considered, or examined in detail.

Writing Habits

Try to write at the same time each day, organise your day around it, not the other way around. And try to write every day.

Writing a novel is an incredibly time-intensive exercise and it is not uncommon for it to assume, in the writer’s mind, the proportions of a Herculean labour. It is important, then, to develop strategies that enable you to cope with this prolonged artistic effort and avoid becoming demoralised. Try setting goals you can achieve every few days or weeks. Chapters are good for this. Set your focus on completing them one by one, rather than worrying about completing the novel as a whole.

Getting it Perfect and Rewriting

Writers in the early stages of their career can become overly fixated on getting their novel absolutely perfect in the first draft. Of course you want your book to be as good a you can make it. Of course you want to express your thoughts as clearly and exactly as possible. But taken too far, this desire for perfection can become debilitating and end up choking your output.

Ever sat there turning one sentence over and over for an hour…two hours? You’re trying too hard. And you’re wasting time. Don’t think of this novel as the only one you’ll ever write, don’t think of it as your only chance of success – you’ll straightjacket yourself with stress. The world won’t end if you have a few clumsy sentences. Just put something down and move on. You’ll fix it in the rewrite.

“Oh, I have to rewrite? But I think it’s pretty damn good as it is.” The answer to this is – if you haven’t rewritten your novel at least twice, you haven’t written your novel. Do it. Don’t be lazy. Don’t give up when you’ve already done the largest part of the work.

Relationships

Writers become immersed in their work. The novel-in-progress often dominates their daily life. It is worth remembering that life has its other, non-writing side and that this needs attention as well, particularly if you’re in a relationship – take care to give it some of your time. If you don’t, you may come out of the writing process with a novel but no one to share the success with.

And Finally…

When all seems blackest, when you can’t see your way forward, when you have no idea why you even started the novel in the first place, remember this – you will finish it, it is impossible not to finish it. If you just keep writing….every day.

How to Write a Novel, 4.7 out of 5 based on 12 ratings

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Comments

  1. Sundog says:

    Finally, someone who sees the difference between writing and just telling a story.

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    Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)
  2. Mooncat says:

    What a good review!

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)